gather and grow

Homegrown, hand-spun living in the city

There’s nothing like moving to South Carolina in August to make even the most dedicated wool spinner like me think, “Hmm, maybe it’s time to start exploring other kinds of fiber…?” The locals tell us it’s been an unusually cool summer. Well, it’s still plenty hot for me. Not unbearably hot, but just hot enough that I’ve looked in disbelief at our sweaters and woolen hats and scarves and mittens, and put them on the highest shelf of the closet since they won’t be needed anytime soon.

Since there’s no way I’m going to let this change in our climatic conditions to make me give up my beloved spinning practice, it is time to move on to some new and lighter fibers, something I might imagine one day actually wearing here. Like flax, cotton, and silk. I spun all of these when I first learned to spin two years ago, but just as a quick trial, so I haven’t developed the ease with which I now spin wool. I remember the fine silk fibers slipping off from my fingertips and the flax getting all tangled up and rough, and have been reluctant to try again.

flax3Now, with the arrival of a package from Paradise Fibers, I’ve been sitting at the wheel again with these new acquaintances — flax, natural cotton, and unprocessed silk cocoons. I started with the flax, and it’s been lovely. The fibers are fine and silvery gray like an old woman’s hair, and spin easily since they’re so long. The trick is doing a “wet spin,” adding a bit of water to the fingertips from time to time.

flaxTraditionally, flax is spun using a distaff, a vertical staff used to hold the unspun fibers and keep them untangled, the kind you see in old paintings, or in this video. (I adore the woman’s Scottish accent, and her promise that with a bit of practice, you’ll “be able to spin a very fine yarn, or thread, indeed.”) I cheated and spun without a distaff, holding the fibers in my lap, mostly because I was too engrossed in the actual spinning to go find something that could pass for a distaff. But I think the end result — my first linen yarn — turned out okay.

And the best part? This might be a form of fiber I may in fact be able to grow myself, even on an urban backyard. A small field of flax requires less space than a small flock of sheep. Growing your own wardrobe, anyone?

flax-4

4 thoughts on “Spinning flax

  1. Wiebke says:

    ich spinne auch Langflachs,, du kannst es in Papier einschlagen und an einem Stab locker anbinden, dann auf dem Schoß legen.und hinterher bearbeite ich es mit Bleichen in heißem Wasser mit Soda, Pottasche, so wird es heller, geschmeidiger, glänzend. Ich verwebe es dann. liebe Grüße wiebke

  2. I admire your commitment! After moving to SC from Indiana three years ago, I rarely knit anymore. I find it’s just not enjoyable in all this humidity and heat. This was a relatively mild summer with lots of rain, but even so I do more sewing than needlework. When I do knit now, it’s usually bamboo or cotton yarns, which certainly make more wearable items than wool for this climate. Will look forward to seeing how the flax turns out.

    Hope your fall semester is off to a smooth start!

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