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.