Enriching the connection to Irish Linen as part of my ongoing interest in 'Earth-Made' practices and processes in my work.
On Saturday 19th August, in the rain and wind of Storm Betty, I set off for the hills of County Tyrone to spend the day with Charlie Mallon and Helen Keys on their farm just outside Cookstown. Helen and Charlie, are leading the way for reviving production of Irish Linen on the island of Ireland with their Fibre to Fabric initiative in partnership with weaving firm, Mourne Textiles. While Irish Linen is still woven in on this island, the flax is often imported from other countries, due to the decline in flax farming here in the latter part of the 20th Century. Helen and Charlie's plan to is to carefully and sustainably explore the potential for growing, processing, spinning and weaving flax, as was once done. For the past 4 years they have been growing flax on their farm and learning about the sustainable practices for successful flax fibre production. As part of their ongoing aims, I was delighted to visit their farm for the day and take part in their 2023 flax harvest.
Irish Linen, as many of you reading this will know, is central to my work. I only use Linen sourced from firms registered with the Irish Linen Guild or work with donated vintage linens. My enthusiasm for Linen comes from an interest in both its heritage and as a substrate for my printmaking and natural dyeing. During my time working at the Ulster Folk Museum, I heard and read many accounts of growing, harvesting and scutching flax by both hand and machine. I had seen demonstrations of flax spinning on spinning wheels and being woven on looms. My interest was cemented from this time, but my knowledge primarily stemmed from written or recorded accounts that I was able to access through the Museum's archives. So, to actually be out in the elements, in the depths of the flax field, and have a go, was an entirely new experience for me.
Although the weather was blustery and wet, the sight on Mallon Farm of the flax waving in the wind with the occasional hint of blue blossom catching the eye, was quite magical. Charlie demonstrated the technique for harvest and tying bundles, and we set to work, clearing the longer stems first and then tidying up by pulling the shorter ones. The flax comes easily from the ground, and once the rhythm of pulling and bundling is established it became quite a relaxing process. The group I was with worked quietly, enjoying the sounds of birdsong and enjoying burst of warm sun between rain showers.
For me, taking part in this harvest was a way of enrichening the connection to Irish Linen and will form part of my ongoing research into the theme of 'Earth-Made' in both process and materials. After spending a couple of hours in the flax field, I left with some scutched flax tow and flax cord spun on a drop spindle. Both of which will feature in forthcoming projects. Stay tuned! You can find out more about Mallon Linen HERE