The fall has brought some wonderful changes in the weather as we finally got some rain, as well as changes in the Fibre Lab. We have made a lot of progress in the last month, and are feeling overwhelmed with all of the support and possibilities for this project. Our team has been hard at work trying to bring more product to the shelves, and we have been receiving expressions of interest from people all over the world for our products and machines. We had our first EVER piece of clothing made with our own linen mixed with wool by Pia. She spun, wove, and designed and created a beautiful tunic that certainly makes the dream of local clothing more real than ever!
Near the beginning of September, we moved our Belfast Mini Mills wool processing equipment to the old winter market at Noggins to free up farm space at Canard. The separator and carder have been hard at work with Rhea at the helm. A few weeks ago we received our short-line tow/wool spinning machine and have been able to produce tow yarn from our rovings. It’s an intense process as we try to figure out how to properly spin yarn and care for these machines, as well as how to measure that which we have spun. It’s truly an expertise that will be developed as we go. With these machines all set up together, we are almost ready to begin custom processing wool and short-line flax fibre, and have a few pilot projects lined up this fall to see what we are able to produce. Our biggest challenge for wool is that we don’t have a washer, so fleeces will have to be fairly clean before we can run them through our machines. There is a wool mill with a washer at Hameny Woolen Mill near Stewiacke, which we invite people to use before they come to us.
Our hackling machine has left the manufacturer and will be set up in conjunction with the rippler, breaker, and scutcher as we try to figure out a streamlined, mechanized process to get flax through these machines as efficiently as possible. We are also negotiating our possible first sale of the machines as well, which has added some pressure to get the entire line completed as soon as we can! We have had several people from the USA also contact us about setting up a system in their area and asking for flax-growing advice, which keeps us confident that we are on the right track.
Patricia has been on a mission to spread the word about all we are doing. She attended a Rural Talks Rural event in Blyth, ON, and participated on a panel entitled “From Fibre to Fabulous: fashion from the ground up!” telling the TapRoot Fibre story. She then attended the Manitoba Fibre Festival where she sold our first skeins of tow yarn (and lots of other goodies) in Winnipeg. Next up is Amherst for the Nova Scotia Fibre Arts Festival on October 15th and then the weekend following that in PEI for the Maritime Spinner’s Retreat. All our products will be available for sale at these events, and it’s almost time to start planning for Christmas so if you know any spinners, weavers, or knitters, this might be a good opportunity to get ahead of the game! We are enthusiastic about hearing all your opinions about flax so come out and say hi and let us know what sort of things you are looking for. We are planning to release knitting kits that include a length of yarn and some original patterns, so if you have any ideas we would live to hear them! Email email@example.com
Finally, on September 29th we were overjoyed to be the recipients of the Annapolis Valley Chamber of Commerce Agriculture Innovation Award. Valued at 32,200.00 in cash and in-kind contributions, we were first place winners for our pitch that focused on completing our processing line and getting our final wet-spinning machine for long line linen completed. Thanks to the AVCC and the judges for choosing us, and you'll be the first to get those linen shirts Patricia is always talking about!
It’s August on the farm, which means the bees are a-buzzing and so are we. As more and more crops ripen and are collected from the fields it means all hands on deck at TapRoot Farms, which translates into equal excitement here at the Fibre Lab. We brought in a new addition to the team in July, Emily, who has been working to organize events, communicate the Fibre Lab vision, and to market and sell our machines and our products. You can reach out to her at any time at the Fibre Lab email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or stop by for a tour of the processing line or the flax field so she can share with you her newfound knowledge (and enthusiasm!) about flax and linen. Rhea is busy processing, learning to troubleshoot through the working of brand new machinery and ensuring that we keep up with demand as the flax products start to take off. Mike has been hard at work with our new hackling machine and Patricia went south of the border to spread the good news about Nova Scotia flax and met some passionate and enthusiastic flax growers and processors along the way.
