Spinning Study Group
A spinning study group was formed in 2014 with the intention of exploring different breeds of sheep and fibre. The group meets on the 3rd Tuesday of each month at 12:30pm and alternates between raw fleece and prepared fibres. Members meet and discuss the pros and cons of different fibres, their preparation, spinning techniques and suitable uses for the end product amongst other things.
October 17: Participants brought in their completed flax projects. A couple of people used their flax as weft singles, in a weaving project, and another member crocheted hers into a small bag. Other members are still completing their spinning, or are contemplating their finished item.
September: Participants brought in the flax they have spun over the past month. Most people enjoyed spinning it, and several have not yet boiled theirs. People came up with creative ways to keep their fingers wet while spinning.
Interweave has a free download on spinning flax, which participants found helpful to read:
The link is https://www.interweave.com/wp-content/uploads/0313_SO_Guide_to-Spinning_Flax.pdf?utm_campaign=iw-kca-fr-170711-spinning-flax&qs=XOW0h7trYL93LjcA1yv2ARie%2FlMLPpIeKG0XRfIHgh4%3D
The Flax Notes compiled by Gill Mould
from resources in our library, and presented last month are reproduced in full below:
Notes compiled by Gill Mould from resources in our library
Flax Is a bast fibre along with hemp and ramie. Flax however once spun becomes linen. The spinnable fibre resides in the long stems between outer skin or cuticle and pith core.
- Bast fibres have been known for thousands of years in many cultures worldwide and are present in many plants the most familiar are flax, hemp and ramie.Others are hops, jute, stinging nettle, milkweed and many tree species.
- They share many desirable qualities fineness and drape plied into larger yarns excel in heavy traffic areas mats, rope etc.
- Bast fibres are resistant to wear and tear and exposure to sunlight.
- They reflect the light differently (damask) andCan be very lustrous dependant on spinning
Flax and hemp for summer wear is absorbent, smooth and cool it has a hollow cellular structure which wicks away moisture and heat.
Laundering (caustic pH, boiling water, agitation) does not damage bast fibres in fact they are stronger when wet.
Flax and hemp dry quickly
- Flax and hemp yarns spun finely are stiff, wiry, rigid and inelastic.
- Do not behave in hand wound balls or centre-pull balls.
- Require special treatment when being wound on a bobbin or spindle.
- Cannot break yarn with your hands.
Flax Fibre Characteristics
- Bast fibres are called phloem, the thick-walled tubes that grow just beneath the bark held in place by water-soluble gums and pectin.
- Bast Fibres are remarkable in their length 2 to 3 feet or longer depending on species and growing condition
- Flax is inelastic, cool, abrasion-resistant, strong, stronger when wet, quick drying, wrinklesd easily, resistant to caustics such as lye.
- Acids even mild ones damage or destroy. Bleaches weaken flax but it can be boiled to make it sanitary and to whiten fibre.
- Mildews and molds destroy the fibre.
- Unique to flax among the bast fibres are its strength, absorbency and resistance to ultraviolet light which makes it whiter.
- Spun from strick linen yarn is lustrous and naturally shiny.
- Linen is more flexible when wet and adding water helps both spinner and weaver.
- Flax is vulnerable to low humidity and will break so a long tumble in your dryer will seriously injure your linens.
- Flax fibre comes in many colours dove gray, dark pewter, creamy beige or deep manila. This is caused by the processing, minerals in soil and location of where it was grown. These earth tones are not permanent.
- Flax is 78% cellulose. By nature cellulose is white. The remaining fibre content is waxes, pectin and gums and being water soluble will wash out. This Results in three changes. it turns white is wiry and dense and transforms into a lean and dense fibre and becomes finer by about 25%. This is a serious loss as the pectin, waxes and gums are useful in the spinning and weaving process.
Under microscope Flax has nodes and cotton is a twisted ribbon. The phloem is made up of single cells or ultimates and are 2.5cmm or longer, are pointed each end and glued together with pectin.
Flax prefers to grow in cool weather 10 to 26.5 degrees. Does well in misty locations. If you can grow peas you can grow flax. Requires rich soil, full sun, close together to encourage long stems. Takes 90 to 100 days to mature. Flax needs to be harvested before seed pods mature. Dry stems in stooks in field to dry.
