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She Grows Her Own Cloth Fiber
Raven Ranson makes yarn from plant fibers she grows herself. Even though she lives near Victoria on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, her efforts have even included cotton. However, flax better fits her climate.
    “I really like yarn and growing things, so I decided to combine my interests,” says Ranson.
    The do-it-her-selfer encourages people to give it a try like she has. With the flax, she started with a 1-gal. pot of dirt and a pinch of seed.
    “I didn’t have fiber flaxseed, so I just used flaxseed from the supermarket,” says Ranson. “It worked fine. Planted in my garden, I can get enough flax from a 3 by 3-ft. plot to make yarn for a towel.”
    Ranson’s just try it attitude includes developing her own variety of flax and extends to timing. “I tried planting it at various times, and it was very forgiving. Just plant it, wait 2 to 3 months and harvest.”
    She is proud of breaking lots of rules, finding that sometimes the wrong way is a better way.
    Turning flax into yarn requires the aid of microbes in a process called retting to get rid of the glue that holds the fibers in the stem. When sufficiently retted, the stems are dried and smashed to break loose the fibers. Once combed and worked, the fibers can be spun into yarn for weaving.
    “Some people find it to be hard work, but working with my sheep and dealing with a ram is a lot more work,” says Ranson.
    She describes the process in her book, Homegrown Linen: Transforming Flaxseed into Fibre. Due to be published in January, the book covers growing flax in various conditions, creating your own flax fiber variety, and processing. It also covers tools, tips and tricks, as well as other uses for flax.
    What it doesn’t cover is her work with other fibers such as cotton. Here, too, she broke lots of rules, starting with her seed and the idea that it could be grown so far north.
    “I used seeds from a floral display my first time. Then I found seeds at Etsy.com,” says Ranson. “Finally, I discovered them in the Baker Creek Seed catalog.”
    Ranson grows colored cotton in shades of brown, green and white, growing them in an 8 by 10-ft. greenhouse. One crop of cotton in that space produces enough fiber to weave about 6 towels. She reports getting a crop 3 out of 5 years as she experiments with growing it.
    “One thing I am trying to do with the book is to encourage people to experiment,” says Ranson. “Just take a bucket or a plot and do half one way and half another. See what results.”
    Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Crowing Hen Farm, 5705 West Saanich Rd., Victoria, B.C., Canada V9E 2G1 (ph 250 658-1909; farm@crowinghen.ca; www.crowinghen.ca).

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2018 - Volume #42, Issue #6