Monday, October 22, 2012

Flax to linen experiment - breaking, scutching, and combing

Okay, here is a report on further progress in my growing flax for linen experiment. As previously posted, I grew some flax this past summer in order to see if I could turn it into spinnable fiber, and then into linen.
The next step in the process is breaking the retted flax to release the usable fibers. I let the retted flax dry out. My husband built me a flax break. You can find videos on YouTube that show people using antique flax breaks. Although I searched for a long time, I couldn't find any flax breaks, antique or otherwise, for sale anywhere (although I did find plans for building a good one), so I asked my husband to build me one (we didn't use the plans, we improvised).
Below are some pictures of me using my flax break to break the retted parts of the flax plant up in order to get to the durable flax fiber (click on any of the pictures to see them larger):

The arm of the break comes up, and then is smashed down onto the bundle of flax:

After breaking the flax, comes the scutching. You can look this up on YouTube, too. Basically, you're swiping away the bits of retted plant material that still cling to the fibers, and sort of fluffing the fibers up as well. In the picture below, you can see a bundle of retted flax on the table that hasn't been broken yet. In the foreground you can see me scutching some broken flax:

My scutching board is just that, simply a board. My scutching knife is made out of a wooden pizza paddle which is cut in half - it needs to be improved a bit, but it worked:

The fibers become a little cleaner and a little fluffier with scutching:

Next comes the combing. The combing is done with a flax hackle (there are a few different spellings). It seems that the only flax hackles you can get a hold of are antiques. After much searching, I found a very nice one, made in 1842, on eBay. I paid $70 and am very pleased with it. It's got a lot of nasty, sharp teeth, is still very sturdy, and works really well.
The flax is pulled through the teeth to further clean and straighten the fibers: 

Shorter fibers are left behind in the hackle, along with any remaining bits of retted plant material:

Lash on and pull through:

Repeat until the fibers are looking nice and smooth:


You can find YouTube videos showing this process, too. You can see below that the fibers are looking much nicer:

What's left behind in the teeth of the hackle is called tow flax. This can be used, too, as stuffing, or to make ropes or rougher cloth:

And here is some combed flax, ready for spinning:

Percentage-wise, you get much more tow flax than nice, long, spinnable flax. Only about 10% of the flax plant results on fiber, 7% of that is tow flax, and the remaining 3% is the nice, long spinnable fiber that will make nice linen.
Here is the tow flax I've collected so far:
I'm a tiny bit disappointed with the quality of my flax fiber. There are lots of things that may be in play here. My growing flax had to struggle through drought conditions, although I did try to keep it moist. My soil wasn't the best - although I did add manure, lime, and alfalfa (for nitrogen), I'm sure it wasn't enough. I'm not sure if I pulled it at the right time - timing of the harvest can affect the quality. And I'm not sure if I retted it for long enough, because it seems like it was hard to get the retted parts off of the desired fibers - but this could also be a factor of my break not being up to par with the flax breaks of yore, not to mention my scutching knife.
The next step will be spinning the fiber. I still have about half of my flax to break, scutch and comb, so it will be a while yet. Whew, this is a lot of work, but I'm have lots of fun and learning a lot.
More posts on the great flax experiment to come!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Knitted and felted clogs

Over the past few days I've been working on a pair of knitted and felted clogs. When you knit something for felting, it has to be made BIG because it shrinks during the felting process.
So here are what the knitted clogs looked like when I had finished knitting them:

They were huge!:

But I wasn't worried. I've felted things before. So I tossed my huge, floppy, knitted clogs into the wash. It took maybe just under an hour for them to reach the right size - you have to keep checking on them every 5-10 minutes to keep an eye on how they're felting, and to catch them when they're the right fit.
You can see that they are now the right size. They're stuffed with plastic bags so that they keep their shape while drying:

They can be worn like this, but I'm going to sew leather slipper soles to them so they won't be slippery, and for extra wear. I'm really happy with them:
The brown tops were knitted with alpaca yarn, and the gray soles and rims were knitted with a natural gray/brown Romney wool.
The alpaca yarn was from one of the first raw fleeces that I ever washed and processed into yarn. The Romney wool was spun from some roving that I purchased at a fiber festival and knew that someday I would make slippers with.
I hope these are as comfy as they look. My current pair of felted slippers are a few years old and need to retire. These are the replacements.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Why, "Binders full of women," is offensive

There are some aspects of language which convey a mindset. Take, for example, the word, nigger. A white person who uses this word can be perceived as having a certain mindset toward people of color. Evocative of a time when whites thought themselves above blacks, better than blacks, disdainful of blacks, and all of the other prejudices one thinks of when one hears the word, a person who makes use of this word is perceived of as not having left this thinking behind to embrace a new era, but locked in an offensive past.
For the same reason, when a man refers to his, “binders full of women,” as Mitt Romney did in last night's debate, it is a telling phrase which reveals not the forward-thinking mindset of a person enlightened with the concepts of equality, but a mind which thinks of women as objects in need of handling, mollifying, quantifying, and being subject to ownership. It is not a slip of the tongue; it is a revealing peek into the psyche of the speaker.

