Chitchat and the occasional in-depth analysis about fiber, knitting, spinning, crochet, cooking, feminism, self-image, and a modicum of personal blathering.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Straw into gold

I belong to a casual online spinning guild via yahoo groups. The current project is spinning flax, and the process plus my personal wonderment at the historical development of the whole idea of getting fiber then yarn then clothing from this very unlikely looking plant is something I find fascinating, so I went for it.


So I got some of both kinds of flax, because I wanted to try both.

Flax comes in, basically, two preparations. Tow flax or roving, which is the shorter fibers of flax that have been combed away from the long fibers, and the long fibers, line flax or strick. The long fibers are very long indeed. I'm not ready to try that kind yet. I spun up about five and a half ounces of the flax roving last week, though, and was pleased with the results.


That's the roving, and you can see why blonde children are called "towheads". It looks like a child's blonde hair. The strick looks like a long, stick-straight blonde ponytail.

There's a step in the processing that causes the color to be either silver-grey or blonde, so depending on what color your flax fiber is, you can tell something about how it's been processed. One of the steps in flax processing is "retting" or rotting, letting the woody stems rot away from the long fibers inside. If the flax plants are simply laid in the dewy grass for a week or two to ret them, the fiber comes up silver-grey. If they're laid in a stream or pond (or child's swimming pool as is common in backyard flax processing) then they come out blonde. The blonde is more common these days.

At any rate, flax must be spun wet and it takes a bit of a different technique than spinning a protein based fiber or cotton. I liked it much better than cotton.


The fibers are longer than cotton, and you wet the fingers of the hand controlling the twist as you spin. In the olden days, they often did this by wetting a thumb with saliva, but I used a shot glass with water in it. I didn't want to get the fibers in my mouth, and frankly the thought of spitting all over my yarn kinda grossed me out a little.


My Mazurka handled it nicely. I used the larger setting on the smaller whorl, spun it double drive but slowly with a lot of control and not a lot of pull-in. You have to go slowly, as it's a lot harder to go back and even it out with the flax. Much easier with wool or alpaca or even cotton. Once that fiber sticks together, it's stuck. I did spin it with z twist in the singles.


It looks twiny as you spin it, and it's very hard to the touch because the water activates a coating on the fibers that causes it to bond together and be nice and smooth. It doesn't have to be plied, but it can be. I didn't trust my spinning technique enough to leave it unplied so I made a two-ply yarn from it. I switched over to the larger whorl but left it on double drive since my single drive band is broken and I was feeling too lazy to try to recreate it, plus I wanted to see if it was even possible to get the double band on the larger whorl. It was, but barely, and I don't think I want to do that very much as I'll end up either losing the band or breaking something on the wheel.

I ended up with almost 320 yards. It's hard to tell what weight the yarn is, I think it's between a DK and a sportweight.


There's my trusty shot glass of water.


It's very shiny and pretty. It's a bit hard, but is supposed to soften after being washed a time or two. I will probably use it to make washcloths for holiday gifts or face scrubbers or something along those lines.


There isn't any kind of rush though.

I'm anxious to try the strick soon, but need to do more research on preparing it for spinning. Apparently, if you do it wrong, you end up with a snarly mess and I don't want to waste such beautiful fiber.

I also finally, after a year and a half of having this camera, started to read the owner's manual. So with any luck the quality of my photographs will finally start to come up. Here's some more of the flax, which made an excellent "what's THIS button do?" model and which may now properly be called "Linen".




Until next time...


Sleepsong said...

::bows down and worships your awesomeness::

Really, Jamie, those are spectacular pictures of great yarn. I'm so excited for your first flax yarn!

You really need to help me improve my spinning. I am eternally in awe of your skill.

SJ said...

I am so impressed! I am still too much of a chicken to try spinning cotton, even, so this really puts me to shame.

Simbelmyne said...

Wow, that really captures the shine and color and texture of the yarn. Neat!

The flax is utterly fascinating to look at. I love that it looks like blond hair. (Claude Debussy, "La Fille aux Cheveaux de Lin" is my absolute favorite piece of classical music. And my kids have long hair because I can't bear to cut the beautiful stuff off.)