Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia farmer sews what she sows processing flax into clothes

Patricia Bishop, a farmer from the Annapolis Valley, is pioneering the rebirth of the old craft by creating new machines, built in the province. The idea is to sew what she sows.

Patricia Bishop of Port Williams, N.S., partnered with a Nova Scotia company to build flax processing machines

Patricia Bishop wants to show other farmers how they can also grow their own fabric. (Colleen Jones/CBC)

Growing flax and transforming it into linen is one of the oldest ways people made fabric to sew into clothes. 

Patricia Bishop, a farmer from the Annapolis Valley, is pioneering the rebirth of the old craft by creating new machines, built in the province.

She has partnered with a Nova Scotia company, Timbertech, to build small-scale flax processing machines and wants to make production a viable economic industry for rural communities across North America. 

Patricia Bishop recently won the 2016 Agriculture Innovation Accelerator Award from the Annapolis Valley Chamber of Commerce for her work. (Colleen Jones/CBC)

"The possibility that we could grow our clothes, we can create opportunities for employment and for meaningful craft and makery? It's wonderful," she said at her operation, Taproot Fibre Lab, in Port Williams.

'We have talent in Nova Scotia' 

Bishop has been travelling and speaking at rural economic development conferences in the United States and Canada about the beauty and benefits of the natural fibre. 

"We have talent in Nova Scotia. We have students training at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design who are weavers, spinners, designers and textile makers."

Patricia Bishop (right) modeling some of the clothes made from the flax on her farm to CBC reporter Colleen Jones. (CBC)

Bishop sees going from seed to a finished product as a natural evolution of sustainable living.

Already wearing clothes she grew

During her interview with CBC News Tuesday, Bishop wore a knitted linen scarf and a hand-woven linen vest made from the flax she planted at her farm and processed at the fibre lab. 

What's grown from the ground is spun into yarn and then woven into fabric. (CBC)

"My dream is, I'd like to get up every morning and put on clothes that we grew on the farm. In agriculture we can grow more than food, we can grow clothes and all kinds of other products that we use in our daily lives." 

In this age of instant and mass produced, watching the organic process of going from seed to yarn looks arduous.

Bringing back the industry 

But for Bishop, it's worth the work of trying to bring back the industry. 

"There's so much passion and love in it, it's really powerful. It would be really great for Nova Scotia to be known as the best linen in North America. There'll be Belgian linen and there'll be Nova Scotia linen."

Patricia Bishop's dried flax protruding slightly outside of a box. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

Bishop recently won the 2016 Agriculture Innovation Accelerator Award from the Annapolis Valley Chamber of Commerce for her work.

Spreading the word to other farmers 

She's hoping next year to have some shirts from the linen fabric ready for market. 

For now, she's selling 100 per cent linen yarn. 

Rhea Hamlin working one of the many machines as the flax transforms to yarn. (Colleen Jones/CBC)

The processing machines she's helped design are still being perfected and tweaked, but the fact that she's wearing clothes sewn from the seeds she planted and picked shows what's possible, she said. 

Bishop also hopes it becomes economically viable for rural communities, not just in Nova Scotia but throughout North America.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

World champion curler Colleen Jones has been reporting with CBC News for nearly three decades. Follow her on Twitter @cbccolleenjones.

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