Growing Flax in Urban Spaces

Photo caption: Bwmaddog21 via Flickr Creative Commons

Last week I had a speaking engagement at a meeting of the Greater Vancouver Weavers and Spinners Guild in Jericho. During the course of the evening, one of the members mentioned that the Urban Weaver’s Studio would be planting flax seeds in a vacant tennis court nearby and other empty lots in Vancouver, thanks to a grant from the city of Vancouver.

The purpose of planting flax seeds is twofold. While the flax will look beautiful when it comes into a bloom and fills up a vacant space with beautiful blue flowers, but flax can be harvested and turned into cloth – which is what the organizers of the Urban Cloth Project intend to do with it. Their website explains that growing flax used to be a common activity in British Columbia:

If you see a plot of lovely blue flowers at McLean Park or Aberthau – it’s a future linen shirt in bloom. We also have several people growing flax either at home or in their community garden plot, using this blog to tell them what to do and when to plant….Flax was once grown all over BC, as far north as Bella Coola – we have the ideal climate for it. Families planted a small plot of it every few years to provide the material to make garments, bed sheets etc.

In addition to growing flax, which can only be harvested every five years, these lots will also become home to plants that can be used for dyeing cloth. I’m very interested in seeing how this project develops. In the past few years, Vancouver has made space for quite a few community gardens and urban farms to grow food, but this is the first that I’ve heard of urban planting for textiles. Given that our rainforest climate tends to lend itself well to flax, I imagine that urban gardens that produce  hemp fibre for paper and cloth won’t be that far behind.





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