Spinning Flax

Handspun flax (linen) yarn from a drop spindle

Handspun flax (linen) yarn

In my previous post I showed a few photos and videos from the Distaff class I took at Avacal’s September Crown event. I finished spinning the flax into linen thread/yarn, and thought I’d share a few photos here.

The dressed distaff with flax

The dressed distaff with flax

While our instructor used a lovely custom-made medieval-style cone-shaped distaff head to dress her flax, she made a simple tall distaff for us to use for flax. For wool we could use a shorter distaff, but flax requires a longer “triangle” to draw from, so the longer distaff is needed. Since this is a simple distaff, I still fanned out the flax, but only had the two offset prongs to dress the flax over. Like the cone-shaped distaff top, the flax was tied on with a ribbon once it was dressed on the distaff.

Since the flax was fanned out a bit on the distaff, it meant that it could come off the distaff easily and very fine. This made it possible to spin a very fine thread/yarn.

Flax fibre on the distaff

Flax fibre on the distaff

Flax needs to be spun with a little moisture to keep it smooth and join it well apparently, so it was a little tricky to use the spindle and a little moistened cloth in a bowl. I ended up pinching with one hand, and using the other to draw after moistening my fingertips on the cloth.

An “advantage of wet spinning is that when you reel off the yarn, it has ‘set’. There’s very little twisting and doubling back on itself like a wool yarn would. The disadvantage of this is that it’s harder to ply (if you intend to ply). Yarn with very little ‘energy’, doesn’t ply well. However, if you’re intending to weave with your yarn it doesn’t need to be plied, and that lack of ‘energy’ really helps in warp making.”Urban Weaver

Spinning flax with the fibre suspended from a distaff

Spinning flax

While in class we were doing a suspended spinning style, I found it difficult to do for very long, so I switched back to a drop-spindle style of spinning for this project.

I’m not sure what variety/type of flax the instructor gave us to work with unfortunately, but it was long strands, line, not tow, which are the shorter fibres. She informed us that tow is better spun on a spinning wheel than on the drop/suspended/supported spindle.

Spun flax on a drop spindle

Spun flax on a drop spindle

The instructor gave us a small amount of flax to play with in the class, but the majority of the spinning I did after the event at home. Even with just a small amount of flax (as seen in the photos at top), it was still possible to spin up a lot of yarn/thread, since I could spin just a few strands of the fibre to get what I hope is a strong yarn.

Handspun flax (linen) yarn from a drop spindle

Handspun flax (linen) yarn

Once I was done spinning up all the flax, I took it off the spindle, strung it up between the points on two chairs, and then tied the yarn into skeins. I hope to dye them at some point, and maybe then try to either sew or weave with the thread/yarn I created. Since linen doesn’t have as much ‘stretch’ as wool, I’ve read it’s not good for crochet or knitting with linen handspun. With that in mind I don’t think I’ll want to naalbind with it.

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Flax fibre on the distaff

Flax fibre on the distaff

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