There are three ways to harvest Flax to strip the bark and phloem in long ribbons while succulent and green and divide into finer and finer ribbons and use as is or you can then free the phloem cells from one another by pounding the ribbons to remove the thin bark you can scrape the green coarse fibres off the core, this method called decortication and is now mechanized and used on ramie, hemp and even some flax.
Three methods of retting immerse in pond of water, in running water eg stream, leave where dew or other rain can fall on it. Retting occurs faster in warm water and can be fully retted in three days.
- A common method for processing flax and hemp involves placing the dried stems in damp conditions until the smaller connective tissues rot away, fibres are again dried and beaten to remove pithy core and combed.
- Harvested flax goes through rippling, retting, breaking, scutching and hackling to become the fibre we spin.
- Rippled flax it can be stored indefinitely and retted at later date. Rippling makes it less attractive to mice. Can also be store after retted and dried.
- Rippling is drawing the bundled straw through closely set single row tines to removes the seed pods which are rich in nutrients and attract mice.
- Beating lightly crushes just the seed pods but not the seeds, done with a smooth faced mallet.
- Flax can then be stored.
- Retting is placing straw in damp or wet environment. Bacteria attacks moist material the goal being to free the phloem from the pithy core before it also is attacked. Timing is important.
If retting is taken too far the gum that holds the ultimates in place is consumed and if this happens the fibre may be reduced to 2.5 cm long. If retting is not complete when flax tested both phloem and pith will break, if too much phloem will not hold the full staple length, if correct pith will break and phloem can be peeled off in long fibres.
Breaking and Scutching after flax dried the fibre is crushed in a machine that looks like a pair of scissors this is done the full length of the fibre and the pith is broken from the phloem. Scutching is where fibre is placed on a stake and a large bladed knife is scraped on it to remove pith.
Hackling is done to remove the remainder of the pith that is left on flax fibres. Hackle pins are set differently to Wool Combs. Wool Combs are designed to remove short fibres. Hackles are designed to pierce the fibre and separate the flax fibres without sacrificing the length. To obtain finer fibres you gradually use finer hackles.
Hackles are a necessary tool for the flax spinner, especially if spinning line flax.
Flax is available in three forms line (Strick) sliver (long tow) tow (short tow also called Cottonized)
- A strick is a ponytail that has been hackled to a long and even fibre.
- The stuff that is hackled out is called tow which is the short irregular left overs and gives a coarse textured yarn. Longer fibres can be rehackled and spun like line (sliver).
- You should rehackle line flax to open it up before use. Tow from hackling is sorted. 15-18cm can be spun in same manner as line and fibres less that 15cm can be carded on coarse flax handcarders.
- Uses Tow for bags, canvas items, sacks, face cloths etc but not hot pads as flax is quite flammable.
- Not all flax is treated as line flax some is scraped from green stem and the stable length is `2.5-15cnm which comes in carded sliver form. With machine prepared material there is a nap or a better end and a not so good end from which to spin. Try both ends before you begin working. There may also be remains of the pithy core which will give you a character yarn.
- Yarns that have been dyed or you dye may be gummy because flax contains pectin and this becomes sticky with moisture. Some decorticated flax is degummed so check your sliver. If sticky you will need to recard your sliver.
- Another form of flax is cottonized the staple length being 2.5 cm. It is industrially like cotton and available in carded sliver blends and can command premium price. This flax has a short drafting zone
The first goal is to manage long fibre without crushing and knotting reason for distaff or peg to hold strick. Both ends of the bundle are tapered the root end has thicker fibers and is more abruptly tapered. You need about 2 ½ - 3 yards of smooth satin ribbon 3mm to 1.3 cm wide. Tie the flax about a third of the way down from the flower end tightness is a judgement call as to loose and all fibre comes down at once., Be prepared to retie bundle as you spin. Crisscross the two ends of the ribbon around both the staff and the fibre to secure them. Leave last 4-6 inches unbound. Can be tied on a broom. Short fibres can be rehackled and placed on a smooth linen towel, rolled round a distaff, tied and spun from this. Carded flax can also be prepared like this.