This type of thing should be erased from the language, as should words like, “Man,”and, “Mankind.” "Humans,”  and, “Humankind,” are more enlightened terms. And phrases such as , “our women,” when a man refers to the female members of a group to which he belongs, are also offensive. A better phrasing in this instance would be, “the women of (insert club, group, or organization).” Of course, it is hard to change one’s speech when one is stuck in a certain mindset. 

Language can be revealing.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dyeing with walnut hulls

A little over a week ago I posted about hulling walnuts, getting ready to dye with the hulls. After letting the four pounds of hulls soak in in a large, covered bucket of water for over a week, I got down to the dyeing part today.
The water was a bit frothy, which is fine. I read that the fermenting of the hulls helps deepen the brown color. I poured all of the contents of the bucket into my large dye pot and set it on the stove top:
I boiled the concoction for about an hour. The froth eventually calms down and the hulls sink. At that point the mixture can boil without being watched as carefully - at the frothy stage I was afraid it would boil over, which I did not want to happen. 

After the hour-long boil, I strained the hulls out with a cheesecloth-lined strainer. There's a lot of sludgy gunk that I didn't want on my fiber and the cheesecloth filtered it out of the dye bath. Here are some of the hulls and sludge in the strainer:

I had about 4 ounces of polwarth roving to dye. No mordant is needed with this dye, so I added the clean, pre-soaked roving to the pot and let it stew at a temp. between 160 and 180 degrees F for an hour:

Here is the fiber fresh out of the dye pot before rinsing:

And here it is after rinsing:

It's now hanging to dry. The walnut hulls produced a very nice brown color:
The recipe I had said that you could let the fiber stew for 60 to 90 minutes, and then the heat could be turned off and the fiber left in the pot overnight to intensify the color. I was happy with the color I got with the 60 minute stew and taking it out of the pot right away, in fact, I almost wish it were a tad lighter. But the color is extremely nice and I'm looking forward to spinning it up!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A little kimono sweater!

A few months ago I spun this hand-dyed roving into a two-ply yarn with my drop spindles:
And recently I came across a cute little pattern for an infant kimono-style sweater. I thought I could use this yarn to make a colorful little gift for a baby girl that my sister-in-law is expecting soon.
So, over the past few days I've been knitting away. It was a fast knit, and this morning I sewed on the buttons:

Now I just have to wait for the baby girl to come into the world and send it off to her! I'm always so happy when a project is finished : )

Monday, October 1, 2012

Hulling walnuts for dye

I've been thinking about using walnut hulls to dye with because I recently saw a picture of a gorgeous brown gotten from them. I happened to drive by a house the other day which had a walnut tree in the yard close to the street. There were lots of nuts-in-the-hull lying about. I returned later with a bag and knocked on the door to ask permission to collect some of the nuts. No one was home, so I collected only what had fallen into the street.
I took them home and hulled the nuts, readying them for the dye process. I used a paring knife to slice into the hulls:

Slicing into the hulls is easy to do. Note that I'm wearing gloves. The hulls are juicy and full of tannins which will dry out your skin and turn it yellow/brown. The gloves are leather, but even so, some of the fingertips became soaked with juice and the fingertips underneath are now stained (I hope it doesn't last too long, but it looks very durable, even after showering):

Most of the hull sections could merely be pulled off without much effort at all. Occasionally I had to coax some off with the knife:

Here are a bunch of hulled nuts. If I wanted to eat them, I'd let them dry out until I could brush the remaining hull stuff off, and then I'd have walnuts in the shell. Instead, I spread these around my yard in strategic locations, hoping that squirrels will find them:

Here are some of the hulls in a bag:

After hulling all of the nuts, I had four pounds of hulls. I think this will dye about three ounces of fiber or so. I've placed the hulls in a large bucket, covered them with water until they float, and put a loose lid over it. These will sit for a while. One of my books says to let it all sit for 24 hours. Another book says to let it sit for two to three weeks, giving the hulls time to ferment in order to deepen the color. I'll see how it goes, but I'm thinking more like a one-to-two-week period.

I'll post more when I do the actual dyeing.