This month brought some exciting milestones. Our processed short-line tow, roving, and clean fibre are now on the shelves at Gaspereau Valley Fibres, and we are currently reaching out to fibre retailers all over Canada to see who may be interested in carrying our linen. Several Canadian fashion designers have already contacted us, anxiously awaiting the possibility of locally grown and naturally dyed linen fabrics, including some from Toronto, New Brunswick and Vancouver. Each product is from flax grown on the farm that has been rippled, broken, scutched, and hackled by the machines designed at the Fibre Lab. Some products have been further processed by a separator and carder from Belfast Mini Mills, and we are also hoping to start offering custom wool processing on these machines as well this fall.
If you are interested in become a retailer of Nova Scotian linen, send an email to email@example.com. All our products are also available to view and purchase online at our website, taprootfibrelab.ca.
Patricia attended the New England Flax and Linen Symposium in Deerfield, Massachusetts, as a presenter, where she was able to witness all different styles of hand processing and meet a number of other passionate flax enthusiasts. Emily and Mike prepared a video showcasing the completed machines for presentation at the Symposium, which you can view on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/ke13b4AwR6s
One of the most exciting developments of the month was the introduction of our fourth machine, the hackler. It consists of 60 combs, getting progressively finer, situated along two counter-rotating belts which brush and comb the scutched flax as it rolls through the machine. If you can’t picture it, a demonstration is featured near the end of the video linked above. The first few tests produced some very beautiful results, with long, shiny, shive-free fibres ready to be drafted and spun. These are very promising advances as we move closer and closer to having a fully functioning processing line.
The arrival of August also meant that the flax crop was nearing it’s 100th day and getting close to final maturity, which signaled the need to harvest. We hired a band and organized a corn boil, and invited all flax enthusiasts and community members to come partake in the great flax pulling. Having been an incredibly dry summer, the flax was not as long as it could have been, but certainly looked good and healthy as we pulled it from the ground. As luck would have it, one of only a few rainy days all summer fell on the day of the harvest and the band had to cancel, but the wet weather failed to deter any of our helpers. In fact, it almost felt as if people were encouraged to come enjoy the long-awaited rain, as the refreshing mist certainly made for a comfortable temperature and perfectly loosened soil. About 100 people came, and the amount of help we received and community interest in flax that we witnessed was a sign that we are on the right path here at the Fibre Lab, and that people genuinely believe in local linen as a viable product and exciting future project. We did not make it through harvesting all five acres, and encourage anyone who missed the harvest, or feels the urge to keep at it, to stop by at the farm and we will bring you out and show you how it’s done. This invitation especially extends to all who didn't hear about the harvest event through our newsletter, which we realized afterwards we had failed to send.
All in all it's been a very productive month here at the Fibre Lab, and as we move closer and closer to having a finished machine line we have lots to keep us busy in the meantime. We are also contemplating a move with a more official storefront, so stay tuned for that possible update in the future! As always, we thank everyone who has taken an interest in our work here and don't hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions, advice, or just to talk flax.
If you have seen pictures of our linen products and are eager to try them, you are in luck! We recently launched our website, www.taprootfibrelab.ca, which includes online shopping capability. Our linen products are all produced from flax grown here on the farm, and any blended products are combined with local sheep’s wool.
In preparation for our website launching, we have been working on developing our logo and product labels. Our first batch of labels arrived from the printer mid-June and they look spectacular on the packaging.
A few weeks ago we met with Frances, a professor from the Nova Scotia College of Arts and Design, to plan the exciting dye tests. Our goal is to use plants/plant material that is available locally, ideally on the farm, to create the dyes for the fibre. The idea is to have no adverse impact on the ecosystem and keep things as natural as possible. Synthetic dyes in the conventional textile industry are some of the worst water polluters in the world.
Our flax field is growing beautifully. Our five-acre field has bloomed and is in the final stages of developing seed pods. The flax is not as tall as we were anticipating due to all the dry weather at the beginning of summer, however we are hopeful for a few more centimetres before we harvest in August. We are in the midst of planning a harvest festival on August 14th complete with music and maybe even food trucks, so stay tuned for more details!