Alternatively lay evenly across a smooth towel and roll up and fasten. Spin from end. Shorter fibres can be spun the same way.
Wheel adjustments are opposite to cotton. Cotton needs high twist and little take up for flax less twist and strong take up.
Flax yarn is like wire. Relax the yarn, and it hops off the hooks. Flax is strong and most likely the yarn will be the last thing to break if snagged. It needs to be wound on into a firm package otherwise the yarn slides all over the place and lost ends are impossible to find. Double drive big flyer whorl small bobbin whorl. Scotch Tension Wheel you may need an increase in drive cord tension and bobbin tension. You will be treadling slower and you may be spinning a gossamer yarn with little twist. Remember to change hooks frequently to build up a solid cylinder of yarn so it cannot move on the bobbin.
Distaffs are often used to feed the flax fibre to the spinning wheel. They can come in many sizes and shapes.
Spinning Line flax 20 to 40 inches. The fibre is pulled down from the distaff or if holding in hand drafted towards the wheel.
If you draft backwards to your hand or distaff the flax fibre will very quickly become tangled and no longer draw cleanly.
You need to keep your forward drafting fingers moist and at no time allow the moisture to go past your back hand into the unspun flax. You need to keep fingers moist and this is very apparent after spinning for 5 or 10 minutes.
Spinning Flax Tow - 10 to 20 inches This is the long fibre combed from Line flax. Can be laid on cloth and rolled to make a type of distaff or carded and made into rolag. Spins like coarse mohair.
Spining Flax Sliver 1 to 8 inches.
- Comes in two forms Cottonized flax which has been reduced to a staple of 1inch and carded by a cotton machine. Spins like cotton
- Combed Sliver has a consistent length or Carded Sliver which has random lengths.
- Card sliver can be recarded to remove some of the neps and trash and made into rolags.
- Flax is always spun worsted with draft well ahead of fibre or hand.
- Draft a fine yarn heavy yarn difficult to keep consistent.
- Spin wet to keep surface smooth and improve luster
- Worsted Draft
- Quick take up as yarn is always stiff.
- If using spindle wind on at low angle.
- Flax has a right end Thicker at root than tip. Spin from root. Do not crush fibre when spinning.
- In moist conditions only prepare enough for immediate use.
When winding Flax into balls remember pulling from the centre or outside imparts more twisit into the fibre. Best to pull off the side as this will affect the finished knitting, weaving, crocheting etc once twist is set.
When winding do remove any badly spun pieces as these will show up in finished project.
- Use steel, glass or enamel pot not iron and fill with cold water and add 1 tablespoon of dry laundry detergent that contains no additives and add 2 tablespoons washing soda. (Judge your quantity).
- Flax or hemp can be boiled in skein but it is best to boil cotton under tension.
- Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes and rinse under running water. Cool water is not a problem cellulose fibres do not felt. Change water if you feel it needs it.
- Because you are removing the waxes and oils it will become finer and maybe lighter.
- Dry quickly as keeping damp causes damage.
Dyeing - If you wish to dye flax successfully then you should investigate cellulose dying.
The fibre must be clean. Cotton is easier to clean than Flax or Hemp which have more durable oils and waxes. Any left on the yarn will stop the dye adhering to the fibre and dye will then wash out or cause crocking. Crocking is when the dye rubs off the fibre onto hands and other clothes and cannot be stopped.
To whiten quickly you can bleach but this is damaging the fibre. The alternative to chemicals is boiling and sunlight. This does not cause any damage to the fibre.
The distinct benefit from plying Flax is that you end up with larger (thicker) yearns. Spinning a thick cellulose fibre can be difficult to obtain an even yarn. Plying can give the cellulose line some elasticity which it does not naturally posses.
What to do with the finished Yarn
Knitting with Flax No Elasticity Slips of needles yarn like wire lean have no bulk have no stretch finished fabric is board like.
Suggestions Use bigger needles knit loosely use grabby needles sharp needle tips choose elastic stitch pattern Cellulose fibres do not full and all stitches are visible (eg mistakes and badly spun yarn) - Knit elastic into ribbing or use different stitch start by knitting a garment that has a loose fitting when calculating number of stitches allow for the fact that these yarns will stretch therefore samples are important.
