If you want to eat at a great cafe and get a look at some great linens, you only need to go as far as 28th and St George. I was taken there by a friend this week.


Le Marche cafe has a collection of towels, tablecloths and tea towels for sale, all in natural flax colour or bleached. If you want to get a feel for what you can produce with your flax, this is the place to go – the food excellent too!



(photograph courtesy of Le Marche)






Water your flax – but not as much as your cotton!

This hot weather is great for flax germination but we’re all having to water our seedlings. This first two to three weeks after planting is pretty much the only time you’ll need to water the crop, and the weather is going to turn cloudy and rainy at the weekend, so no more water will be needed then.

A flax shirt takes 6.4 L of water to grow and produce. A cotton T shirt takes 2,700 L. That’s the amount of water one person drinks in three years. For more on how unsustainable this is read about how cotton production drained the Aral Sea http://ejfoundation.org/cotton/cotton-and-water.

As you will have noted as you prepped the soil for your flax, it needs very little nitrogen based fertilizer. Cotton is what’s known as a ‘greedy feeder’, needing large amounts of nitrogen and unless you’re producing organic cotton, all of that nitrogen is processed from oil. It’s the 3rd highest user of nitrogen of all the crops (including food crops) we grow worldwide.

You may also have noticed that I haven’t mentioned any pesticides you need to add to your growing flax. That’s because it doesn’t need any, unlike cotton which uses 25% of the total world’s pesticides in its production http://ejfoundation.org/cotton/cotton-and-water.

Find more information about cotton productionand the pesticides and toxic chemicals used in its production here, http://www.novozymes.com/en/sustainability/Published-LCA-studies/Documents/Comparative%20LCA%20of%20a%20t-shirt%20produced%20with%20biotechnology%20and%20conventional%20technologies.pdf

As you’ll see by August, linen can be produced without any chemicals at all.

A linen shirt has a LCA (Lifecycle Assessment – the amount of a resource it will use from production, through wearing until it is discarded) of 130g of greehouse gases. A cotton T shirt (with less fabric) has an LCA of 410g of GHG.

I personalised this linen shirt, bought at Value Village by embroidering on it. The embroidery says Sown, grown, rippled, retted, scutched, hackled, spun, wovem, bleached, sewn. LCA 6.4L of water 130g GHG. I wanted to remember how much work and energy went into it, and why buying clothing second hand is so much more sustainable than buying new. And shipping our second hand clothing around the world to the countries who manufacture them, but are too poor to buy them new, just adds to the carbon footprint and destroys the local weaving traditions and ethnic clothing.

70% of the LCA of all your clothing is down to you. Only 30% of the GHG of a piece of clothing comes from its production and manufacture, the rest is down to your washing and drying. If you want to seriously reduce your GHG production than you need to wash in cold water, and always air dry (because most of that GHG is from using the drier).

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Antique flax hackle, and don’t forget to water your flax seeds in this sunny weather

The flax hackle arrived in the mail today, all the way from Texas.

Thanks to Jo Ann, for sending it.

These things are as rare as hen’s teeth since the only maker of them in North America has become ill. This one looks like a coarse hackle to me – not that I’m an expert), so we’re still looking for a medium or fine one if anyone sees anything like this. If you do, let Urban Weaver know and we’ll snap it up immediately.

It has hand forged spikes about 6cm long, and the hackle part is about 10 x 4cm. It’s pretty heavy.

We’re having some pretty dry weather, so don’t forget to water your flax seeds.

 Mine are already germinating (I planted 13 days ago), so this is a vulnerable time for them.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

New flax, old flax

The weather has been perfect for flax planting!

McLean Park, Means of Production garden, my plot and I hope the other grow-alongs are all now planted, the Aberthau flax will be sown in May. I have 7sq m of flax sown. Not enough for a shirt, but I’m hoping for a furoshiki and a vest.

While building a living willow sculpture of a spinning wheel as a memorial for a friend* (more on this later), one of the group of friends weaving told us she had a lot of 20 year old dried flax plants that she had grown herself, in her basement. She is happy to donate them to the Urban Weaver and we are delighted to have them.

This means we will be able to start doing some retting experiments to see what works best, in advance of our own crop being ready. I expect the bath in the field house will be the first place we’ll try. Expect more posts on what we find out!

* The willow spinning wheel

A very good friend of mine – spinner, weaver, dyer (all that good stuff!), died this year. Neither Sharon (Kallis) or I can work out which of us had the idea for a willow sculpture memorial, but her husband invited 5 of her close friends and with Sharon’s expert design and leadership we wove a willow spinning wheel together.

The wheel is made if living willow, so new growth will need to be woven in, or clipped. This shouldn’t be a problem, as the area of stones you can see on the left of the picture is the site of the new 84sq m flax and dye bed that will be built next week at Aberthau. That means there will always be someone around tending to the flax or the dye plants.

