Tricia Rose Explores a Project that Promotes a Sustainable Northern California Flax-to-Fabric Textile Industry

Tricia Rose first became enamored with linen on a visit to her family’s stone cottage in Scotland when she discovered a very old, hand-loomed linen pillowslip made by her great, great grandmother from her own flax. She loves everything about linen – the color, the heft and sheen, it’s strength, it’s versatility, and it’s impeccable credentials – and in 2009 she founded the San Rafael-based Rough Linen, makers of linen home and apparel goods. Here she shares her field trip to Chico Flax, whose project is to grow flax that can be made into linen to promote a self-reliant and sustainable flax-to-fabric textile industry here in Northern California.

Above: A sampling of Rough Linen’s range of linen goods.

I tried sowing flax in my garden a few years ago, and it was a miserable failure, so when I first heard about the Chico Flax Project through Fibershed, I knew I had to go there.

They were inviting volunteers to help plant a four-row deep hedge along the field, to serve as a windbreak and wildlife corridor, so Lili and I drove up to help. We drove the three hours from Marin County to Chico – a lovely trip especially when the roads are clear. It was still early when we arrived – and everything was ready for planting.

Sandy Fisher and her husband Durrell own this project, a true labour of love.

“I was allowed a souvenir of one of the giant tumbleweeds, which had been cleared! How will I use it? Such a city girl.”

Fibershed gave a grant to fund the planting of the hedge, and students from Chico State University are helping with the planting, along with experimental plots of flax in different varieties to overwinter – fascinating!

Did you know: Flax varieties tend to be called by women’s names.

There were even some woolly friends to encourage our efforts.

Then we started planting the hedge, four rows, each 185′ long. The plants are all California natives, and can be used for dyeing – Red Bud, Blue Elderberry, Coffeeberry, California Buckwheat, Salvia Bees’ Bliss . . .

During a rest, Sandy showed us the previous year’s harvest, ready for breaking.

Processing flax into linen is a long, laborious process, but it can be done with simple tools. You can read more about the process in this post all about traditional methods of turning flax into linen.

Retting, breaking, scutching, (dragging it through a bed of nails) before you end up with a hank of long, soft fibers, ready to spin.

Sandy is a weaver, and a mine of information. I was lucky to meet her.

If you want to find out more, volunteer! We had so much fun.

Image at top of page: I was allowed a souvenir of one of the giant tumbleweeds, which had been cleared! How will I use it? Such a city girl.

View the Rough Linen profile.

Photography: Lili Bustos Linares

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