Monday, October 26, 2015

Weaving on the backstrap loom

Weaving this project on the backstrap loom has been a great learning experience.  Following an excellent tutorial, I'm weaving my very own back strap for my backstrap loom.

All that remains is to braid the ends and attach the loops that go on the loom bar.  

Some of the things I learned:

One needs something very sturdy to attach the loom to.  At times it takes more tension than most weaving I`ve tried.  

This is not the right yarn for this project.  I used 8-2 cotton which is suppose to be great for weaving.  The problem is that it clings together and pills as I switch from one shed to another.

It takes practice to get the posture right.  At first, I can only weave for a couple of minutes before my back hurt.  A week of daily weaving, and I can manage about 45 minutes.  

I need to work more on my selvage edges.  

Uneven tension in the warp shows up more than I expected and makes weaving frustrating.

On the whole, I'm very pleased.  I'm looking forward to trying some weft patterns soon.  Or perhaps a bit of tablet weaving.  

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Backstrap Weaving

Lately, I've been teaching some of my friends kids to weave.  There are a lot of lovely looms out there that they can learn on.  Kids have a natural talent for weaving and learn the basics at light speed.  What an adult takes weeks to learn, a kid can pick up in an afternoon.  

One of the problems with kids and weaving, is that many of the good looms are adult priced.  Kid priced looms seem to be shoddy things that get one excited, but are difficult to upgrade as the weaver's skill improve.  

So I decided to make my own loom based on one of the most common designs in history - and perhaps one of the best tutorials I've ever seen - A Backstrap Loom

Here are three looms I made.

Actually, I had help.  I don't like the power tools and cutting all these sticks by hand would take me an hour.  Instead, it was all of 2 minutes to cut the sticks.  Another 13 minutes to make the shuttles.  We used a piece of wood for the shuttle that will double as a sword if needed.  It's enough to get started weaving and we can expand on it as the weaver's interests grow.

The only thing that is missing from the loom is the piece of cloth - or strap - that goes around the back of the weaver.  To prove that the student is interested enough in weaving to earn his or her own loom, I set up my loom with the warp, show them how, send them home and tell them to weave their own backstrap.  They do this, they get their own set of sticks.

Here's the loom partway set up.  So simple.  A few sticks, a bit of string.

If you have a moment, google 'backstrap weaving' and have a look at some of the amazingly complex cloth people create using such simple tools.  I'm simply in awe of the inspiration and skill of people who use these looms on a regular basis.

Friday, October 16, 2015

A humming bird

Sorry about the colour.  He is much more amethyst in real life.


Never seen a fella like this before.  He sure is cute.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Where to find fibre flax seed - for spinning, weaving, textiles - you know, making linen!

Lately I've been having a great deal of fun growing flax, spinning it into yarn and transforming it into linen cloth.  Flax grows wonderfully well here, and when planted before the end of March, it requires very little human assistance like weeding (too cold for most weeds to grow) or watering (had sufficient time to grow roots before the rain stops).

The biggest problem with growing flax for spinning, is finding the right seed.

The flax plant we use for making yarn is the same plant as we use for flax seed, linseed, linseed oil, animal feed, and several other applications that may surprise you.  That said, different cultivars or varieties of flax are better for some things than for others.  Some flax has a short, bushy stem.  This is great if you want a lot of flowers or seeds, but not so awesome if you are making yarn.  Flax for spinning, has a single stem, about 2 to 4 feet tall, with very few branches and blossoms.  Some of how the plant grows can be influenced by the gardener.  For example if we want taller, longer stems, we plant the seeds closer together.  For the most part, the characteristics of different flax varieties have been selected for generations based on what sort of use the people wanted.

Here are some sources of fibre flax seed or seed that may be able to produce fibre for spinning, that I've found over the years.  Some of these ship to Canada only, others to the US, others to lots of different places.  

The Flax to Linen Project...

....are the wonderful people who taught me how to transform flax into yarn.  They don't have the most active of web presences, however these people are enthusiastic about brining flax into the community.  Quite often, on a sunny, summer day, you will find this group demonstrating flax processing at the local farmer's market.  The group originally began as part of the Transition movement, with the aim to preserve useful skills for future generations.

In the past, they sell seeds by donation to help fund their public demonstrations.  The seed is organically grown in Victoria, BC (well, Saanich actually).  I don't know what their current seed selling policy is, but it's worth a shot asking them if you are interested in growing your own flax.

Variety: Electra - developed by Biolin Research, Alberta

I've grown this two years in a row and am impressed with how it preforms, both in the garden and in processing into linen.  I've experimented a little bit with planting timing, planting as early as January and as late as the end of May.  The late Feb plantings did best for me.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds...

...occasionally has fiber flax available.  Perhaps if more people start requesting it, they will bring it back as a regular item.

