Friday, October 12, 2012

Flax to Linen Photo Shoot -- nearly the finale

Here it is.  Finally.  A 5m mini-skein of linen from my very own flax field. This is not what the whole field will produce!  There's much more to come, but I was anxious to see what it was like, so I finished up a couple of stricks and spun the fibre.  In so doing I learned a few things.

1.  Flax needs to ret until you can see the linen being released from the straw.  In the murky retting water it looks like angel hair.  Keep moving the water around to help with the release of the linen.

2.  Flax has to be very dry for the next stages.  So full-on sunshine for several days and a cover at night to protect from the dew is essential.  The sunshine also helps to bleach the linen a bit.

3.  Pounding the flax with a rubber mallet against a flat rock further helps to release the linen from the straw. It's a good workout for your upper arms. This stage is called Breaking.

4. The more you bash it against the rock, the more you will see the linen.  When most of the straw is flat, that's when you can start the next stage:  Scutching.  That's where you break the straw into smallish bits so it will fall away from the linen.  There are tools that help to do this, but I just broke it with my hands.


5.  Wool combs are not the best tools to help remove the straw from the linen which is the next stage:  Hackling.  I got the best result from my cotton hand cards -- not used in a hand-carding technique.  I laid the carder flat and ran the straw-laced linen strick through it a few times, hanging on good and tight.  Here's what I got from bashing and combing a couple of stricks of flax.

6. The most important thing I learned is that despite my new found skills at growing, harvesting and producing linen for spinning, I DON'T REALLY KNOW HOW TO SPIN THE DARNED STUFF.


It never occurred to me to research how to spin linen.  I had a vague recollection from past reading that linen is wet-spun to keep the fibres aligned -- I did that.  It was only after I made a mini-skein from an over-twisted double-ply spinning technique and produced the most uninspiring hard yarn I have ever worked with did I think to check some expert sources (the internet) to see what I had done wrong.

Thank heavens the disaster was in my spinning technique because I was ready to put the rest of the unprocessed flax onto the compost heap!

All is not lost, I just have a whole new skill to master.  Spinning flax.  And you thought this adventure was nearly over.  It's only just begun.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Sasha: cria alpaca fibre

A while back two of my darling neighbours, young lads named Adam and Ian, came to the house and gave me a huge bag of cria alpaca. [Cria is what a baby alpaca is called.] This fibre came from an animal named Sasha -- the pet of a friend of theirs.

Sasha's "hair" was getting mighty long so her owners had her shorn. They were going to toss all the wonderful fibre all onto the compost as they didn't know that anything useful could be done with it, but fortunately Adam and Ian were on their game and intervened. They know things about making yarn and the mysteries of fibre.

Their grandmother and I are both spinners so these young lads are well schooled in what is possible for the fibre arts. They talked their friend into giving them the bag of newly cut alpaca for they had a plan. They came to my house, gave it to me, and it exchange for hugs and much appreciation, they walked away with jars of strawberry and raspberry jam.

These boys have good instincts. The fibre is lovely, soft and mostly clean. And it's white!  Which means that there are so many dyeing options. Here it is all laid out on a table for sorting.

Because it is a pet it has been well fed and seems to have lived stress-free.  Here is a small sample combed and spun lace-weight. It is divine. I can't wait till I have the time to dive into this an make something substantial from it.  Here is a mini-skein of it spun up on my lace-weight spindle.  It's wonderful stuff.

Sometimes pennies fall from the skies, and sometimes they walk across the road.
Thanks Adam. Thanks Ian.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Flax to Linen Journey: Nearly ready to spin

On the weekend I pulled the test flax out of the retting water. This was the small batch that I put in there because I had a hunch that it hadn't retted enough. It's hard to know exactly when it's ready for the next stage, so test bundles are a good way to go.

I am not usually this cautious about things, but one of the sources I read about retting gave a stern warning about the process. It stated that wet retting happens really fast (compared to the three to five months for dew retting, I guess anything less is fast) and if you leave it too long it will weaken your linen fibres. After all this work, I am not willing to let that happen. So I did a wee test with a small bundles of fibre.

Last Saturday was a hot and dry day and the twice retted flax dried quickly. By the end of the day I couldn't resist playing with it. I scrunched it up a bit and the brittle straw fibres broke and fell out, for the most part letting go of the linen in the process.  I was so encouraged by this that after a short while I ended up pushing a wee bundle of the sample stuff through the next few stages.  Here's the result.


