Monday, February 18, 2013

Spinning flax on a drop spindle - how to avoid the 'drop' part

Those of you future flax growers without a spinning wheel, take heart. The first 3200 years of making textiles were all managed without one.

The viking ships that sailed hundreds of miles on colonising voyages were all made possible by women with drop spindles, spinning the flax to make the linen to weave into the sails. Makes the effort involved in producing tea towel seem pretty minimal by comparison.

Dry or Wet Spindling?

I have dry spindled flax. It is possible to do if you concentrate hard. I didn't find it easy and there was a greater emphasis on the 'drop' than the 'spindle' in my efforts. Wet spinning cuts down the yarn breakages during spinning, and produces a smoother thread. It also makes areas where you have to join in new fibre much stronger and less prone to breaking. In the picture above is a ball of predrafted flax (top right), some wet spindled thread (botton right) and a woven sample of the wet spindled yarn. I don't use the predrafting method anymore - that was just a trial. I find spinning from the fold of a flax 'twist' (see photo in last post) works just as well. I can see no difference in quality between my spindle spun and wheel spun samples, the only difference is the speed of production. That being said, with wheel spinning I'm limited to spinning at home, while with a spindle I can spin wherever I happen to be at the time. My friend Billy spindle-spun some lovely linen on the train back from Seattle last week. He used his coffee cup to hold the water he needed to wet his fingers as he worked.

This, by comparison, is a picture of my dry spindled flax. Much hairier, and I suspect it would be a pain to weave on anything larger, as the warp would tangle.

I use a top whorl spindle (like the egyptians) to spin linen. One with a long spin, which usually means a whorl with a weighted outside edge for centripetal force, is ideal. However, my favourite spindle of this description was borrowed by someone in an Urban Weaver workshop in the fall, packed in her move to Toronto, and despite many requests has never been returned to me. For those of you who were lucky enough to get hold of a Don George (of Quesnel) spindle before he stopped making them - they're ideal. The strength of the flax in resisting twist is easily overcome by the amount of spin it is possible to get with this spindle, meaning that it doesn't easily start to untwist as the spindle revolutions slow. Another advantage of this spindle is that it has a long shaft, so you can stand and spindle using your feet to produce the spindle rotation. Great for when you're standing in a line up, or spindling as you walk along. However, as I no longer have this spindle, I used one of my hand made chop stick and wooden bead spindles for the samples. Sigh. Any chance of getting my spindle back, Sharon De Souza?

A small pot of water by your side while spindling is all the other equipment you'll need. Just moisten your left fingers (for right handers) or which ever fingers you use to pinch and smooth twist. I carry a small screw top plastic pot and fill it from my water bottle. I also use rain water if waiting at a bus stop - just hold your hand out, or dip you fingers in the rain drops on the bus shelter!

Another 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.

Next time - spinning some extra fine flax fibre I bought in Seattle (proper high quality 'line' flax with a staple length of 14cm!), and weaving linen using my old tapestry frame and some home-made string heddles.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you. I just got some flax fiber today and have been spinning to make a washcloth. I didn't know anything about wet spinning, and, as my yarn looks nice but hairy, I will try wet spinning to see if I can make it smoother.