Finally harvested and rippled the flax. Not the best year (too dry early on and not enough weeding!) but but the best group of harvesters!
Our annual woad and indigo harvest and dye workshop was an evening of gentle delight. It involved curiosity, experiment and awe at that magical transformation of plant into colour. We also harvested our flax and ate amazing scones with home-made jams. Sometimes you can imagine that all is right with the world.
We did two pots – one of woad and one of Japanese indigo, which usually gives a stronger colour but we found the woad was just as potent this year. Thanks to Steve for taking the photos.
Sometimes, when we’re setting up a stall for a community event my heart sinks a little. The sky is grey and the wind is whipping round the marquee. We have a long day ahead of us and we must be friendly and active and sometimes that seems too much. But these are the times when you really need that human activity. These are the times that will really lift you.
Some local organisations got together on Saturday at Mabley Green to coincide with a football competition at Hackney Wick FC. Our stall neighbours included Children With Voices, Hackney Quest , Hackney Pirates and ecoACTIVE– all creative and inspiring outfits which encourage children to be active, curious and inventive – to give them alternatives to the other stuff out there like gangs and slumping on the sofa.
As our contribution we set up to make willow crowns with plants picked from the garden – including ceanothus, ivy, broccoli flowers, dandelions, shepherd’s purse, geraniums, yarrow and red valerian – and seeing the wonderful variety in both the people and their creations lifted our spirits.
And if this video of Michelle talking about the event doesn’t lift your heart, you may need to seek a doctor: Jumping Beans
Visitors from afar…. well outside London. Bicester, Oxfordshire to be exact. Azul, Jason, Kate, Mark and Claudia from Grassroots Bicester and Banbury Community Action were on an awayday to find out about setting up a community growing space. We talked about what Cordwainers has done (and some of the mistakes), did a tour of the garden, spent a lots of time watching the frogs, drank tea and ate cake (of course) and did a quick bundle dye session – a great way to get people interested in plants and growing. In return I found out about their projects which include community orchards and setting up Incredible Edible Bicester – making community-grown fruit and veg available to ANYone who wants it, based on this excellent principle started by Incredible Edible Todmorden – and Jason gave our fruit trees an overdue prune.
Enjoying a warm, delicious cup of tea with biscuits is such a treat for many of us. Now imagine drinking a healthy cup of tea that you grew and assembled yourself, using all of your favorite herbs! Cordwainers Grow, in partnership with Sanctuary Housing, recently presented the workshop: Growing Herbal Tea on your Balcony. It was great fun and a group of young children from the community joined our volunteers to give it a go!
This workshop is part of a free series called Herbs in the Home offered at the Morningside Community Centre in Hackney.
Some upcoming fall workshops include; Creating herbal remedies and a First Aid Kit (September 25), Making Body and Home Cleaning Products (October 23) and Making Anti-Bug Herbal Moth Balls (November 20).
The herbal tea workshop started with clipping a few fresh herbs, like rosemary and sage, from the Morningside Community Centre’s own garden. We then learned (as I’m a volunteer as well) how to clip segments of the plants and replant them in small pots. These small, potted herb gardens can grow on balconies and window sills to provide fresh herbs for tea and cooking.
The next step was to create our own customized tea bags from a variety of dried herbs. The children used their sense of smell to select from chamomile, echinacea, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lavender and nettle. The volunteers also shared some of the natural healing qualities, historically linked with the herbs. Some children added hot water to their creations and sipped on them right away, while others crafted ingredient labels and were off to give them to their families.
Corwainers Grow would love for more community members to join us for free fun and education, so please spread the good word!
If you’ve never witnessed the magic of a woad (or indigo) vat, seen the alchemy of one thing turning into another, book yourself a place on a workshop now. Forget the wow factor, the woad factor will bowl you over. The nearest thing I could think of in twenty-first century terms is the awe we felt the first time you see an iphone swipe. That wonder soon wears off. Never with woad.
We set up an informal workshop at Cordwainers Garden to experiment with our woad harvest and went through the exacting (but not difficult) process of turning a handful of leaves into a permanent dye. It took about three hours in all. We had a great turnout of people from all corners of the world. People from Uruguay, Argentina, Spain, Leicester, and Wembley came to have a go and help us with the magic.
We didn’t really think it through before embarking on a project to grow a piece of clothing entirely in London. If we had thought it through, we might not have started as it was a year-long labour of love and faith. But we were inspired by the idea of the threads that bind us together in the city. We wanted to show, through a piece of material, that individually we can come together to make something that we can’t do on our own.
Until the introduction of cotton and the industrial revolution, linen production was widespread in Britain and Ireland. Indeed, it was the first textile crop grown by man – 10,000 or so years ago. Its peak here was probably in the 17th and 18th centuries. People would have grown it for their own needs and it was also raised and processed on a large scale. But it takes a lot of work – and expertise. All those centuries of flax production being commonplace and domestic made everyone an expert – or at least aware of the plant and its uses. No longer. We had to start from the beginning. We had to learn about the plant’s many properties and work out ideal growing conditions, to dew or water ret, the best way of heckling, do we need a distaff for spinning? What is a distaff? Would this toy giraffe do?
We made mistakes and wasted a lot of time and flax getting it wrong and lost people and plants on the way, but we had some great days. A memorable one was sowing a patch next to the River Lea in Hackney. On a sunny morning we met river dwellers and land lubbers who spoke to each other about common concerns. We talked over cups of tea to small children, dog walkers, curious passers-by and the odd loiterer. Already the flax was bringing us together.
And the school workshops were full of excitement and energy – as well as learning. We worked with five Hackney and Tower Hamlets primary schools (300+ noisy children!) thanks to the local school gardener’s (Cassie Liversidge’s) own enthusiasm. They rippled, retted, broke, scutched, heckled and even spun the flax. If nothing else, they learned that thread comes from plants and takes a lot of effort. They fitted flax production into their lessons – from science to the Iron Age. Cassie said it was a “fantastic ‘living history’ lesson for the pupils and they have loved to be involved in it”.
This project brought a huge number of (sometimes surprising) people together – from those children in London to Hebrew Bible publishers in Jerusalem and a weaver in Crete. In between were community gardens, housing estates, city farms, Children’s Centres, Permaculturalists, fashion students, knitters, weavers and, thanks to the Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers and Twitter, two spinners (Christine Rowe and Aaron Fletcher) who were willing to learn about the demands of turning hanks of hair-like fibre into thread.
Throughout the project we were tugged back into our pasts and our fairy tale memories – from the ancient boredom and sociability of harvesting, to gazing at the huge pile of flax straw and wishing Rumpelstiltskin was nearby. Similarly, there was a fairy tale quality to our own spinning. It didn’t matter how much we processed, our pile of thread never seemed to grow any bigger. But eventually we handed our yarn (about 400g) over to knitters at the London College of Fashion. They made a top designed to bring out the great variability of the thread – made by so many people.
But it wasn’t really about the final product; it was about the threads that bind us.
If you’d like to find out more, or to take part in our slightly less ambitious project this year – to grow string – email firstname.lastname@example.org