Each wearing and laundering will render the garment softer, whiter and give more drape as it looses its wirey character.
- Boil Freeze Pound to soften Baste Fibres.
- Boil yarn
- Freeze yarn and then thaw
- Hang to dry
- Pound skein with mallet and the luster with improve.
- Repeat until suitably soft may take 6 to 7 times.
- Linen and Hemp will develop a drape like chamois or suede.
- Loses wiriness but not definition.
Importance of Yarn Size
- Size affects performance.
- Thick yarns do not behave well because stiffer and more easily soiled.
- Finer yarns have more twist and more contact points per inch. Less likely to abrade, snag or attract soil. Also have better absorbency, smoothness, softness and strength.
- If you do not like fine knitting then you need to ply many strands together to reach a thicker yarn and maintain the best Flax has to offer.
- Finishing as always requires a boiling scour same procedure as before. Use heat and steam on finished projects.
- The natural characteristics of flax hemp and cotton make them perfect for weaving.
- Weaving yarns do not need to be plied. Linen and hemp are naturally strong. Plying to improve their strength isnt necessary. The reason to ply cellulosics are to make a particular yarn size or blend colours.
- Sizing the Warp applied to smooth yarn surface reduce the diameter and to keep it from losing twist if broken during weaving. Size when yarn is in skein form.
- Setts for Handspun Yarns will have a significant effect on finished cloth.
- Finishing as before. And boil for 30 to 45 minutes.
Beetling -This is to soften the dry fabric. Helps squash the yarn make the cloth shiny and spreds the yarns sideqys to fill in small holes between indificula warp and weft yarn.
Mangling - dampened fabric is wound onto wooden cylinder like jumbo rolling pin. This cold-press process rolls and compresses the bavric making it smool.
Calendering - is when pressing job is assigned to set of heavy hot steel rollers.
August: Gill gave an overview of flax, its various forms, and demonstrated spinning it. Flax was then distributed to members to spin for the September meeting.
July: Finished camel projects were brought in. A variety of items were made from the small amount of camel we each had to spin.
June: Most members had found it enjoyable to spin the camel hair. Between us we combined it with a number of different fibres, either blended or in the plying. next month we all hope to have a completed our project.
May: A small amount of camel hair had been purchased for the group to spin, and was distributed. It is a fine fibre, which will require spinning with a high twist. The fibre also contains some long hairs. It was suggested we might want to try blending it with silk or wool, to make it easier to handle. Participants are asked to bring their spun samples in next meeting for discussion.
Our April meeting day coincided with a bus trip to Feltfine, so after lunch at the Old Butter Factory at Wyong, we sat outside and enjoyed the beautiful weather and had our final session discussing colour.
The May meeting will be the first one on spinning camel hair.
We looked at colour in - design, spinning, weaving, felting etc. Members brought in samples of colour use which they felt worked, and also looked at colour combinations which did not work.
Helene showed a sample which she plied with itself, black and then white.
January - February 2017
We discussed the Border Leicester and Helene had completed one item which was a string bag (Left)
Most people found it easy to spin but very harsh.
Trudy came up with a solution to improve the feel by knitting the border leicester with a commercial yarn made up of Mohair and Silk. This gave a very soft feel to the fabric but is still only suitable for outer wear.
Marge (top right)
used hers for a crocheted cushion cover which felt quite soft.
The last fibre for 2016 is Border Leicester, and this was distributed at our meeting on November 15. Most people received 300 grams and the properties of this fibre were discussed. Ann S posted a very good web site to research this fibre
(www. independentstitch.typepad.com) and January 24 will be discussion on progress. Finished projects to be ready by February 21st.
Our third Fibre, Bamboo was distributed at the July meeting and Myf discussed its properties.
Most people enjoyed spinning with the white bamboo but some had difficulty with the dyed black bamboo fibre.
Left and Top Right: Anne D spun and dyed her fibre yellow and wove a jacket on weave it square loom.
Marge Spun and crocheted
hers into a scarf which
showed off the lustre.
