Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Spinning flax

Before I got distracted by botany and Helios' journey across the sky, I was telling you about the flax sample I spun.

I spun some water retted flax top for my first attempt as it was the most affordable flax I got from Fun Knits when she was in town last month. I believe this is what is called tow flax, in that is a combed or carded left overs from making flax sticks (which are the long fibres you traditionally see dressed on a distaff). These fibres are arranged in something like a pencil roving. The individual fibres are about two to five inches long and are all aligned the same direction ready for spinning.

In a way, it was like spinning wool because the fibres were prepared very much like how wool is. But it was also very different from spinning wool as well. Hum, how do I describe this? Wool fibres feel soft and squishy so that you can bend them to you will quite easily, but flax fibres feel very firm and unyielding. Flax feels as if it should be brittle and that if you bend them even the slightest bit they will crumble; however, the fibres behave quite the opposite.

I had two sources of reference for spinning flax, of course I referred to knitty, specifically Spinning Line Flax (even though I wasn't spinning line flax, the article proved to be very helpful) and I also found an article in an old Spin Off magazine: "Spinner's Question; On wet-spinning flax", Summer 1999.

To spin the flax I had my Quebec wheel, a towel on my lap, a little jar of water, and some fibre.

Despite first appearance, the fibre was quite flexible and very strong. It does not have the springiness that wool does, but I was more than pleased with it. Flax fibres are very forgiving and after only a few minutes I was spinning a relatively even yarn. I found that this particular fibre spun better from the fold than it did when I tried to spin it from one end. I've never spun fibre successfully from the fold before, so I was quite surprised that I had so much success with this method. But that is what the flax wanted, and who am I to argue.

I spun the single S (counter clockwise) and plied it Z (clockwise) which is opposite to how I spin wool. I don't think there was much advantage to this as it was only short bits of fibre and not the long stems (a meter or so each) which would have a definite natural twist to it. But I'm not one to argue with tradition (well, not on this point anyway), so I spun it the way it was recommended.

As you can see from the photo, I have one hand (the back hand) holding the fibre mass and one hand (the front hand) pinching and pulling the fibre towards the wheel. To make the flax into a smooth yarn, I moistened the finger and thumb of my front hand in the bowl of water every so often. This smoothed down the ends and made the yarn feel more soft. The Spin Off article I mentioned has a recipe for a concoction you can use instead of water, which creates an natural sizing agent. I think I'll try that next time I spin flax.

All in all, I love spinning flax. I think, however, I will keep this for summer spinning, as spinning wool in the summertime is not that enjoyable. This will make a great project to spin in warm weather.


JustApril said...

NEAT! Very interesting and pretty stuff, I like how shiny it is.

TinkingBell said...

Oh pretty - aren't you clever!!! MUst learn to spin (but really I need another obsession like I need a hole in the head!)