Farming Flax for Organic Linen (Part 2)

Fibre Lab

TapRoot Fibre Lab is the only company, globally, that is developing a small-scale option for machinery to transform retted flax into long line linen yarn. The idea for the Fibre Lab grew from owner Patricia Bishop’s dream to grow clothes on the farm she owns with her husband, Josh Oulton. The farm was overrun with stinging nettles and Patricia wondered if there was a way to process the bast fibre. It turns out that nettle is a bit of a novelty fabric but Patricia still dreamt of growing clothes.

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From flax plant to linen yarn.

In 2011, Patricia collaborated with Frances Dorsey, Gary Markle, and Lesley Armstrong—professors from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design—to host the Fibre, Fabric, and Natural Dye Symposium (FANDS). FANDS evolved out of a mission to inspire and inform Atlantic regional participants to build a natural dye and fibre industry. Over the course of the 3-day symposium, Canadian and international experts spoke about plant and fibre research, sustainable industry development, and dye, fabric, and fibre production.

In 2013, Patricia began to work with Lesley Armstrong, a professor at NSCAD and owner of Armstrong Textiles (http://www.armstrongtextiles.ca/), and Claire Gagnon, a flax grower and proponent of local production of natural textiles, growing and testing flax varieties that would thrive in our Maritime climate. At the same time, Patricia was researching machinery to purchase for small-scale flax processing. What she found was that currently, flax is being processed on either a very small or very large scale.

  1. Small scale—individuals processing flax with manual tools. Manually processing requires a lot of time and produces a lower quality linen yarn.
  2. Industrial scale—large pieces of machinery that can handle large volumes of flax. Linen mills in Belgium and France get the linen fibres processed to the point where they are ready to be spun and then the fibres are shipped to China for spinning, and possible weaving. The mills are privately owned and some offer custom processing; however, to ship to Europe and again to China is cost-prohibitive.

There is no small-scale mechanical option.

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Long line linen yarn

Problem Solving

At TapRoot Fibre Lab, we are working on a solution to this obstacle. We are creating a small-scale, six-stage mechanical processing line to transform retted flax straw into fine linen yarn. We project that all six stages of the equipment will be ready for market by the end of 2016.
Our equipment will offer a local alternative to large-scale commercial processing, while providing a higher quality processing ability to those people currently using manual tools. It will allow individuals to have control over how their flax is processed while keeping the production and profits in their community, thus supporting a sustainable and localized economy. We are passionate about finding sustainable technologies to achieve localized economic success and we look forward to what the future has in store!

We also love to connect with as many people, communities, and businesses as possible—including you. If you are interested in learning more about our journey, please feel free to contact us. (fibrelab@taprootfarms.ca). We look forward to hearing from you!

*This post is part 2 of a 3 part series (see here for part 1), Visit us again next week for part 3 from Rhea.

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About the Author

Rhea Hamlin is the Marketing and Communications Specialist at TapRoot Fibre Lab; where she is researching and promoting flax and linen. Rhea has a Business Administration degree with a Major in Marketing and a Minor in Management from Mount Saint Vincent University.

2 thoughts on “Farming Flax for Organic Linen (Part 2)

  1. hi dear I am from Pakistan and I am looking small scale flax fiber processing line can any one guide me .
    thanks
    s.a chishty

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