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Flax to Linen at the Folk School

Folk School sign

Once I finished my homegrown handspun cotton vest, I decided to explore other fibers, particularly flax. Whenever you want to learn something new a natural route would be to search the internet, read books, visit places and events that can help you, and gather equipment and supplies and try it yourself. That’s exactly what I did; however, nothing can replace having someone by your side with the know-how. With that in mind, I recently attended the Flax to Linen class at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina.

Cassie Dickson has had lots of experience with flax and made a great instructor to the eight students in the class. Cassie had even grown some of the flax herself that we worked with. Peggy Patrick assisted her. I was impressed that Peggy makes her shoes and has taught classes in that. Two of us in the class intend to grow flax next year and produce our own linen. Everyone had their own good reasons for being there, even if it didn’t involve seed in the ground next year. We learned to prepare a distaff and to break, scutch, hackle and spin flax.

dyeing linen--yellows and madder

One day of the week-long class we dyed linen with natural dyes. Cassie and Peggy prepared dyepots with marigolds, osage orange, broom sedge, onion skins, butternuts, and madder. The madder was fresh from the garden. There were also two indigo pots. I had dyed a small amount of wool at home this year with marigolds and black walnuts. I’m definitely going to have to do more of that next year.  

We had an opportunity to weave in patterns on several small four-shaft table looms. I wove my cotton vest in plain weave on a small table loom with string heddles. Weaving with these looms was quite different. We only wove an inch or so on each loom before we went back to our other projects. In the end, Cassie cut our pieces from the loom so we could put them in the notebooks we were each preparing with samples from our work in the class. We visited the weaving class and saw the large floor looms they were working with. They had warped them themselves, each with a specific pattern.  We appreciated their efforts after our meager experience with the table looms.

Besides the weavers, other classes happening that week were baskets and broom making, pottery, cooking (soups and breads), tinsmithing, music (autoharp), painting, paper art, photography, woodturning, and woodworking (slant top desk and shaker boxes). We got to know the other students at meals. On Friday work from every class was shown at the final gathering. It was fun to see what we had been hearing about all week. Learn more about the Flax to Linen class and the Folk School at HomeplaceEarth.  

Whether it is at the Folk School or somewhere else, I hope you have the opportunity to take a class in something that interests you. It is great way to meet new people while you are learning new things. Don’t know exactly what you are looking for? Visit one of the Mother Earth News Fairs in 2016 to jumpstart some ideas. You can even meet the authors (like me) who wrote the books that you will find helpful. The John C. Campbell Folk School will likely be demonstrating at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, North Carolina if you want to check them out. Happy learning!    

Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at HomeplaceEarth.

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