Sunday, June 11, 2023

Backstory: How the Flax Project Began


"….in all Joshua Sow'd about 1½ Bu. & ½ peck flax Seed.”
Samuel Lane, Almanack, May I, 1769.

The concept for this project began in a University of New Hampshire (UNH) History Department classroom. During the Spring semester of 2023, I taught HIST600/800 "From Homespun to Fast Fashion: A Global History of Textiles." After several classes spent on an in-depth study of both the global and local history of growing flax for linen production, a student noted it would be a unique experience if we could try growing flax and processing it. My response--why not?

The class is now collaborating with UNH Extension Professor Becky Sideman from UNH’s Sustainable Agriculture program and is experimenting with growing flax, cotton, and rye in a 50’x50’ plot at the Woodman Agricultural Research Farm, part of the UNH Campus. After access to the plot was confirmed, class members (grad and undergrad working together) conducted research on the best type of flax seed for New England soil and textile production. The students and the Department are excited about the project, which will extend from spring 2023 through spring 2024. We hope it will generate more interdepartmental collaborative projects. 

The following posts will introduce you to team members, track the growth of the flax, take you behind the scenes to New England museums and historical societies, and chart our experiments with everything from building a flax break to harvesting, retting and scutching the flax and -- we hope--processing enough linen thread to make a small article of clothing. 

Our methodology is both experiential and archival-- based on the knowledge shared in newspapers, documents, letters, diaries, and almanacs, as well as the surviving textiles made and saved by those living in the Seacoast of New Hampshire during the late 17th through early 19th centuries. We thank these frequently anonymous individuals for taking the time in their busy world to record their endeavors. 

Dr. Kimberly Alexander
Director of Museum Studies & Senior Lecturer

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