Fiber Corner

Daily life of a knitting designer/publisher of handknitting patterns

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Distaff Dressing

My workshop at the Folk School was the first time I'd attempted spinning flax. We started out in familiar territory by using roving. Patsy suggested coiling a length around your wrist to keep it under control and out of the way...

...because next we added an additional step of using water while we were spinning. It's good to keep the unspun fiber out of the way because once the flax gets wet it sticks together and won't draft. The water is really worth using if you want a smooth yarn as it sticks all the little ends of the fiber together so that the yarn looks more like linen than burlap. This is a shot of the cute little water container that Patsy hangs on her wheel. Keeping it close allows you to quickly dip your fingers in the water while spinning.
Notice, too, that Patsy is wearing a spinning apron. A very good idea! As things can get a little messy.

After practicing a bit with the roving which is made from the shorter pieces of flax, or tow, we moved on to the really long fibers of line flax. These are gathered into a long ponytail looking preparation called a strick. Generally, a distaff is used with this preparation and is sort of a third hand so the long fibers don't get tangled and using one allows you to spin a very smooth thread. There are several different ways to prepare distaffs for spinning and I thought it would be fun to show them since we tried out so many.

The first one we tried was probably the easiest and needed no additional equipment.
Basically, you tuck each end of the prepared strick (to prepare it, you comb out the shorter lengths) into the pockets of your pants and basically spin from the fold.
Another way to do this is to hang the strick in a loop and tie it to the distaff. Pat came prepared with a dogwood branch distaff (note Nat's Alden Amos charkha in the background) that she clamped to the arm of her spinning chair.
The method I liked best was just to leave the pony tale hanging down as it shows in this photo. (and that's Elizabeth's great wheel, well, one of them, in the background)
You can do this with just a straight distaff but this one is a special one Patsy's husband made for her.
The scariest one to make, at least to me, was this one. Patsy tied the strick to her waist and spread the fibers out on the apron on her lap. Imagine the mess that would happen if you were interrupted halfway through the process!
Carefully, take off the apron and lay it on a table.
Then, make a cone of paper and wrap the fibers around it.
And, tie them up with a ribbon.
Place on the top of a distaff.
And, start to spin.
A few fibers at a time. Patsy's linen spinning is utter perfection!
The last distaff we prepared was sort of like making cotton candy. Here you see the fibers laying on the table and being lifted into the air and wrapped around the distaff.
It's wrapped up with ribbon when it's finished, too.
One thing we all agreed on was the need for free standing distaffs to be made available for sale. (maybe by some of those great spindle makers we all love) Some of the wheels manufacturers have models that can be attached but I really liked the ones that sat just behind my shoulder. I'll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for something like that at the next fiber festival I attend!

All in all, I liked spinning flax. Just need ALOT more practice.


At 10:30 PM, Blogger Melanie said...

Fascinating, I've never seen anyone spin flax before. Some of the techniques look as though you'd have to be ver brave to try them. Do you think you'll be doing much flax spinning?

At 7:17 AM, Blogger CarolineF said...

OK how did my browser keep me convinced until today that you hadn't posted for a month?? I'm impressed with all your skeins of what I have always thought to be very difficult fibers!

At 7:41 AM, Blogger Vicki said...

It's something I'd really like to practice some more but I probably should wait until the summer when I can spin outside or on the porch. That way I'll be able to spill water to my hearts content without worrying about ruining the hardwood floor. ;)

At 10:55 AM, Blogger vanessa said...

my head is spinning, no pun intended.

At 10:14 PM, Blogger . . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

I grew flax this summer. Now I just need to teach myself to process the fiber and to spin it.


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