Second Fibre for 2016 was Downs. This is a soft spongy fleece and the carded fibre was distributed to participants on April 19. By May we had all started spinning it, we shared our impressions of the fibre.
This fibre was enjoyed by all, most agreeing that the Southdown was softer than the Dorset Horn. Both fibres were soft and spongy and were not ideal to wear close to the skin. It was felt that this fibre could vary greatly from sheep to sheep because it has not been bred specifically for the wool fibre.
At our June meeting we showed the items we had made using the Downs fibres.
Left: Carolyn's Owl beanie
Right: Carol's beanie - her first time spinning Downs fleece, using Landscape dyes in a microwave, and using a magic loop!
Our first fibre for 2016 was silkA variety of silk fibres were distributed to members and the study group discussed various techniques for spinning silk.
Silk spinning was enjoyed by most of the group although each person had their favourite presentation. Each type of silk was represented by the group -
Mulberry, Tussah, Silk Noils, Hankies, Caps, Sari Silk and some was spun with Alpaca.
There was a discussion on silk from other creatures: spider silk and mussel silk which Beverley has seen in museums overseas.
Completed Items were brought in on 15th March.
All enjoyed spinning silk and items were completed in various ways.
Scarves - Lorraine
Necklaces - Carol, Lorraine and Gill
Small Bag - Anne Mac
Crochet Flower - Tracey
4th Fibre for 2015 was Anna Graton Silk, Corriedale and Nylon Glitter.
This was a fibre some enjoyed and some disliked it.
3rd Fibre for 2015 is an Alpaca Fleece
Karen Tan of Bonaton Alpaca has kindly given us a Fleece to share and experiment with.
We will be spinning the part of the fleece called the saddle. The neck which is shorter which will be used for felting and the Belly, Legs etc we still have to think about.
July - preparation, project discussion. August - Spinning technique and project progress. September - finished project.
Some of the Alpaca has already been washed and as you can see from Helen and Anne's samples with varying results. Vanish seems to definitely be the washing powder to use in this instance.
Some of the finished Items
Blue Beanie - Carol
Mauve Scarf -
Vest - Helene
Green Autumn Tone Necklace - Gill
2nd Fibre for 2015 is a Mohair fleece. The fleece is from a young goat (4th shearing) and it has some vegetable matter and dandruff. Discussion on properties of mohair and how to wash took place with notes given out and suggested web sites for further research.
Most had no problem washing this fibre.
A variety of methods of spinning and dyeing were tried: -
- Spinning a Knops Yarn for weaving
- Dyeing with food colouring and blending with Alpaca
- When spun finely dandruff fell out - others found this a problem
- Spun and knitted to show halo effect and that mohair hand spun does not shed
- Mohair spun up as a coarse fibre so plied with wool to soften
- Mohair dyed with food colouring, spun with light twist and knitted on large needles to give a soft feel.
Helene gave a demonstration of Long Draw which requires well prepared fleece and will stop overtwisting of yarn to give a soft and balanced yarn.
We have all been a little tardy finishing this fibre but most have projects started.
This shawl has had the Mohair plied with merino and has a very soft and thick feel.
Cowel is Mohair dyed with food colouring and blended with brown Alpaca.
2015 started off with some very fine Polwarth fibre in a range of natural colours:
We were given at the end of last year. Those who had spun it, found it a delight to spin. Some members planned to spin fine, others preferred bulky weight. We discussed the possibility of spinning a fine fibre into a bulky weight being liable to pill when exposed to any abrasion. There was a suggestion of slightly felting it, using it for light use projects or de pilling the garment when necessary.
The first fibre studied was the Coopworth
Although this was not as fine a fibre as many were used to some wonderful projects were made, ranging from crocheted tea cosies to woven hand bags. In January 2015, some of us presented our Coopworth made into a project and the general consensus remained that we didnt enjoy using it. Some of the projects were: a dyed, woven bag and matching purse (the strap is an inkle weaving); a small white crocheted purse; a dyed crocheted tea cosy (the flowers are Corriedale); a dyed and woven table runner, a pink dyed knitted teapot stand/cosy; a pin loom woven
cushion and a bobbin of lace weight yarn.