Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Trying out ancient Egyptian and flax fairy tale spinning techiques.

I thought I'd start the review of ways to spin linen by looking at the most time consuming of the techniques. Perhaps I'm not as skilled as an ancient Egyptian, but my results reproducing their methods were disappointing compared to the less complex ones.

The linen spinning process in ancient Egypt began with a woman making spliced roving from the hackled fibres. This is where you draw out the fibres into a fine, very slightly twisted line using wet fingers. The ball of roving is then given to the spinner who uses a drop spindle to spin a thread.

Here's a picture of some linen roving:

And here's a picture of the whole process of linen production in ancient Egypt - woman 5 is making the roving, woman 6 is spinning it:

Really dextrous spinners could spin with a spindle in each hand, as is seen in this picture. The balls of roving are behind them, in pots with water in, to keep the line moist:

Here's a model showing all that from an Egyptian tomb. These linen 'factories' were always in the underground parts of the Egyptian buildings because the humidity was higher there. Wet linen thread is stronger than dry thread, so there was less propensity for the thread to break during the weaving process:

Here, for comparison is what I managed (with one spindle at a time!):

At the top right, is my ball of wet drafted roving. I did this by drawing the tops out by hand, dipping my fingers in water as I went along, and putting a slight twist in using my thumb.

Below it is some spun yarn, and to the left, my woven, 2 ply sample.

It was easier when the roving split to use the water to rejoin the ends. When dry spinnng, if the yarn breaks, it's very hard to draft in new fibres to rejoin it. Traditionally, this is when the spinner would run the thread end over her bottom lip and use spit to hold the join together. You may remember the Grimm's fairy tale about the three spinning fairies, one with a braod foot from treadling, one with a big thumb from twisting the fibre and one with a bottom lip that hung to her chest from licking the fibre. The amylase enzyme in the saliva makes the starches in the linen dissolve, then as it dries they form a strong bond.

My spun yarn was much hairier (scratchy!) when I predrafted for some reason. The spinning was quicker, and there was less breakage, but when you add in the predrafting, the whole thing was much slower. I also found it harder to get a fine thread this way.

The resulting woven sample was softer, but hairier and the textile wasn't as fine as the other methods I tried.

If I was going to spin my flax crop later this year for a knitting project where softness is important and fineness isn't, I would use this wet predrafting method. For a fine woven textile, unless I could find an ancient Egyptian (or three fairies) to give me lessons, I think I'd use a different technique.


No comments:

Post a Comment