Tag Archives: flax

The design and making process.

I wanted to show you the complete process from inspiration to finish product. All of of my work is inspired by the outdoor world around me. I love to walk and roam and I see colours and textures on my walks around the Fife countryside, coastline and elsewhere in Scotland. Until recently I preferred to weave with British wools and alpaca yarns, but living in a old weaver’s cottage, made me think differently. Something seemed to tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘hay, we used to weave linen cloth here’, and I started delving into the history books. You can read more about my discoveries in earlier editions of this blog. I am intrigued to learn who used to weave in this cottage 220 years ago, but I am saving that research for another day. I wanted to weave this project with British flax, similar to that which used to be grown in Fife, but I couldn’t find yarn spun thin enough from the UK. So this linen is from Sweden. It is a beautiful yarn and very good quality. I have also added some cotton from the USA, which was similar to that imported to Stanley Mills over 200 years ago.  Eventually flax was no longer grown in Fife and all supplies were imported from countries around the Baltic, as I have done for this project.

Inspiration. West Sands, St Andrews.

Inspiration. West Sands, St Andrews.

Designed on computer with linen yarn in mind.

Designed on computer with linen yarn in mind.

Threading the linen yarn through the heddles on to the loom.

Threading the warp yarn through the heddles on the loom.

Then through the reed.

Then through the reed.

Tie the warp to the front of the loom.

Tie the warp to the front of the loom.

Starting to weave.

Starting to weave.

Using a shuttle to weave in the weft.

Using a shuttle to weave in the weft.

Weaving at the loom.

After 200 years weaving has returned to this cottage.

All wrapped up!

The finished wrap.

Summer wrapJuly2013 013

Summer wrapJuly2013 020

We have had fewer bees this year.

We have had fewer bees this year.

Click on the photographs for a larger image.

The wrap will be available to buy from my shop very soon!

 

Continuing my research into Fife linen.

During the 18th and early 19th centuries the east coast of Scotland concentrated on producing linen goods which could best be made from Dutch, Flemish and Baltic flax. Designs, patterns and quality of cloths were all influenced by these connections. Fife no longer grew it’s own flax. Much was imported and spun in Kirkcaldy. The 1830s saw the introduction of the power looms and by 1860 the cottage industry was dead. In 1867 over 11,500 people in Fife were employed in the linen industry, but by 1938 this had fallen to just over 7000.

Fine patterned table linen was woven in the Dunfermline mills, while sheetings and window blinds were woven in Falkand. Linen was often mixed with cotton and woven up into shirting and striped ticking fabrics, used to cover mattresses and pillows. Other coarser linens were also woven into sail cloth, tarpaulins and for packaging goods, especially in Dundee before it was replaced by cheaper imports of jute.

During the war years of 1914-18 and 1939-45 flax was grown again in many counties in Scotland and factories were revived to spin, bleach, dye and weave linen cloth again. During the first World War this was mainly for aeroplane fabrics. In the second World War mills in Aberdeenshire, Blairgowrie and Cupar were under government direction and factories tided the UK over during a difficult time. However, costs involved in treating the Scottish flax became prohibitive and they closed down.

There is one last main manufacture of linen left in Fife today and that is Peter Creig & Co, who were established in 1825. They are still weaving in the same mill in Kirkcaldy.

This research is so inspiring me to weave with linen again and to connect to the weavers who lived in my local area. It feels rather like they are talking to me. It would be good to bring back some handwoven linen to Fife. Perhaps even mix it with cotton as some of the local mills would have done to produce softer shirting and ticking. I feel that my next design process is beginning………….

Whispers between weavers.

As you can imagine, having researched the history of weaving linen in Fife, I am now enthusiastic about designing and weaving my own linen fabrics. It’s been a while since I have woven with this fibre having spent the last couple of years concentrating on using British wools and alpaca. Which I absolutely love working with. However, there is something about flax and linen that’s calling my attention. Perhaps it’s knowing that the fields around East Fife were once swathed in blue when the flax plant was in flower. Something I wish I could of seen. But I think it’s also intriguing to know that someone sat at a floor loom and wove linen cloth in this very cottage, over 230 years ago. Who was he (I say he, because I understand that it was mostly the men who wove the cloth at that time while the women spun the flax), but maybe it was a she after all. I wonder if the house is whispering to me!

