Flax is back in County Derry

Marion Baur with husband Hermann. 1410PG19
Marion Baur with husband Hermann. 1410PG19

The first field of flax in several decades is being sowed through an initiative by Marion Baur, owner of Flax Mill Textiles, outside Dungiven.

Located at Derrylane, near Gortnaghey, Mrs Baur decided to “bring the blue bloom back to where it belongs”.

Speaking at the Flax Mill to members of the spinners and weavers’ guild, she said: “Over the past few years we grew small batches of flax on the mill’s own ground. Though it grew nicely, we are aware that our ground is a little too peaty and we don’t have enough of it. So we decided to co-operate with another small business in the area in order to grow flax.”

Upperlands Coffee Company is the partner for the unusual joint venture.

“We have worked and become friends with the owners, John and Julie Henderson, over the past three years. I observed that they are as good with working their ground as they are in roasting and blending unique coffee. They have successfully produced organically grown potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins and other vegetables. By keeping their land free of any chemical fertilizers, pesticides etc., they have created ideal conditions for flax. All recent research shows that the flax-plant doesn’t do well when heavily fertilized. It wants proper crop-rotation, well drained soil and at the very most a light dressing of horse-manure. All those conditions are there. Add to that the fact that the first field of flax will be grown in an area which was once the heartland of linen production in the North-West with Ireland’s oldest linen-mill, Clarks of Upperlands, literally one mile away and you have an ambience for flax-growing which is bound to be unique.”

The Upperlands-Dungiven joint venture is a first step with a lot more to follow.

“We are not growing a large quantity for the first year and only a very small proportion of that will be sold as fibre. After pulling – done by my husband in the traditional way – retting and scutching (separating the straw from the fibre), the vast majority of the flax will be commission-spun and used in our own weaving here at Flax Mill.”

She added: “We are not doing this for nostalgic reasons or just for fun. Overall the recent hype regarding our drive to increase weaving and our new textile-outlet to come in Germany, we can’t neglect putting the top-quality of our product even more into the centre of our activities.”