It's not exactly spin-ready, but it's darned close.

These two photos show the long fibres, you can see bits of the straw still embedded in there. This linen is fibres from the entire length of the plant. As far as I can understand the flax/linen industry, this is Prime.

This next photo is the long fibres on the top and below are the shorter fibres I pulled from the comb.  They are finer and shorter, about 4 inches on average, with less straw in them.  I can't imagine that they are less than Prime, but it seems to be graded according to length.  We'll see about that.

Below is the waste linen that was left over after combing the linen.  I tried to clean out the debris by hand carding it, and got a great deal of it out, but it still full of straw and other random bits. After all this work I just couldn't throw this away.  I am sure it will have a use.  Paper, noily bits in a wool batt.  Who knows?

I am just so excited because it worked. I still have a lot of work to do -- I can barely stand to think about it.  But this journey of discovery has been so satisfying thus far. I don't know how much fibre my wee field of flax will eventually yield, but it will be the most adored washcloth I have ever used.

Ann, I will bring these samples with me to Kamloops and show you first hand what I've done.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Local fibre from Acacia Acres

At the Aldergrove Country Fair this July I met a sheep producer who runs Acacia Acres (sorry, no website yet) in south Langley. I knew her from the fleece sale last year as she and her fleeces cleaned up on most of the awards that year.  We got talking about fibre and knitting and such and over a few meetings we have struck up a deal where I make her and her family knitted items from her fibre, and she pays me for my work in her lovely fibre.  I get all the benefits of having sheep and lovely fibre, without having to raise the animals myself and neither of us has to fork out any cash.

So I came home from Acacia Acres with 10 pounds of washed fibre and 2 pounds of an assortment of unwashed fibres from 4 different sheep.  In exchange for this fibre I am going to make 6 pairs of 1/2 mitts and 3 x 3 inch knitted samples from the four different fleeces.

As I didn't have to waste any time washing fibre, I got right to work as soon as I got home.  The wool in this picture is from the fleece of a very happy romney sheep called Ashley. Ashley's fleece won the Grand Champion prize at the Lower Mainland Sheep Producers Association annual fleece sale this past September 22nd. The wool in this picture is from Ashley's fleece from last year. Just as lovely, soft and wonderfully grey.  Here it is hand carded into rolags.  The staple on this fibre is about 3 inches long on average, so it's a dream to hand card.  

What you are looking at is 86 g (3 ounces) and 144 m (165 yards) of fingering/sport weight yarn. Look at that steely grey colour and sheen on the yarn.  That's what I love so much about romney, the sheen. 

From that skein I made these 1/2 mitts -- with slightly less than an ounce left.  What's left in is the ball on the right. The mitts are made on 3mm needles and 44 stitches. They are medium to large size for they are intended for a young man.  

In addition to five pounds of Ashely's fleece,  I also got five pounds of washed fleece from Ebony. Ebony is a white romney and such a lovely white she is. Here is a close-up of a skein of double-ply Ebony. I drum carded the fibre this time.

It is such a luxury to get washed fibre to work with. Even though you still have to do the fibre preparation, at least I didn't have to spend time washing up this volume of fibre.

This is another large skein of fingering/sport weight yarn. This one ended up being 100 grams (3.5 ounces) and 155 m (168 yds) of fibre. Here it is on the niddy-noddy.

This weekend I spent time exploring this fibre. I had already made two large fingering/sport weight skeins of yarn, so I was ready to try other yarns. Below are two skeins: the white one is a three-ply of the Ebony (71 g/ 2.5 oz and 61m/67yds). I would call this one a worsted weight yarn. The grey skein is a 50/50 blend of Ashely and Ebony, you can see how much lighter the grey is. To thoroughly blend it I drum carded it. I put very little twist into the singles and made them much thicker than the previous yarns. The result:  a light, lofty yarn.(107 g/3.75 oz and 103m/112 yds)

 Here is a photo of the whole family. Ashely, Ebony and the blend.

Now that I know how the wool will behave when being made into yarn, I am going to spend some time dyeing and blending the various colours.  It is so much fun to have this much wonderful fibre to play with.

Thanks Jacqueline and Linda!