Monday, January 21, 2013

Flax to linen experiment - Spinning the flax

Here is the latest installment on my growing flax for linen experiment. It all started last spring with the planting of the flax. Over the summer it grew, and in the fall I harvested it. After processing the flax plants into flax fiber, I am ready for the next step: spinning the flax. All of the previous steps are documented in various posts which can be found here.

Here is the hackled flax that my garden produced. It doesn't look like much, it's only 1.4 ounces, but keep in mind that only 10% of the flax plant results in fiber, and of that 10% only 3% is the, nice, long kind. The other 7% is tow flax. I do still have a little bit that hasn't been broken and scutched and hackled, but I think the whole lot will still come in at under 2 ounces when all is said and done (click on any of the pictures to see them larger):

Now, I do have a bag full of tow flax which brings the total up to about four ounces or so. The tow flax is what's left in the hackle after hackling the flax. The tow flax is shorter. I'll probably card it up, and maybe experiment with blending in some cotton, and spin that up later.
It can't be any courser than the longer flax. I'm not sure if the coarseness and stiffness is due to the quality of my particular garden flax (it grew under near-drought conditions), or that I didn't pull it at the optimum time, or that my retting, breaking, scutching, and hackling leaves something to be desired:
 Here's my hackle:

 It's an antique, really, made in 1834, but it's still sharp and sound and got the job done. I found it on ebay and paid $70 for it. I don't think anyone still makes these, at least I haven't found any contemporary ones in my searches:

 So, my bundle of hackled flax is roughly the length of my arm:

 I divided it in half, spun it onto two bobbins, and then plied it:

 The resulting skein is about 119 yards long:

 It's rough and stiff right now:
 But the thing about linen is that with washing it will soften and relax. Here's little swatch of linen that I knitted up a couple of months ago with a small amount of the flax that I processed before all the rest:
 I spun this a little bit finer than my skein above. I'm not a proficient flax spinner, I have lots of room for improvement:
 You can see that it is a bit 'hairy', but it's soft and flexible: 

I'm hoping whatever I make with my little skein will turn out as soft and flexible:

I still don't have a loom yet, and anyway, I only have a small amount to work with, so I'll be knitting whatever it is that I'll be making. It'll probably turn out to be a small kitchen cloth/towel. If I wait to see if I get something good out of blending the tow flax and cotton, perhaps I can make something else. In any case, that's the next step in the experiment, and fodder for another post.


Anonymous said...

I love the fabric you made. Thanks for all the information, It is so useful!

Anonymous said...

I loved the fabric you grew, harvested, retted, crushed, hackled, combed, spun and knitted. Your blog is awesome

ICQB said...

Hi Anonymous!

Thank you! I'm so glad you found the information helpful!