Here’s what a friend who lives abroad (another willow weaver/spinner/dyer) wrote about the memorial:

Masami’s Wheel is a lovely willow sculpture and a very fine memorial. It is fine tribute to Masami and a credit to all of the folks who made it.

If the sculpture develops into a group of young willow trees, it will become less of a sculpture, but a more lasting memorial.
If the remnants of the sculpture are allowed to develop into mature trees, they will be a feature in the landscape for decades.  
If these trees are periodically pollarded, they could become “veteran trees” and might survive for centuries
I love the idea of a “floating” memorial.  Will it last until next month/year/decade/century?  Who knows? That is the beauty of it!

Myself, I love the idea that her wheel, and eventually the willows that it generates, will stand watch over the flax and dye bed for us.

A lesson on being a peasant (and growing more flax)

Today I visited the back yard of a rental property that I’ve been guerilla gardening for more than three years. The soil was manured, top dressed with bone meal, weeded, raked and ready to plant potatoes today. In my cold frame are climbing zucchini growing, ready to plant there in June.

I started this garden to use as a way to show young renters how their food is grown. One of them became a keen gardener and researched and traded recipes with me to use what was growing. At his behest, I planted the herb garden there.

The rhubarb I planted almost four years ago was sprouting last week, and the herb bed, currant bushes, raspberries and strawberries were looking good. I weeded the flower bed  I established for the residents (lysimachia was up, as was the montbretia), talked with one of them about when they’d be able to help themselves to potatoes this year and went home.

When I arrived this week, I found a builder had dumped sewage contaminated soil and rubble all over the garden, killing the strawberries, several herb plants and burying the rhubarb and flower bed. He said he ‘didn’t see’ anything growing there That means the residents (and myself) won’t be able to have any vegetables this year and the fruit on the bushes will be too risky to eat.

So to rescue a bad situation, I’m going to put the whole area down to flax. That’s about 5 times the amount I had intended to grow, but I can’t see a better alternative. More linen for me this year!

It occurs to me that this is the type of situation that landless peasants face regularly. Random acts by landlords, willfull or ignorant destruction, our increasing number of extreme weather events caused by climate change, can mean they totally lose their food supply.

Luckily, I have a vegetable garden of my own at home and though the loss of all my hard work made me sit down amid the builder’s rubble and cry, I shall continue to eat very well.  Meanwile rich countries are buying up land in Third World countries and turfing off the traditional farmers http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/apr/27/international-land-deals-database-africa.

Please read the link. Canada is in the top 10 list of countries displacing peasant farmers to get ownership of foreign land http://landportal.info/landmatrix/get-the-idea?img=top-10-investor-countries. This is being done by our government with our complicity. Let’s not say we ‘didn’t see’ what was going on.

Flax, terroir, homogeneity and globalisation

Someone who visited the Urban Weaver one evening, described a locally sourced fibre and dye sweater as having ‘terroir’.

‘Terroir’, roughly translated and taken away from its use in describing wine, means ‘of the place’ or ‘of the land’. She explained that she meant the mixture of localy sourced fibres, dyed using plants from Stanley Park made the garment uniquely ‘of the land’ where it came from and was being worn.

The availability of cheap oil and its evil spawn, globalisation, has meant the regionality that used to define our communities and places, no longer exists. It has made available to us the riches and rarities of the world’s far flung places that were once only the priviledge of the wealthiest. How many suits did your great grandfather own? Unless he was rich, probably only one or two, because sourcing the fibre/fabric/labour to make them was expensive. Now we buy and throw away cheap cashmere sweaters with abandon, in willful ignorance of hard work and raw conditions it takes to raise, process and make that luxury fibre.

Now that we can have the things that were once only for the rich (*alert: We are the rich. According to the UN we are the 12th richest country out of 193 of the world. The country producing cashmere is 163rd, and the one processing it is 93rd) nothing is special anymore. We rich countries can source anything we want. Result? We all dress in the same stuff, and find ourselves very boring to look at.

We must find ourselves boring to look at because we waste even more oil travelling to poor countries to look at their regional dress. They take pride in wearing clothes that distinguish them from other countries, even from other villages. We on this continent just wear the same stuff that we all source from a handful of big box retailers. We  have no regional dress, no regional pride in our clothing. Our clothing has no terroir. We look uniformly boring.

You can reclaim that regionality and produce unique clothing by growing and processing local flax. The Urban Weaver has everything you need to do that for free. We have seed for you, will soon have the equipment for you to process it into flax, and will teach you to spin, weave and dye it. The oil use will be tiny, the carbon footprint (unless you drive to the field house) small, and no one will have been exploited in the production of your clothing.

There’s still a few weeks to join in. Why not exert your uniqueness and regional pride – your terroir?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Drug dealers help out the urban cloth project

The flax seed has been weighed out for all the various plots that will be growing around the city.

