Sunday, January 26, 2014

Flax to Linen

I’ve just finished spinning a bunch of flax for a friend of mine.  The flax had belonged to a dear friend of hers who passed away.  She didn’t want a very fine thread because she wanted to use it in her knitting but the fiber was fairly coarse anyway so it was spun “rustically.”  That’s my way of saying that I didn’t know what the heck I was doing but had a great reference book to guide me and I learned a few things.  Linen Hand Spinning and Weaving by Patricia Baines was my introduction to this challenging fiber.
Here are a few of things I learning in this process, which, by the way, took me about 2 years to do – 1 ½ years sitting staring at me from its perch on one of my stash piles and 6 months of starting in the summer when it could be done on the back porch and then putting it off for another 5 ½ months because it took a lot of concentration).  All in all, it was probably about 6 hours of spinning. 

  1. Learning to dress the distaff correctly is critical.  If it the distaff isn’t correctly dressed, it can either be too dense to draft well or too loose, making it hard to draw in the right amount of fiber.  Learned by experience as well as by reference to the book.
  2. Flax shouldn’t be spun in the living room unless you have a couple of hours to dust, mop and vacuum after you’re done.  If you’re spinning on carpet, by all means, lay a sheet or cloth beneath your entire work area.  Flax is messy.  It’s like hanging out with a bunch of grass clippings, which it sorta is, if you think about it.  If you have people in your house with allergies, I strongly recommend spinning this fiber outside.
  3. When spinning flax, be prepared to pamper your wheel.   Make sure that it’s well-oiled throughout the process and that you clean it thoroughly after you’re finished.  You’ll most likely be spinning on a very high ratio which means your wheel needs lots of oil to handle the very fast moving parts.  Reasons for the cleaning, refer to #2.
  4. Patricia Baines says that the tradition (and the innate desire of the flax fibers) is to spin S singles and Z ply although she does stress that if you’re going to weave with your thread, there’s not a need to ply it.
  5. You should keep a pot of warm water or a sponge wetted with warm water by your side because water makes flax stronger and makes it possible to spin a smoother yarn or thread.
  6. It makes your hands smell very fresh.
  7. It’s very difficult to find well prepared flax although I did located some through The Woolery in Kentucky.  But it was backordered for about 6 months before I received it.
  8. Ms. Baines recommendation to treadle very slowly is very good advice.
I have an ambition to spin some flax finely and evenly enough to use it for a piece of bobbin lace, which is the traditional fiber used for the craft.  Check back in another 2 years and I might be close to giving it a go! 

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