«Previous    Next»
Small Scale Plant Fiber Processing
A heavy infestation of stinging nettle started Patricia Bishop and Josh Oulton down the road to building small-scale plant fiber processing equipment. The first step was discovering that stinging nettle, like flax, was a great source of thread, preferred by the early Romans and others for cloth.
“Our farm was full of nettle, and we wanted to add value to it,” says Bishop. “It makes beautiful long fibers and a beautiful fabric. We also started growing flax, as it’s similar to nettle but more mainstream.”
Bishop quickly discovered there were only two options for processing plant fiber, whether nettle, flax or hemp. One was labor-intensive hand work. The other was industrial scale, with large and very expensive machines designed for high volumes of material.
“I wanted to find something in the middle, but no machines were being made, and none of the manufacturers were interested in making them,” says Bishop.
Bishop and Oulton operate TapRoot Farms in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia. They raise and market organic fruit and vegetables, as well as pigs, chickens, goats and sheep. They also produce multiple grains, alfalfa and flax and wool fiber. As part of the farm operation, they offer farm tours, on-farm vacation rentals, dinners on the farm, and more.
Bishop’s interest in fiber led to the development of TapRoot Fibre to create and distribute small batch linen and wool fiber produced on the farm. The greater goal is to grow the fiber, process it and make clothing on a community scale. To make that economical for themselves and others, they needed to mechanize.
“We created TapRoot Fibre Lab, hired an engineer, and started working with him to make machines,” says Bishop. “The goal was machines that could be used by small to medium-size farms on a community scale.”
The effort started in 2014, and by 2018 they had the first iteration of machines. “We want to go from retted flax (flax plants that have been left to rot away the woody stems and inner pith) to spun yarn, but we haven’t finished the journey,” says Bishop. “We have the first three - breaking, scutching, and hackling machines. They produce nice clean flax fiber ready to be drawn out and spun. We don’t have the machines to do the drawing out or the spinning.”
The breaking machine crushes and cracks retted flax straw to release the fiber from the shive or plant stem.
The scutching machine consists of counter-rotating steel turbines with 18 edges. It scrapes and shakes out the broken shive, leaving raw fiber.
The hackling machine combs, straightens, cleans, and separates the fiber bundles to produce the highest quality thread. It consists of two counter-rotating belts with rows of hackles (pins) of varying density from less than 1 pin per in. to 40 pins per in.
The three machines can separate short fiber from long, which needs further processing. It’s the long fibers that are in the highest demand. They make the highest quality linen, explains Bishop.
“Long fiber linen has much more luster and makes a more beautiful fabric,” she says.
Taproot Fibre also does custom processing of retted flax and animal fiber. The ability to mechanize the last two steps is one more reason Bishop is looking forward to completing the project.
Bishop acknowledges that it would be difficult for an individual or small organization to justify the investment without the final two machines.
“We have a lot of interest, but we don’t feel we can market the machinery without the full set,” says Bishop. “The first three are available for sale. If we sell some, we’ll be able to invest the money in research for the next step.”
Bishop and Oulton have their eyes set on changing textile production. “It would be great to build out a small scale bast (plant fiber) infrastructure at a community scale to shift from global production to local,” says Bishop.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Taproot Fibre Lab, 10009 Highway #1, Port Williams, Nova Scotia, Canada B4P 2R2 (ph 902-542-3277; fibrelab@taprootfarms.ca; www.taprootfibrelab.ca)

  Click here to download page story appeared in.

  Click here to read entire issue

To read the rest of this story, download this issue below or click here to register with your account number.
Order the Issue Containing This Story
2023 - Volume #47, Issue #2