Flax: from Plant to Thread
Flax is the plant that linen is made from, and the collection at the Amherst Historical Society at the Simeon Strong House includes some antique flax processing tools. On Saturday, August 6 beginning at 11:00 A.M., Michelle Parrish will demonstrate the steps involved in preparing flax for spinning into yarn or thread, using some of the tools traditionally used to process flax, including a brake, scutching board, and hetchels. Visitors will have the opportunity to try these tools, and to see flax at different stages of the process. This event is free and open to the public and will continue at least until 2:00.
Michelle volunteered to demonstrate the techniques used to process flax after visiting the exhibit Artifacts Inspire: An Exhibition of Work by Fiber Artists of Western Massachusetts on view at the museum through September 25.
Gideon Stetson hatchel from the Amherst Historical Society Collection. It was donated by in 1917 by of A. Anderson Mackimmie.
Flax must be broken down from plant stalks to spinable fibers. This is a many-staged process, with specialized tools for each step. Hetchel, hatchel, and hackle are all names for the bed of nails that were used to comb the flax fibers after scotching. The bundle of fibers is flipped over the teeth and pulled though, much the same as combing hair. A flax dresser who could gain the largest amount of spinable fiber from a crop of flax was very highly paid.
Michelle Parrish is a member of the New England Flax and Linen Study Group, and has been growing flax for over ten years. Her focus in the study group has been growing different varieties of fiber flax, including 29 varieties obtained through the USDA germplasm system. Her goals are to identify types that perform well in Western Massachusetts and expand the range of seeds available to small-scale growers more broadly. An educator, weaver, spinner, and plant-based dyer, Michelle grows plants for fiber and dye, and documents her projects on her blog (www.localcolordyes.com). Since 2001 she has been active in a number of local fiber, art, craft, and farm organizations, and has taught students of all ages. Michelle earned her Master Weaver Certificate from the Hill Institute in Florence, MA in 2010. She maintains her school’s fiber and dye plant garden, and has presented workshops to K-12 teachers on growing and using dye plants and flax in the school garden through Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom.
In May 2015 the Amherst Historical Society and Museum invited the nine members of Fiber Artists of Western MA to tour the collection and create pieces that reflected their curiosity about and fascination with what they saw. We are pleased to present Artifacts Inspire, an exhibition of the works created by the nine members of the group as the inaugural exhibition at the Strong House this year.
The diversity of pieces in the show includes both literal representations and more abstract musings about the items which the various artists chose to reflect upon. The artifacts are exhibited with the works they inspired. These inspired pieces represent the many media which these nine women explore in their work. Group members include Nina Compagnon, Sally Dillon, Rebecca Fricke, Martha May, Martha G. Robinson, Flo Rosenstock, Debby Slavitt, Margaret Stancer, and Nancy Young. We are grateful to the artists for sharing their work. We also appreciate the support provided by Peoples Bank.