Subscriber Exclusive

The Quest for Local Linen: Chico Flax

If cotton is the king of cellulose fibers, then linen is the queen. In Northern California, farmers are working to bring back local sources of this fundamental fiber.

Jacqueline Harp Feb 16, 2024 - 12 min read

The Quest for Local Linen: Chico Flax Primary Image

Sandy Fisher and Durl Van Alstyne of Chico Flax are reviving American flax and linen production. Photo by Samantha Jackson

Harvested and processed from the hardy yet temperamental flax plant, linen yarn has long been a treasure to knitters with a taste for fashionable, summer-friendly knits. Yet the more miles a yarn travels to reach our needles, the less earth-friendly it becomes. In the United States, there is a notable lack of domestically produced linen yarns. Most linen yarns available at your local yarn shop are imported from Italy or China. Fortunately, there are fiber producers who are solving the lack of local linen yarn. Expert weaver Sandy Fisher and her partner, Durl Van Alstyne, are at the heart of Chico Flax, an organization located in Chico, California, that seeks to bring sustainably produced linen products to North America and beyond.

Purple-blue flowers in a field, barn in the distance Blooming with beautiful purple-blue flowers, this field of flax will become linen yarn as part of the Chico Flax project. Photo by Paige Green

Adventures in Flax

Sandy has been weaving for over 40 years. Her quest for locally sourced plant-based fibers culminated in the founding of Chico Flax in 2018. In 2012, Sandy received a phone call from a friend who encouraged her to think outside the confines of the textile industry, and she fondly recalls the moment where flax entered the picture. Sandy recalls: “It was in the summer, 110 degrees, and we were in a garden that happened to be growing flax. Seeing these plants in person reminded me that flax becomes linen. And that’s where Chico Flax started: with a group of community members that wanted to make a local cloth that could be worn in our warm climate.”

No subscription? You're missing out.

Subscribe today to access all of the premium knitting content available.