Sunday, 5 October 2008

My Adventure With Flax

I really, really wanted to try spinning flax. I don't know why exactly. I love linen, but I knew I wasn't going to get anything like linen, so that couldn't be why. In any case, on my last trip out to Celeigh Wool, I allowed myself one bag of fibre and after some thought, I headed home with a strick of Euroflax long line flax.

I have to admit, my first experience with flax was pretty comical. I got back to my parents' farm where we were visiting and opened the bag - whew! - what a stink! The heat and tightly closed plastic bag had gathered hours worth of that flaxy smell. Heady, wonderful - ah, no, I don't think so. I called up Marg in a bit of a panic and left what was either a hilariously funny message or a horribly offensive one, depending on how you'd take it. At any rate, I asked if I were perhaps meant to air the flax out on the laundry line prior to spinning? Or perhaps wash it? And did it really always smell that way? I think I likened it horse manure . . . lots of it.

She kind of laughed at me. " I love the smell of flax!" she says. "It's supposed to smell like that!"


She did advise me on how long to boil it once I had finished spinning it and that it wouldn't smell quite so strongly after that. And of course, she was absolutely right. It ended up lighter and softer and definitely not smelly.

Anyway, I did really enjoy spinning it and the smell did ease considerably once the strick was out of that suffocating plastic bag. It really just needed to breathe. I rolled it in a towel, like Marg recommended. Lee Juvan describes the various ways of dealing with a strick in her article for KnittySpin and that includes several photographs of how to wrap in a towel. I did find that my towel needed some hair elastics around it to keep it neat inside. Otherwise it kind of ended up as a bad hair day. A hairdresser's worst back-combing nightmare would be a good comparison. At any rate, once I kept the package rolled a bit more firmly it wasn't so bad and the flax pulled out fairly smoothly.

The unspun flax is quite stiff and hairy feeling, kind of like a horse's tail. The back-combed snarls I was getting seemed familiar too - kind of like trying to untangle that same horse's tail full of a winter's worth of snarls. It was kind of nerve wracking having to spin a whole bobbin full at one time. I rarely sit down for that long with three kids underfoot. I spun the flax wet, as recommended ( a towel on your lap is definitely handy!), which means that you need to get it off the bobbin as soon as you are done, or you risk warping your bobbin or having mildew attack your freshly spun flax. So I was a bit paranoid and went on a spinning marathon to finish each bobbin at one go. I wound the first two off on my niddy-noddy and left them skeined until I was done the third and ready to ply (a week later at least!). Then I wound them back on bobbins with my wheel and a swift.

Here are the yarn stats, all singles spun S, plied Z: 3-ply, 220 m, 12 to 14 wpi, 172 g, 640 ypp. I made up the last 20 g into a 2-ply once I ran out of the first bobbin's length, but I didn't write down how many metres I had before I wound it into a ball - oops!

I was aiming for a sportweight, but I ended up with more like a DK. It is much softer, but still a little bit stiff, and has a nice lustre, which sort of shows in the first photo. I am really happy with the end product though and if I ever get around to finishing up the projects I already have started, I want to make this bag, also by Lee Juvan and published in Knitty Spring 2008.


BouBou said...

What a fascinating post! Thanks for sharing the process. I think the bag will look great made with your flax yarn.


goooooood girl said...

i like......