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.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Dyeing milk protein fiber and de-hairing Paco-vicuña

The mail brought a wonderful thing to my doorstep yesterday - this raw Paco-vicuña fleece:


Well, that's really just the blanket, not the whole fleece, but I have the rest, too.

Like alpaca, Paco-vicuña needs to be de-haired before it can be further processed. In this picture, you can see the guard hairs sticking up from the rest of the fleece:


The fleece has a micron count of 16.3, pretty darn fine. The guard hairs are stiffer and thicker and need to be gotten rid of so that they don't spoil the fineness of the rest of the fiber. I don't know how this is accomplished by machinery in a mill, but if you are doing it for yourself, the hairs must be pulled manually from the rest of the fleece. It's not hard, it just takes a while.
Here you can see the bit of fleece from the above picture after it's been de-haired:
All that's left is the wonderful, fluffy, Paco-vicuña fiber. Now it's ready to be washed (soaked, really) and then further processed (I'll probably card it as it's a little short for combing) so that it can be spun into luscious Paco-vicuña yarn.
I also had the chance to dye up some recently spun milk protein yarn. The milk protein was in a wonderfully big box full of spinning fiber that was under the Christmas tree. Milk protein, made from milk in a similar way that bamboo fiber and tencel fiber is made, is wonderfully silky. It breaths well and contains anti-microbial amino acids (which can help with the stink factor in sweat).
I had two 2 oz. skeins to dye up. The pinky-orange-yellow color was achieved by winding the skein into a ball and then squirting pink and yellow weak acid dye (set with vinegar) into and all over the ball. The color was set with heat by microwaving the ball for about 3 minutes.
The golden color of the other skein was achieved with a natural dye made from Tesu flowers, the extract of which I ordered online. I mordanted the skein with alum first, and then plunked it into the dye pot. The golden color, particularly on the shiny, silky milk protein fiber, is luscious and exactly what I wanted:

I'll be using this yarn when I go to a Knitted Knockers Knit-in next week where we all will be knitting prosthetic breasts to donate to women who've had mastectomies. Lot's of these women really like knitted boobs over the silicone prostheses because they're more realistic, breath, can be worn with their regular bras, and can be adjusted by adding or subtracting the amount of fill.

I'll be spinning the rest of my milk protein and dyeing it up in anticipation of the knit-in next week. And then, I'll be concentrating on Paco-vicuña, of course!