Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Flax to linen

[Photo: Tow and line linen]
I have been spinning linen...or flax? I guess I have been spinning flax and at some magical Rumplestilkskinian moment the flax turns into linen. And like the captive maiden's spinning, mine too turned into gold!
[Picture from Franz Eugen Köhle'sr,
Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen 1897
I didn't think I would enjoy spinning flax but I do. There is something about the neat, tidy, golden threads that tugs at your ancestral memories. It is comforting. Well...maybe not comforting in the same way that spinning wool is comforting, but linen satisfies. I don't know why, I am just reporting how it effects me. And satisfying is the way I feel after spinning flax into gold linen.

"The life of a flax plant is 100 days of thought..."

[Photo:Flax stem cross-section
Photo: Ryan R. McKenzie
So here are a few things I learned along the way. Flax is a plant and the fibre comes from the inner bark or bast of the stem, so the fibres are, at the longest, the length of the plant, maybe around 2 feet. To make a long story short, during the processing of separating the fibre from the plant, you can end up with a pile of short fibres (the tow) and a pile of long fibres (the line). Okay, okay linen spinners, I know, I know, I am over simplifying, but we have to keep up the interest of non-spinners. If you want to know more about the very interesting processing of flax, check out this beautiful video 'Be Linen' video. I digress...

Each of these types of fibres can be spun. The tow will produce a fuzzy yarn and the line...oh, the line flax, sigh, will produce a beautiful golden yarn. There are a variety of spinning techniques from using the classical distaff to accordion folding of the fibres. Each method is designed o allow only a few threads to draft out into the yarn yet also allowing those threads to grab their following threads to keep a continuous line of yarn forming as you spin. Then, you can spin wet or dry. Wet spun will smooth the yarn and give it a higher gloss, and dry spun allows more frizz to show. Then we can get more technical and spin with water or spit. Yes, spit, as in drool, saliva. I haven't seen proof of this, but rumour has it that saliva works on the flax enzymes, making the fibres glue together, while water helps control the flax and makes it softer, easier to spin and creates a smoother yarn, but doesn't create the glue.  

But here's the can blend linen with wool, or cotton, or silk or....who would have thought? Endless possibilities!

EDITED Dec 31, to add 2 more pictures.

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