Work continues with optimising our machines for the breaking and scutching process. Part of our long line flax processing challenge is designing a transferring system to move the fibre through each machine. We have been testing our fibre transfer system on the scutching machine and working to integrate the design of the hackling machine. The hackling machine construction has been on hold due to long wait times for some of our critical parts. These parts are now here, and the hackling machine construction has started again. The design stage has begun on our fifth machine which will take the hackled fibre and draw it out to create sliver. Things are moving along!
Spring has sprung and we are all excited for what the season has in store for us.
Patricia met up with Suszanne Schwal back in 2015 to talk about their adventures in linen. A year later, Suszanne popped by to check in on where we are at with things at TapRoot Fibre. She wrote a lovely blog post on her website about TapRoot Fibre Lab.
Our seeds for this upcoming growing season arrived from Belgium. This year we planted five acres of Melina on April 29th, 2016. Patricia is working on securing a second-hand grubber/puller for harvesting this year so we are not trying to harvest five acres by hand.
I (Rhea) attended the Saltscapes Expo on Friday, April 22nd, the biggest consumer expo east of Montreal that celebrates everything in Atlantic Canada. I presentated on our machinery and linen product line. I have been going to the Saltscapes Expo as a participant for several years now and it was interesting to be on the other side of things. (put the link to saltscapes here)
I (Rhea) have been working each day at getting linen processed so we will have product available for sale. I have been prototyping our long line linen equipment. I take the ‘waste’ from the scutching machine and process it into roving using the Belfast Mini Mill equipment. Legacy Lane, a fibre Mill in New Brunswick are willing to try our short line linen roving through their spinning machine. We are excited to see their results and look forward to hearing from them.
Our immediate need is to launch an online shop for sales of the linen and the machines.
Mike, our engineer, plus people from Timberttec are working on installing an integrated transfer system. This system will help move the flax between each machine. Testing continues we are working on improvements for the breaker, testing rollers and on the scutcher - the turbine blade bluntness. We are awaiting the hackles for our hackling machine as they make their way from India. The hacking machine will comb the linen fibres to remove any remaining shive, any knots and short line linen (tow) fibres.
Things at the farm are starting to pick up speed in preparation for the coming growing season.
As mentioned in January’s blog, we will be growing five acres of the Melina variety of flax this year along with small test plots of newer types. Denise has been busy figuring out the correct way to bring our seeds into the country. We will be ordering our seeds through a certified seed importer.
Since we are increasing our production levels, we are going to invest in a second-hand grubber. A grubber is a machine that will pull the flax plant out of the ground and place it, in an organised manner, on the ground. Denise is researching the necessary procedure to ship a piece of equipment to Canada from the European Union.
We have been working with Belfast Mini Mills, a manufacturer of processing equipment for animal fibres, to see if their equipment can process our short line linen fibres. Testing has yielded positive results! This past week, Jeff and Peter, from Belfast Mini Mills, delivered a separator and carder. Justine and I are working on developing a product from our short line linen. This will enable us to use all of the “waste” fibre from the long line processing we do.We are excited to be getting close to have product available for sale.
Our flax processing room has been set up and now contains three pieces of equipment. We have begun testing on our scutching machine with positive results. Construction on our fourth piece of equipment, the hackler, continues. The scutching machine will remove the shive from the fibres while the hackler will combine the linen fibres, and remove any knots and short line linen fibres.
Patricia’s knitting machine is now operational. I am learning how to use the machine to knit dishcloths. It was recommended to me by several machine knitters that I start with wool and then move on to linen.
We have been working with a local graphic designer to develop product labels.
We are excited to announce that we are continuing to work with Shannon at Trusted Clothes. We will be publishing a monthly guest blog to provide an update of life on the farm and where we are at with developing our equipment line.
Finally, we have been working with a group of local wool growers to start a cooperative fibre mill in the Annapolis Valley. Exciting times!