Since my junior high days I've been fascinated with the idea of growing your own fabric - cotton, wool and flax--probably since Social Studies class introduced me to the term linsey-woolsey. A few weeks ago I discussed how plain cotton fabric became printed cotton with the use of hand carved blocks and a lot of patient and underpaid artisans. Today I want to share a bit on what the common folk wore before cotton was an option.
|Linum usitatissimum -- the FLAX plant|
In many areas of Europe and the UK, wool was a cash crop for the benefit of the estate owners (they raised sheep). The poor were allowed to use what wool they found (caught on bushes or fences when sheep had pastured in that area) or what they could afford -- probably wool that was of the least quality. Obviously this wasn't much to make yarns for knitting and weaving, so it was combined with the fiber from the flax plant.
I enjoy flax as an ornamental because I like the lovely blue flowers of this ancient plant. It is grown around the globe in areas with loamy soils (rich brown, not rocky) and is harvested for flax seed, linseed oil and the fiber used to make linen. I imagine a majority of Americans have never seen it growing, unless you are near some of the large farms raising it commercially.
Nothing I could describe will explain the process better than this video (created about Canadian Pioneers). I find it all fascinating and would love to try the whole process myself, first-hand. Looks like a lot of work; certainly no less work than the production, harvesting and work involved in taking wool from sheep to sweater, or cotton from seed to shirt for the thousands of years everything was a non-mechanical process!
Linsey Woolsey fabrics combined the yarns of both wool and flax in what used to be the fabric for the masses! Note-- the soft fibers of flax and golden color is the source for the term 'flaxen' describing lustrous light blond hair! Flax has been used for so long that the term linen began to encompass many other fabrics --the 'linens' department in a store is any collection of home accessories such as sheets and towels. Today's linen clothing is often 'upscale' rather than for the poor and the majority of clothing quality flax is grown in western Europe.
Have you ever seen a garment made from linsey-woolsey?
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Dark Tales Brimming with Light
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