The New England Flax and Linen Study Group is a group of people who are passionate about flax and linen in the past and present. We aspire to carry knowledge and use of this ancient fiber into the future, through research and skills-sharing events – like our recent Flax & Linen Symposium in August 2016 at Historic Deerfield.
Today, the majority of people in North America who are interested in growing and processing flax are self-taught. The fiber fascinates us, and we find our explorations and experiments compelling and enjoyable. At the same time, we have acquired our knowledge largely through trial and error. Books and articles are hard to come by, and often don’t cover the North American context. For North Americans who want to learn about flax, there are few experts to consult, and these folks are far-flung and have many demands on their time and energy.
But knowledge about flax has not always been so difficult to find. Flax has a 30,000-year history of human use as a fiber for string, rope, nets, and cloth. Textiles and cordage made from flax can range from from durable, coarse, and utilitarian to gauzy, fine, and luxurious. This versatility earned flax the title Linum usitatissimum, the “most useful” fiber, among the ancient Romans. For hundreds of years, flax was the pre-eminent plant fiber of western Eurasia. Flax was among the first plants brought to North America with European colonization and settlement. The knowledge and skills to grow and process flax was once commonplace in these agricultural communities. All that changed in the 1880s, when industrialization and cheap cotton (subsidized by unpaid labor) led to a precipitous decline in flax production. The knowledge and skills became rare as the crop itself was no longer planted.
The members of our study group are drawn to flax and linen for a variety of reasons, from a range of backgrounds. We have different questions and different priorities. What brings us together is a desire for a community of like-minded people with whom we can share our successes and failures, receive or offer advice, and pool resources and tools. With this website we hope to extend these conversations more broadly and to extend the range of the flax-loving community.
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