I am currently searching high and low for British grown flax linen yarn. An organization called the The Flax Growers and Processors in the UK, have told me that flax is now only grown on a small scale and there are no longer any manufactures of commercially spun flax in Britain. Which is such a great shame. If I had the land it would be fascinating to grow some flax myself, but I am not a spinner. If there are any hand spinners out there in the UK that work with British grown flax, I’d be very interested to hear from you. I’m still looking though, maybe I’ll find you first! I may however, have to look eastward and import linen yarn just as the merchant manufactures did from the late 18th century.

I came across an interesting tale of a merchant called John Lockhart who lived in Fife around this time. He did business with the hand loom weavers by giving them imported linen yarn that they wove up into cloth. He then paid them for the finished fabric. Before the railway came to Fife it was said that John would leave Kirkcaldy by road and on foot on a Monday and walk to Leuchars (a distance of about 25 miles). The next day he walked to the ferry and did business in Dundee, (7 miles) perhaps stayed a day and on his way back he would walk far into the night in an endeavour to get home to Kirkcaldy, (30 miles approx). I wonder if any of my walks have crossed his paths.

Importing flax and mechanisation.

In 1815, French prisoners from the Napoleonic War were used to drain the bogs of central Fife and more profitable crops were introduced. Supplies of flax now had to be imported, initially from Russia and then later from the Netherlands. In 1838 it was estimated that there were 85,000 hand looms operating in Scotland, of which 26,000 were from linen production, mainly in Fife and Angus. The late 18th century saw the mechanisation of spinning and it’s transformation from a cottage industry to be based in factories in Dundee, Glasgow and Kirkcaldy. Initially change was slow. The Industrial Revolution started in 1780 and continued until about 1880. This period brought the development of the power loom mills. The Fife county town of Cupar had 3 power loom factories by 1870 and wove locally termed  ‘brown linen’.

Gateside Mills 2013

Gateside Mills 2013

Gateside Mills in Fife,  originally manufactured linen, but by the 20th century the mill was producing bobbins and shuttles and only proved work for about 80 people. It was built on the River Eden like so many mills in Fife and a water wheel provided the power for the machinery. The mill is now a centre for small creative businesses. (My son has very good guitar lessons there!)

The textile heritage of Scotland continues to fascinate me, drawing me closer to the people who used to live here in Fife and elsewhere across the country. The factory based textile industries were concentrated into different areas and I am gradually visiting more and more of them, (watch this blog space for further developments!). The cotton industry was based in Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and Glasgow. The Woollen industry developed mainly in Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire, but also in Perthshire, Stirlingshire and the Scottish Borders. The linen production, based mainly here in Fife and Angus had it’s centre in Dundee. By the 1861 census the city and it’s surrounding areas employed nearly 50,000 people in mills and at hand looms. The silk industry, although small, was based around paisley in the middle of the 19th century. There is so much to explore!

Bessie and her spinning wheel.

” I bought my wife a stane o’lnt,

As gude as e’er did grow,

And a that she has made o’that

is a’e puir pund of tow.

The weary pund, the weary pund,

The weary pund a’tow,

I think my wife will end her life

Before she spins her tow.’

A poem by Robert Burns (1759 – 1796).

The Howe of Fife was a poorly drained boggy area of land where only one crop, flax, was able to grow. So since before the 16th century the production of linen cloth had been the main source of employment locally. In Scotland, linen was known as ‘lint’.  The flax was pulled and spun by hand and then woven into cloth on hand looms.

The farmer, in order to get labourers for his farm, gave 10 yards square to the labourer to allow him to sow the ‘lippy’ of lint seed. The flax was grown for the labourers family, who spun and wove the cloth for their own use.

In 1680 the government passed a law declaring that, ‘ hereafter no corpse of any persons whatsoever shall be buried in any shirt, sheet or anything else except in plain linen…………………made and spun in the Kingdom.’

There was not a village in the county that did not have it’s hand loom weavers. They were even found in the fishing villages of Crail, Pittenween, Anstruther and Largo. The cottage of the weaver might be described as a ‘but’ and a ‘ben’. The ‘but’ housed the kitchen, beds and living area and the ‘ben’ was a separate room for the loom. As time went by weavers would take their cloths to merchants to sell in Edinburgh and London.

Fife  weaver's cottages, single storey and nestled into the hillside.

Fife weaver’s cottages, single storey and nestled into the hillside.