Sounds like and easy thing to do, but at a sowing rate of 12-14g per sq. m., weighing out 13g packets of seed for the smaller plots was hard. None of us had a kitchen scale that could accurately measure such small amounts, and the consequences of being 5g out in the weighing would mean a 1 sq.m. plot that was either 50% too dense (so the flax grows too tall and falls over) or 50% too sparse (so the flax grows side branches and the fibre is no good).

I won’t tell you who among us went to a marijuana supplier to borrow their very accurate scale for a few hours, but it was perfect for the job.

FYI, the following places will be growing flax this year:

Science World
Means of Production Garden
Capillano College
McLean Park
Aberthau Community Centre

and 6 local gardeners.

The Aberthau plot is the largest at 84 sq.m, but only a third of that will be flax this year. The other two-thirds will be down to dye plants or vegetables that produce dye as part of a 4 year crop rotation. The smallest plot, about 0.5sq.m.) will be on Pender St, near International Village.

At last, after many months of trials and sampling, I’ve finally found a way that even the more beginning of beginner can make cloth from their flax.

The standard Urban Weaver chopstick/toy wheel spindle spins flax very well. It only takes a very short while to make enough thread to make a 4cm square on a home made pin loom.


I’ll post up the details of where on the internet to find a jig and instructions for these lovely little looms later.
Once you have completed your square and taken it off the loom, put it into dilute bleach for a few minutes.

When it’s gone paler, rinse it and dye it!

Here’s my dyes out in the sun this weekend. Takes a day to dye a square. I used blackberry juice from berries I canned last year, ditto cherry juice, onion skins, dried weld leaves, tansy and safflower.

Then just rinse your squares again, iron them and sew them together. That’s the cloth you can see in the top picture.

And in case you think it isn’t possible to produce a big article of clothing this way, here’s a shawl I spun, wove, dyed, sewed together. It’s made of all local fibres from angora rabbit, to bison fibre (from the bison meat guy at the Terminal Ave farmer’s market) and ‘chiengora’ (malamut cross hair from the dog pound). The dyes are all from local plants too (apart from two dark blue indigo squares).ImageImageImageImage

If you’re planning a trip this August but haven’t decided where to go, you might consider going to Greenwood, BC for Joybilee Farm’s annual flax day http://kettleriverartsfestival.com/events/joybilee-farm-linen-festival/.

You get a chance to see them processing last year’s flax crop, see this year’s flax fields http://joybileefarm.com/about-joybilee-farm/linen-demonstration-garden/, spin some flax, make pine needle baskets with waxed linen thread and look at some of the lovely linen clothing grown and made in Grand Forks by the Doukhobor community. The historians from the Boundary museum (well worth a visit if you get time), will also be at Joybilee talking about the history of flax growing in the area.
For those living sustainably , there is a Greyhound bus from Terminal Avenue Greyhound Station, leaving at 6.30 am, that gets to Greenwood at 3.40pm. There is a daily bus from Greenwood at 9.10 am that goes straight past Joybilee farm, but appears to stop 6.4km past the farm entrance. I did ask Joybilee if they had any more information about the bus and where it stops, but they tell me they’ve no idea as they never use it.

Or you could try this – about 10km short of Greenwood, is Mile 0 on the Kettle Valley Railway Trail. This is the jumping off point to take the trail to see the rebuilt Myra Canyon trestles. So if you’re coming by bus, bring your bike along, bike the trail to see the trestles. The next day you can take the Greyhound on from Midway to Greenwood and bike the 7.8km from there to the farm.

The flax plot at Means of Production garden is now dug, weeded, and bone meal added for phosphate, ready for planting thanks to hard work by Sharon, Caitlin and Arlen.

There is a medium size tree in the SE corner, but we’re hoping it won’t shade the crop and result in poor fibre production.

If any grow-along folks haven’t yet prepared the soil for planting you need to get to it. If the weather stays this mild, we may be into seed sowing by next month.Image

The plot at McLean Park has been double dug and bone meal put on the soil. Many thanks to Sharon, David, Martin and especially Cindy, the McLean Park gardener.

Sadly, the soil is full of stones, not very deep and on top of a clay pan, so it’s going to need a layer of compost of some kind and extra soil to make it viable. We’re hoping the park Board will deliver a load of soil and some leaf mulch to give some organic matter to the soil and make a decent seed bed for flax seed germination.Image

This plot will be shaded by several trees, so we will have to see how this affects the flax. Flax should be grown where there is full sun.

It’s also going to be hard to stop the many off-leash dogs that are brought to this park from flattening the seedlings or lodging the flax plants. It will need a good fence around it. For now, until the soil and leaf mulch are delivered, yellow tape will have to suffice.

We have finally decided on a name for the project – The Urban Cloth Project. This takes into account the work that Urban Weaver has already done on the possibility of using invasive species like broom for cloth, the ‘chiengora’ from the grooming of the finer coated dogs in the local pound, and urban yarn harvesting. The latter is buying machine made sweaters from charity stores, unravelling them, plying the yarn and either reknitting or weaving with it to make new garments.