An Interview with Rhea Hamlin

Tell us a little bit about your brief background, education-wise, personal, and how you ended up getting into this business.

Rhea Hamlin

I took the 2 + 2 program, which is two years of college and two years of university. This program allows you to get a degree and a diploma in a certain program. At Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC), I got my business administration diploma with a concentration in marketing. After NSCC, I transferred to Mount Saint Vincent in Halifax and completed my Bachelor of Business Administration with a major in marketing and a minor in management.

During the summer months between my studies, I started working at a historical museum called Ross Farm Museum as a museum interpreter. It was through this job where I was introduced flax and linen. I knew a little bit about flax and linen and a little bit of the history regarding it in Nova Scotia coming into my position.

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After completing university, I was looking for work in my field. I came across this post on social media that someone shared. The post was for a small business in Port Williams who was looking for a marketing and communication specialist. I thought, “That’s interesting.” I did not see a closing date for the position. I decided to apply just in case they were looking for someone;

Luckily, they were, and I became part of the team in February of 2015. I find the experience fascinating. It ties my interest in natural fibers, as a knitter, into in my education background into one position. It keeps me busy and keeps me on my toes, which is good.

With respect to the flax farming itself and for organic linen, you have written some articles for Trusted Clothes. For an overview, what is the process for farming flax and how that gets made into organic linen?

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I grew up in a small town called New Ross, Nova Scotia.

Growing flax is quick. It only takes about 100 days to go from seed to harvest. Last year, we had one acre. This year we are increasing our production to 5 acres of flax with a few small test plots of new varieties. Our field is in the middle of the transition from conventional to organic. We are not using any spray. We are just growing. Once in bloom, the plant will have this lovely purple-blue flower on it. Once it has the flower, it will change its focus on growing tall to developing the seed. Once this occurs, we watch it carefully because once the bottom of the plant starts to change color and the leaves start to fall off, that’s when we want to harvest it. Once it is harvest, dried, and is retted it is ready to process. Retting is a natural process that will allow the woody shieve to be removed from the fibres. You can either dew rett or water rett.

At TapRoot Fibre Lab, we dew rett which can take about 3-6 weeks. We will test the flax it to make sure it is retted. When we test it, we take a couple of stems and bend it. What we’re looking for is the ability to separate the fibres on the inside of the plant from the shive. So, when we bend it, we want to see the shive separate the fibres. So once corrected retted, wecan start to process it.

The great thing about flax is that it is 100% bio-degradable. Even though we are processing for the long line linen fibres, we are developing products out of every by-product. For example, the dust can be added to compost. We are working on developing a log out of the shive. Our short line linen will be used to produce raw fibres, 80% short line linen and 20% wool blend, roving and yarn. Our long line linen will be used to generate silver, yarn, raw fibres, and eventually fabric and clothing.

To begin processing, you start with the breaker, which breaks the stem of the plant – so you can separate and keep the integrity of the fibres intact. Once broken, the fibres are scutched to remove the shive. After the scutcher, the linen fibres are taken to the hackler where any remaining shive, knots, and tow (short line linen) is removed.  After that, you have hackle long line, which will go to the intersect or to produce silver for the spinner. We’re in the middle of designing of our six pieces of equipment that will take flax and turn it into organic linen. At the moment, we have the ripper, the breaker, and the sketcher, and we’re working on building the hackle.

What meaning or personal fulfillment does this bring for you?

I enjoy watching the project grow and blossom. We have come a long way in the year that I have been here, and it is interesting to see the responses that we have been getting from people.

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Individuals who have been following our journey from the very beginning.  We have a tiny but dedicated team, and it is nice to see that individuals in the industry have been following our journey and are looking forward to our journey. As a knitter, being able to use natural fibres that are locally produced and sold is critical to me. I love how my work at TapRoot Fibre Lab is promoting the production and use of natural fibre.

TapRoot Fibres, how did that title originate for the company?

Patricia Bishop and Josh Oulton own another business called TapRoot Farms. TapRoot Farms is Community Share Agriculture farm in Port Williams, Nova Scotia. Patricia always had a desire to not only grow food on her farm but also grow clothes. TapRoot Fibre Lab was developed out of this desired.

With regard to companies like Trusted Clothes and TapRoot Fibres, what’s the importance of them to you?

They are important to me. I believe there is an educational awareness around the importance around choosing sustainable fibres. I think these organizations are doing a great job helping build a consumer base of educated and informed consumers. These customers will make an informed decision to buy clothing using sustainable fabric.

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Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion?

I am honored that Shannon approached me to guest blog for Trusted Clothes on behalf of TapRoot Fibre Lab and that she’s interested in what we are doing farm here. We are a small team of six here on the farm working towards growing clothes on the farm. We may be small, but we’re dedicated. I feel the honor to be included among the other guest bloggers.

Thank you for your time, Rhea.

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About the Author

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping and gardening, and runs In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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