After our class room session in February, I was convinced that spinning flax was going to be this year’s cotton, or my new lesson in patience and perseverance… So I have been procrastinating. I have finished almost everything else, we don’t start schooling for another 2 weeks, so I need to knock this out. No more putting it off.
There are many places to get info on Flax and how it is processed. The Hermitage Is where I purchased some of my flax and they have a great informational page on the growing, harvesting and processing. Or if you would rather read a book Stephanie Gaustad’s guide to Cotton, Flax and Hemp is also an excellent resource and I have spent quite a bit of time reading what she has to say and it was very helpful in spinning these skeins.
There are several different types of flax, this post is only dealing with Line Flax. Which is the flax equivalent of combed top. It comes all braided in what is called a strick. There is a root end and a blossom end. The book and websites tell you that the blossom end is the more tapered end… They are both tapered just so you know. They also pretty much looked exactly alike to me. However one was far more tapered and I called that my blossom end. The reason that is important is that flax is spun from the blossom end. Kind of like spinning locks but to tip.
Once you un braid your strick, then you pull off a small portion to work with.
You then must hackle the portion you are working with. This is essential. Apparently flax contains a lot of pectin and even though it was hackled prior to being wound into a strick it has had several of what Gaustad calls Heat/humid cycles that have brought out the pectin and are making the strands stick together. I used my combs for this process and they worked great. I also hackled the way Gaustad describes in her book. So I went until I could pull my line flax smoothly through my combs. It made for a great prep, but there is a lot of waste.
I had ordered WAY more strick than I needed so I was not worried. This waste from hackling is called Tow (Like Tow head) and it will have a whole other post.
There are several ways to spin Line Flax. The most notable being from a distaff. Not being a flax spinner I don’t personally have a distaff. So I had to make one. It is way easier than it sounds. There are many ways. I chose to use my swift as my distaff. You leave it closed and cover it in bubble wrap and paper. I had tissue paper which is what I used. To dress your distaff, you tie a ribbon to the root end of the fiber and then tie the ribbon around your waist. (really)
Then once you have fanned out your fiber, you take your distaff and roll the flax onto it. Then you have a dressed distaff. You wind your ribbon around it to keep your fiber in place and you are ready to spin.
So cool, right! I found spinning from this to be easy. I could not make it work in class, but in my studio, it was pretty easy to get the rhythm.
A note about flax is that it has a natural “S” curve to it. Flax is spun counter clockwise and plied clockwise which is opposite of regular spinning. Also it’s staple is so long (12 inches or more) that you have to spin worsted draw.
What do you do if you have no distaff? One method is to roll it length ways into a small hand towel with the blossom ends extending from the towel. This keeps the flax from moving about and gives some control of the fibers. Another method has you roll the fibers into a “muff” and spin from the center of the line flax. For me this was a bit like spinning from the fold. It made a big mess and was my least favorite method. The “Estonian” method has you take your portion of line flax and fold it like an accordion and then anchor the root end under your armpit while spinning. It was a fairly easy prep and the fibers spun well from it. The last method is the “Comb” method where you would just anchor the line flax in your combs and pull from them. This was my favorite method by far.
Another thing to understand about flax is that you really are spinning straw. It is scratchy and stiff. To make it more pliable it can be boiled after spinning to help soften it and lighten the color.