Flax in bloom on the museum’s own flax field in 2022. Source: Maileena Vaajoensuu, the Finnish Museum of Agriculture Sarka.
For over two thousand years, Finns have been familiar with flax cultivation. Many traditions throughout the year were closely related to growing this multipurpose plant. The remnants of different celebrations, practices as well as language that are related to flax growing can still be seen today, even though they have mostly drifted away from their original context. For a long period of time, Finns grew flax for their own personal use. When yarn and fabric became a ready-made product, flax growing for domestic use began to dwindle. After the Second World War, flax growing drastically decreased and stopped almost completely. Nowadays, domestic flax growing in Finland is done by individual farmers as a spare-time hobby, not as an occupation.
In hopes of raising awareness to the traditions and practices surrounding flax, the Finnish Museum of Agriculture Sarka alongside a team of Finnish handcraft and agricultural associations organised a flax growing project called Neliömetri pellavaa, Square Metre of Flax (2022-2023).
The official logo of the Square Metre of Flax project.
Preserving Old Traditions - The Square Metre of Flax project in Finland
Square Metre of Flax (Finnish: Neliömetri pellavaa) is an ongoing national flax growing project in Finland, which is carried out by the Finnish Crafts Organisation Taito, the Rural Women's Advisory Organisation, ProAgria, and the Finnish Museum of Agriculture Sarka.
The Finnish Crafts Organisation Taito is a nationwide organisation that strives to be an active producer and developer of crafts services, and a promoter of the crafts culture as a skill and trade. The Rural Women’s Advisory Organisation specialises in food, nutrition, entrepreneurship, rural landscape, and environment. It also provides an extensive women's network in the rural areas. ProAgria is a rural advisory organisation, which specialises in agriculture and rural business. The Finnish Museum of Agriculture Sarka is the national museum for agriculture, and our specialties include comprehensive knowledge on agricultural heritage, and history of agriculture in Finland. Our goal as project partners is to exchange information and knowledge on traditional flax cultivation, and to encourage people to try flax growing.
Museum Curator Elsa Hietala (pictured) sowing flax to the museum’s flax field as part of the Square Metre of Flax project. Source: Elsa Hietala, the Finnish Museum of Agriculture Sarka.
Square Metre of Flax began in the spring of 2022 and continues further in 2023. As the name of the project suggests, participants were given instructions to grow flax on a patch of land that is the size of one square metre. The idea is to allow participants to experience how flax is grown and processed in a setting, which does not require land ownership or professional tools.
The Square Metre of Flax project as a concept is based on a project in Sweden called 1 kvadratmeter lin, which began in 2020. The original project in Sweden was able to encourage a large number of people to learn about the traditional forms of flax cultivation. Through this success, other handcraft associations across the Nordic countries were invited to participate in this project. The Finnish Crafts Organization Taito accepted this invitation gladly, and began working on the Finnish equivalent of this program, Neliömetri pellavaa. Our expertise as the national museum of agriculture came in handy for this project. We joined our forces together with Rural Women's Advisory Organisation and ProAgria, who were also eager to participate in such an enticing project.
Certain techniques never die. Flax plucking in 1943 compared to 2022. Source: Sisko Puolanne, the Finnish Heritage Agency. Kansatieteen kuvakokoelma. Suurtalkoot ry:n kokoelma. CC BY 4.0, and Elsa Hietala, the Finnish Museum of Agriculture Sarka.
The wheels began to turn quickly in spring of 2022, when the planning stage began. First, the project settled on using a flax seed variation called Lisette, which were ordered from Sweden. Then in May, the seeds alongside a set of instructions were distributed to anyone who showed interest towards this project. In terms of public communications, the project has its own website and an active media presence. An active approach to public communications has proven to be a very vital part of this project in terms of guidance and visibility.
The project also organised two webinars throughout the year, which focused on sharing advice and past experiences on flax growing. The webinars were well received, and allowed us, the project managers, to realise how much events like these are appreciated. The Sarka museum also organised its annual harvesting market in September, where several different types of demonstrations on flax processing were shown. This event was also received very well by the public, reaching over a thousand spectators. The museum was able to utilise the flax grown in their own flax field, which added a nice touch to the demonstrations.
The old techniques of flax processing were shown at the Köyri-market in September of 2022. Source: Maileena Vaajoensuu, the Finnish Museum of Agriculture Sarka.
Square Metre of Flax brings awareness to how linen is made, and brings people back to the very sources of this material through active participation. Nowadays commercialised flax cultivation has been outsourced in Finland almost completely, which in turn has made the whole process of growing and processing flax quite foreign to most people. The project also shines a heavy light on sustainability. Learning how much work and time goes to growing the plant, processing the fibres, spinning the fibres to yarn, and finally weaving the yarn to fabric will hopefully motivate people to be more aware of the value of different clothing materials. Alongside the actual farming tasks, the Sarka museum also encouraged participants to document their experiences on flax cultivation and their past memories of this activity to the museum’s collection on contemporary documentation. This way the different experiences can be used later for the purpose of future education and research.
More material on the project can be found at: https://www.taito.fi/kasityoohjeet-ja-jutut/artikkelit/neliometri_pellavaa/
The aftermath of threshing flax at the harvesting market. Maileena Vaajoensuu, the Finnish Museum of Agriculture Sarka.
Elina Parkkila (M.A.)
Museum Curator at the Finnish Museum of Agriculture Sarka
Suomen maatalousmuseo Sarka, Vanhankirkontie 383, 32200 Loimaa, Finland
For more information on Square Metre of Flax, please contact:
Elsa Hietala, Museum Curator at the Finnish Museum of Agriculture Sarka, email@example.com
The Finnish Museum of Agriculture Sarka
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