October 20, 2010

Watched Flax Being Spun

Got to watch flax being spun.

The flax was prepared by children at a living history museum, so it's coarse and in rough shape.

Note the little pot hanging from the wheel.  The pot holds water.  The spinner dips fingers in and smoothes the yarn as the fiber is spun.  The finish on the spinning wheel protects it from any water damage.

She spun without a distaff, as it was easy to hold the tiny amount of flax each child would bring her.

The flax spinner notes that the quality of her spun flax isn't just determined by the quality of the children's processing.  Her spun flax also depends on the quality of the retting job.

Retting, if you'll remember, is rotting the stems to break them down to just the right stage, then drying them.  Do it correctly and the woody boon shatters properly when broken, scutched, and hackled.  The boon falls away, leaving long, strong strands that can be spun.  The method of retting can determine the colour of the fibers, how grey or golden they are.

She says that among handspinners, retting is the area where there is the least knowledge.  If you get it wrong, you lose your whole crop.  She expects it could take years and many tries to get the knack and have quality flax to spin.

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