They also carry a few other heritage varieties of flax that look promising for fibre production. Just because they don't say these are for making linen, dosen't mean they can't be used for it.  All flax has fibre hidden in it's stem, perhaps it just needs the right conditions to make it useable.

Richters Herbs...

... also has fibre flax from time to time.

At the moment of writing, they have Evelin Fibre flax in stock, but Reginia Fibre Flax is out of stock.   They also have a listing called 'flax' which may also be useful for fibre making.  I can't tell how tall it is from the description, but if one had the room, it would be worth trying.

Wild Fibres UK also has flaxseed, however I don't know if they ship overseas or not.  

Flax for Sale is a place in the US that sells seeds as well as fibre for spinning.  They don't mention if they ship internationally.

Woolgatherers sells Marilyn Flax seed which originates from Holland.

Know of any other sources of flaxseed?  Please let me know in the comments section.

Other thoughts about flax seed.

Flax takes about 120 days to grow from seed to harvest, The first half of that time it needs plenty of moisture and can easily withstand frost.  For the last 60 days, it enjoys dry weather.  For that reason, I like to plant mine very early in the year.  I always keep back a bit of seed just in case there is an especially heavy frost, but so far, I've not needed to reseed.

I've seen several mention of flax being planted as an over-winter crop.  Planted in the fall, like grain or fava beans, it grows a little, then goes dormant until late winter when it takes off at an accelerated rate.  This seems to be traditional for the Alps and Himalayas.

The flax flower is self fertile, having both male and female parts.  It is considered an inbreeder, with an observed pollination by insect at 3% (that's less than tomatoes).  When saving seeds, the recommended isolation distance between varieties is 0 - zero what, it dosen't say.   (Breed Your own Vegetables Varieties by Carol Deppe)

It doesn't say if that information is for modern agriculture or an organic setting that has fewer pesticides and more bugs.  I've noticed when I grow flax at home that pollinators seems quite fond of my flax flowers.  So, it is possible that flax is more willing to promiscuously pollinated than previously thought.

Given these thoughts, flax may not be the best plant in the world to use for landrace gardening, but it has some potential.  I hope this year to experiment with different types of flax and different planting times.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Spinning with a friend

A friend of mine is learning to spin yarn on a wheel.  She loves creating colourful, textured yarn and I love watching her.  I'm very lucky she choose my wheel to learn on.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Flax processing tools

dried flax plant with seed pod

removing the seed pods with a dowel

seeds ready to winnow

Once the flax is retted and dried, we break the flax.
This begins separating the boon (chaff) from the fibres

The flax is then scratched using a wooden sword and board to remove more boon from the fibre.

The flax is then passed through the hackles, starting with coarse ones like this

Long and spiky, these hackles work well.
Traditionally the spikes would not be round, but have three or four sides,
with very sharp corners

Carding cotton into punis

Cotton Boll

Seeds easily removed by
gently holding fibre and pushing out the seed

Charge the cards with the fibre

Card the cotton to organize the fibre

Rolling the carded cotton around a knitting needle

To create a puni which keeps the fibre organized and easy to spin
The cotton I'm working with for the tutorial didn't come in boll form (that's from a floral shop), but rather it's already been removed from the spiky shell and is ready to separate from the seed.  The seeds are about as heavy as the fibre, so a pound of cotton, actually makes about half a pound of fibre, and half a pound of seed.  But with luck, maybe these seeds will grow and the house will be full of cotton houseplants.

Monday, September 14, 2015

cast-on bonnet for auto knitter sock machine

There are some times in life when one simply needs professional help.

About three years ago, when my arthritis finally forced me to stop knitting, I received the  most wonderful machine: An ancient circular sock knitting machine made by Auto Knitter.  I had great fun trying to get it to work, and I was nearly there, but in the end, life happened, and it was time to put the machine away.

Although, to tell you the truth, at the time, I think I had the machine working perfectly, it was simply the user that was broken.

So, for the first time in over a decade, things in my life started to calm down and I was able to take my Auto Knitter to a mentor and see if he could fix it (or the user) so that knitting could happen.  Getting help from someone with loads of experience and enthusiasm for the machine - that was amazing.

I'm very happy to learn that it was mostly user error.  I now know how to do the knit stitch, picot edging, decrease, yarn overs, cast on, cast off, and change yarns.  Yet to learn are turning a heal and the purl stitch, but once I know those I can make just about anything.

To practice my new skills, I have been making cast on bonnets.

It's a funny looking thing, but what it does is provide an easy way to cast on stitches on the knitting machine.  Trust me, it really does.  Maybe I'll show you some time.

This one is for my 80 needle cylinder - see, 8 stripes.  I'll make one for my other cylinders once I have them up and running.

The ultimate goal, once I have the machine running perfectly, is to make socks with yarn I've spun, with wool from my sheep.  Hopefully it doesn't take another three years to get there.