Flax to Linen Workshop

Reader Contribution by Cindy Conner and Homeplace Earth

My husband and I hosted a Flax to Linen workshop at our home in June. It involved having a dozen participants here on an evening and all the next day and having the instructor and her husband as overnight guests. The purpose of the workshop was to instruct and lead the participants through the process of turning retted flax into linen thread, as well as educate them about the history of linen and introduce them to linen textiles. The workshop was sponsored by the handspinning group I am a member of.

Learning a new skill alone can be daunting. Attending a workshop with others exposes you to more information in a shorter time, allows you to learn from an expert in the field, and gives you the companionship of others involved in the same interest you are. I was excited about this event so that more of my friends could have hands-on experience with flax and learn more of what I have been working on the past two years. To make it happen, however, took some planning.

A suggestion was presented at one of our meetings last winter that we have Cassie Dickson (shown in the photo) come to do a workshop on Flax to Linen. It had been a long time since the guild had done something like this. Cassie teaches the Flax to Linen class at the John C. Campbell Folk School each year and three of us had taken her class there over the years. I thought it was a wonderful idea and, since I knew her from the Folk School, offered to plan it. Someone can do something well and be considered an expert, however they may not have the ability to teach it to others. I have attended some conference presentations where the speaker’s ability to relate what they knew to the audience did not measure up to their expertise in their field. It was because several of us had had such a good experience with Cassie as a teacher that the group voted to have the workshop.

Planning involved contacting Cassie in January to see if she was interested in coming and to find out what it would take to get her here. I offered to have it at my place to save money from renting a facility and because my place was the most appropriate venue. We needed an indoor space for the two hour Friday evening presentation, and an outdoor space for working with the flax all day on Saturday. A bonus to having it here was that I had flax growing in my garden. Money was a consideration, of course. The guild did not have the funds to cover any unmet expenses, so I would need to make sure they were covered by what we charged the participants. We would need twelve people to sign up. We could have had less, but then we would have needed to charge more. You will find details of the workshop, including photos, at Homeplace Earth.

When I taught at the community college I helped bring two authors, Jessica Prentice in 2006 and Sandor Katz in 2007, to the college for an evening program. Since the program was at the college I didn’t have to worry about having a clean facility with enough chairs for the crowd, lighted parking, and restrooms. The college paid for travel and an honorarium, and the authors had the opportunity to sell their books. I did have to worry about getting the word out to the community, who could attend the programs for free. I hosted both authors at my home overnight. That was a plus for me since it was an opportunity to get to know them better. When you bring in a speaker, not all may be comfortable spending the night in someone’s home and may require hotel accommodations. If the college had not covered what it did, we would have had to rent somewhere and charge admission for the programs.

The Flax to Linen workshop was different than those public programs. It was to teach a specific skill to a limited amount of people and the instructor was bringing materials for each person to work with. To turn flax into linen you need to have equipment. Cassie brought some and those of us who had flax brakes, scutching boards, and hackles added ours for the group to use.

If you want to plan a workshop on a subject that interests you, a good place to find a potential speaker is to meet them where they are already presenting, such as a conference or the Mother Earth News Fair. Or, you might choose someone you have already enjoyed learning from through their DVDs or books. Some organizations maintain lists of available speakers. Alternatively, you can find contact information from the websites of potential presenters. I know people turn to YouTube these days for their information, but there is nothing like the person-to-person connection that results from a workshop.

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 Homeplace Earth.

Photos by Stephanie Conner.

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