New Field Lab: Fibre Flax Variety Trial
A new Innovative Farmers Field Lab is underway, to test and compare the performance and yield of three new varieties of fibre flax in a range of Scottish soils and climates; with three trial farms and 25 community sites taking part across Scotland.
The project is coordinated by independent facilitator Colleen McCulloch in collaboration with the James Hutton Institute, Edinburgh College of Art at the University of Edinburgh, and Heriot Watt University; with trial seeds and technical support provided by seed specialists Elsoms Seeds.
Once the foundation of Scotland’s booming linen industry in the 18th and 19th centuries, flax (Linum usitatissimum) has not been commercially grown for fibre in Scotland since at least the 1950s – due largely to cheap flax imports from abroad and the relocation of linen manufacturing. However, thanks in part to increasing awareness of the negative environmental (and human) impacts of ‘fast fashion’, and inspired by recent projects like Homegrown Homespun and the Fibreshed movement, there is growing interest in Scotland and the UK to nurture an emerging regenerative textile and fashion industry, which embeds agroecological production and circular economy principles at its core.
Because there are no longer any Scottish fibre flax varieties commercially available, three new varieties – developed in the Netherlands – are being trialled at three farm sites across Scotland to test and compare their performance, yield and fibre quality. The results will inform how well these new varieties, developed in milder climates, fit Scotland’s growing conditions and whether further work is required.
The smaller community plots, ranging from Orkney to Lismore to the Borders and comprising home gardens, crofts, allotments, schools and community gardens, will grow one variety to test its performance across a wider range of soils and climates. One of the community gardens is even working with a seed library to explore the development of a local land race, by combining our Dutch variety with seed saved from a French cultivar.
Seed was sown in April and May; and will be hand-harvested in July and early August (fibre flax is pulled rather than cut, as the fibres extend down through the roots). Because there is no commercial flax industry in the UK, there is no specialist harvesting equipment available – so we are working with local groups of volunteers to hand-harvest the crop at each trial site.
Working in partnership with colleagues at Edinburgh College of Art and Heriot Watt University, there is a further objective to process the harvested fibre crop into yarn and create linen products; and to provide additional opportunities for knowledge exchange, demonstration and networking.
This trial is a small step towards exploring the potential of flax fibre production and processing in Scotland; and will contribute to the growing body of work being done by local growers, weavers, makers, artists and innovators to unlock Scotland’s potential to produce regenerative textiles as part of a circular economy. Watch this space for more updates as the project progresses.
If you would like to know more about this project, register for updates or be notified about upcoming workshops, please contact Field Lab Coordinator firstname.lastname@example.org.