I am going to stray off track a bit this month. I just have to share something that is happening in the fibre world that does, in some ways, connect to quilting. It involves flax, which is an amazing ancient plant that results in linen. Covers for comforters and mattress covers have long been made from home spun and home woven linen. With that in mind I want to share a story that has started a global sense of connectivity in the world of flax/spinning/weaving. It is about Berta’s Flax.
It begins with just a bit of history about flax, in this case, in Austria. It seems that it was quite common for a woman to have a huge dowry chest filled with stricks of unspun flax along with finished linen items. A strick is comprised of the fibers, cleaned and processed, of flax from root to tip, twisted into the shape you see below.
Some of Berta’s story is offered up in Spin Off magazine:
‘In the early 1950s, Berta Pumberger-Windhager married her husband in a tiny Austrian village. Following the local tradition, Berta brought two chests with her to her new home. One was filled with woven linen, and one was full of unspun flax. In some parts of Europe, this was a common dowry. The chests enabled women to dress their households, and even more importantly, flax and linen were of great value. This fiber belonged to the woman alone and served as an insurance policy for whatever life might bring. By the time Berta received her chests, the custom was more symbolic. The necessity to spin and weave for loved ones no longer existed. Nevertheless, Berta treasured the flax and linen. Until her death, she made sure that the fabric and fibers where dry and neatly tucked away.’
The story was not lost, nor was Berta’s flax. Christiane Seufferlein found herself in possession of these trunks through Berta’s son. She decided that she would offer other spinners, around the world, stricks of Berta’s linen for the cost of shipping. She is passionate about ensuring the stories and the work connected with the flax and linens were not lost. This just speaks to my soul for as quilters and fiber enthusiasts we are often touched by the story of a quilt, a quilter, and the history involved. I think this applies to modern quilters too as they are a product of centuries of fiber workers and artists.
Since Berta’s Flax has taken off all of Berta’s flax is now living a new life all around the world. Christiane has since been inundated with various forms of communication about other trunks as well as many stories about the processing, spinning, and weaving of flax/linen within her area and also outside her area. She has come across other trunks filled with flax stricks as well as linens. There is Rosa’s flax and Maria’s flax that have recently been sent out to new homes. She is so soulfully passionate about this project as well as beautifully overwhelmed with the response from around the world. When asked, by Spin Off magazine, what this project means to her she stated:
““What this project means to me? Berta’s flax is like I suddenly got magic skills. With this historic flax I can travel back and forth in time, give people a voice that have been long gone by honoring their work. I can cross borders and travel all around the world with this story, I can revive a craft that has been sleeping for a long time, and I can make people see their heritage and traditions and textile culture in a new light, maybe. Berta’s flax is connecting people, places, and generations, and that is amazing!” “
I had heard about Berta’s Flax a couple of months ago and thought it was over and done with as I was sure all of Berta’s flax was gone. However, once I started spinning flax I suddenly was reintroduced to Christiane’s efforts and joined in on the FaceBook, finding out that there were other stricks available! I am awaiting my one strick that I will lovingly spin and weave. There truly is such an amazingly deep and timeless connective thread in what is happening with Berta’s Flax that I feel blessed to have stumbled into spinning flax, perhaps connecting with my own ancestors, and finding a truly powerful calling of my own. I hope you are inspired to look more into the rich history flax and linen (perhaps dating further back than any recorded history) and of course, Berta’s flax. I leave you with a snippet of my own weaving of flax I spun and wove in preparation for my previous package of flax from Christiane and Berta’s Flax. Oh and I am growing flax this year too! Fingers crossed!