As we start a new year, we've been reflecting on some of the events of 2021 here on Mallon Farm. It was a year that saw us plant three times more flax than in previous years, bring a scutching machine from the 1940's back to life and also cast two new pieces to add to our Celtic Legend collection of bronze sculptures.
In February, we were thrilled to be asked to record a segment for the Northern Ireland Science Festival. The programme was a wonderful insight into the "Past, Present and Future of Linen in N.I." You can see the recording on the NI Science Festival Youtube channel here
In March we participated in The Handmade Britain Interactive Virtual Craft Fair, which was a great opportunity to showcase our sculptures, prints and also linen. We conducted a live broadcast from the scutching mill.
We had a busy year with our flax. Sowing was delayed due to heavy rain but we finally planted three acres in mid May using a traditional tool called a fiddle.
Traditionally there is a 100 day wait before the flax is ready to harvest. It all started well, the first shoots appeared around day 14 and we had some record breaking high temperatures for the 'wee blue blossoms'. We had never seen the flax blooming so vigorously.
In June we conducted a biodiversity audit for the Fair to Nature scheme backed by the RSPB. It was fantastic to learn about the variety of plants and wildlife around the farm and to see what nature provides when it is left alone.
Towards the end of July, around 75 days after sowing we were hit with some challenging weather. High winds and heavy rain took a toll on the flax and around 20% was flattened. We had to rally friends and family at short notice to lift as much as possible before it started to rot on the ground. We pulled all the flax by hand. This preserves the length of the fibre and is also best suited for the hilly fields of the farm. By the end of August we had everything harvested.
Once the flax had been transported to the barns to dry, it allowed us to focus on other activities: double retting our 2020 crop of flax and continuing the restoration of the 1940's Mackies scutching machine, as well as tending the other crops we have on the farm.
We presented a talk about our flax and linen journey at the Handmade Oxford Interactive Virtual Fair in September. It was entitled "From Field to Fabric" and we demonstrated some flax processing stages live from the mill, such as hand scutching and heckling. Although we missed being able to attend an event like this in person, the virtual fair was the next best thing!
Then in November, we were delighted to be able to travel to London to exhibit at the Handmade Britain Craft Fair at Chelsea Old Town Hall. As always, it was a wonderful event; great to be able to meet new people, chat about our work and showcase our collection of bronze sculptures inspired by Celtic myths and legends alongside two new sculptures (The Boar of Ben Gulbain and Melangell and the Hare) and two new prints (Bradan, the Salmon of Knowledge and Melangell and the Hare).
Finally in December we got the flax breakers working for the first time in decades. This was very exciting for us as this restoration project has been a long and difficult process. The scutching machine had lain in pieces in a barn for over 40 years, so to finally hear the cogs and belts moving was very satisfying.
We wish everyone a happy and healthy 2022.