Warning for those faint of time, this is going to be a hefty post so I recommend getting yourself a tasty beverage and settling into your comfy chair- So much has gone on since last I wrote!
Our day celebrations at various flax growing sites were beautiful candy for both the eye and soul I must admit. Something so magical about this plant- and it just draws the best sorts of people!
We brought in flax from MOP, Trillium and the small bit at Maclean Park- of course Aberthau was also harvested by Brian, Rebecca and the Flax food fibre volunteers… I admit there have been times it has been difficult to keep the little stashes of fibre straight that we had growing around the city.
Last year you might remember we retted in sonar tubes one of our group made, and I checked and fretted constantly to make sure I wasn’t over-retting – over-retting is huge problem- as the fibres are then split, short and weak. Under-retted is the opposite, when the rett ( rot) is not long enough and the fibre does not release easily. Some of our crops were twice retted, just to be safe.
All of this is work.
And not always easy to then “sell”people on the idea of growing and processing their own flax to linen- the easier the better. And then along came Karen.
Last year Karen took home some of the Maclean crop, and instead of retting it hung it outdoors on her balcony, where the rain and sun just did their thing, and the flax had the chance to dry between rains.
She brought it to the studio a few weeks back just before we harvested this years crop and we tried processing some.
It was fabulous!
In fact, the Flax to Linen folk in Victoria- who have been our ‘gold bar’ to reach for as far as quality goes- had given us some of their retted crop, and it is next to impossible to tel the difference, yeah! So thanks to Karen we now have the “no-sweat rett” ( copyright pending Karen Barnaby..:-) method.
I actually picked up a book to read about how to do something for a change- normally I pick up a book or search the web to figure out what I have done wrong- I just seem to like figuring things out for myself- or having others I am in the same place with show me- the ease of reading first oddly gets forgotten more times then I would like to admit!
Stephenie Gaustad wrote a great book – the practical spinners guide; cotton, linen hemp- that breaks down so many fundamentals of spinning cellulose fibres- it is a must read for anyone making the transition from spinning wool. Unfortunately I got it out of the library right in the peak of season when little reading requiring retention was happening in my world, but I gleaned enough to make some radical shifts in how I spin for linen. ( and now I will just buy my own copy because this one is worth owning!)
tying the fibres onto my back- a make-shift distaff. Having the fibres feed over my non-dominant hand leaves both hands free for drafting and spinning! When you tie fibres, tie the root end- this is the one that ends more abruptly versus the seed head ends that will be more tapered.
Always spin with an adoring fan at your side- no really, it helps, especially the blocking all traffic part. And keep a dish of water by your non dominant hand so you can wet your fibre and “polish it” before it feeds onto the wheel.
The other important thing I learned in the book- though Karen has told me to do this before and I didn’t listen… is to alter the hooks on the flyer that your line travels across- this helps in the tension for going onto the bobbin- and stay away from getting mountains on your bobbin by changing hooks regularly- otherwise the yarn snaps or is very difficult to unwind into skeins!
The reason I didn’t listen when Karen encouraged me to do this is that it is just so damn easy to keep spinning! You don’t want to stop! It’s fun! but stop, you will thank yourself later.From seed to cloth! Here are my unspun striks, spun singles and small woven samples by Penny Coupland.
next the dye bath! ( stay tuned -those striks are being mordanted as I type)
How to make processing immediate-
Once more inspired by Karen’s process discovery, I though I would take the path of absolute least resistance and just leave a few bundles at Trillium lying on the ground and see what happened. ( AKA Dew Retting)
That was August 31 I harvested, and the flax sat outside for a week, then lay on the ground until September 24.
Anna and I worked at the park today and sat in the sun doing some processing- we pulled it off the stocks the same way that I have processed green nettle fibres, just cracking it and peeling it off the stems. and in fact it looks and feels a lot like the wild nettle I have harvested.I ran it through my hand carder similar to a hackle just to open up some of the thicker fibres, and it brushes wonderfully.Great subtle shifts in gold and silver- notice the similarity to my old French linen work apron that would have been dew retted.
As it feels so much more like nettle- and feels “wilder”somehow then the perfect flaxen hair striks, I though I would try thigh spinning- something I want to get better at.
I think this will have to left au-natural…. the blond and silver sort of reminds me of someone…See? Be sure and work with your adoring fan never far. It’s helpful to have such a great model always close at hand.
This makes a much softer, fuller line then the hard twisted line linen off of my wheel. It will be fun to try various projects with both- and good to have a “no tool option” for showcasing the beauty of flax to linen.