Days of flax retting

This week I finished the retting of my 2022 flax. I decided to pay extra attention to the retting process this year. The aim of my experimental flax patch has always been to learn, and I keep learning every year. Walk with me through this year’s days of flax retting.

The 2021 flax harvest was quite large and of high quality. I was very pleased with it when I harvested it, but unfortunately I managed to underret it. The quality of the finished flax was not very impressive, full of boon and bits of bark. There was also a lot of waste and I ended up with two sad little stricks of hackled flax. For that reason I have been quite anxious about retting this year’s harvest.

Retting attention

With the painful experience of preparing my 2021 underretted flax I decided to pay extra attention to the retting this year and make the most of the harvest I got.

As I harvested the flax I divided it into sizes – the coarse outer plants in one bundle, then medium coarse, medium fine and fine. I dried the flax in bundles according to coarseness and kept this system even in the retting process. I figured the fine plants would ret faster than the coarse ones.

We live in a four family townhouse with no private space outdoors other than a patio on the front and a terrace at the back. The lawn outside our house, where I ret my flax, may be closest to us, but is by no means our property. People stroll by and lots of things can happen with unsupervised retting flax.

A kitchen conundrum

Mid-retting one of our neighbours announced that they would be renovating their kitchen. “A huge lorry will come and unload the kitchen furniture. You may want to move your flax”. Well I certainly wanted to move it, but I had no other lawn to move it to. The flax was retting on two patches of lawn and I did manage to move the flax that was in most danger from the unloading lorry, to the other patch. A bike rack had been placed on top of some of the flax when I got home on the first day, but no harm seemed to have been done to the flax. On the following days I peeked outside at the builders, keeping an eye on where they put things. They were very well behaved.

Days of retting

When I (dew) ret my starting point is 20 days, give or take a few depending on the weather. In my calendar I mark 10 days for turning and 17 days for starting the daily control of the retting to end the process at the right time.

Day 20 and the flax has that characteristic spottet pattern from the retting process.

To check the retting status I pick a stem between my pinched thumb and index fingers. I wiggle the stem a bit back and forth to allow the fibers to let go of the boon. I pull the fibers off the boon and make an assessment. The fibers should let go of the boon in its entire length and smoothly. If it is reluctant to let go it will need a few extra days of retting.

Day 17

As I had suspected there was a difference in retting status between the different qualities of flax I had sorted my harvest into. The finest flax were nearly ready while the coarsest seemed to need more time.

I started testing my different categories on day 17. The fibers did let go of the boon on both the fine and medium plants along all the length of the fibers, but quite reluctantly. With the memory of preparing last year’s flax harvest fresh in my mind I figured that this reluctancy would probably result in quite a lot of waste and low quality flax.

Day 19

On day 19 the fibers were still a bit reluctant to let go of the boon on the medium plants. The fine flax seemed ready to be harvested, but I decided to wait just another day. We were expecting some rain and I figured it would do the trick.

Day 20

On day 20 I did end the retting of the fine flax. The fibers let go of the boon very smoothly and it felt like a good decision.

I ended the retting process for the finest flax on day 20 when the fibers let go of the boon along the whole length of the fibers in a smooth way.

Day 22

Since the medium and coarse plants hadn’t been ready on day 20 I didn’t check on day 21. Day 22, though, was the day for the medium flax and I ended the retting process for the largest part of the harvest. I expected the coarse edge flax to need an extra day or two, but it seemed ready enough so I took it up to dry too.

I ended the retting process for the medium flax on day 22 when the fibers let go of the boon along the whole length of the fibers in a smooth way. in the end I decided to take the coarse flax too on the same day.

Drying

Drying retted flax is always an adventure. While I want some rain for the retting I certainly don’t want it for drying. There was some rain which wasn’t ideal, but there was also wind, turning my little flax tents over like dominoes and I retented them several times a day.

The days of retting have ended. My pretty tents of retted flax look out over the neighborhood. One morning I found around 15 small Burgundy snails in the tip of the tents, seeing the sights.

When the retted flax was dry enough to have some sort of integrity I brought it to the terrace to finish the drying there where it could stand openly but still protected from falling.

We are not expecting any rain this weekend, so I will let it dry some more. I’m note sure the weather and my schedule will give me an opportunity to process the flax before the winter, but I will at least hackle it for easier storing indoors.

The number of days of retting is just that, a number. This is what worked for me this year (I hope, the real result will reveal itself in the processing), in my part of the world, in the humidity of my corner of the world and the rainfall that happened to be. Your retting process may be quite different. For some pointers of the flax year, check out this flax timeline post that I wrote by a request. It covers some points based on signs for the different stages of flax husbandry rather than on dates.

Dreams of water retting

Next year I would like to try water retting. We do have a stream nearby, but it only runs (or rather crawls) in early spring with melt water. My hope is that a kiddie pool will do the trick. Not as romantic as sinking bundles of flax into the stream (I see Anne Shirley and Diana Barry before me), but I will have to live with that.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to missanything!
I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Påsöm embroidery wool journey

This weekend I enjoyed the 2022 wool journey with my wool traveling club. The five members traveled from near and far to the small village of Dala-Floda where the påsöm embroidery technique has its origin and bloom. Have a peak at the påsöm embroidery wool journey!

The wool traveling club started in 2014 and had its first journey in 2015 to Shetland for Shetland wool week. Since then we find locations we can reach without flying. This was the first time all five of us could make it.

The påsöm tradition

Dala-Floda (or Floda which is the local name) is widely known for its traditional costumes and, especially for the very rich embroidery technique called påsöm. “På” means on or on top of and “söm” means seam, so a seam on top of something. The something has traditionally been broadcloth and two-end knitted items.

Our teacher for the course, Anna-Karin Jobs Arnberg has a master craftsman’s diploma in embroidery. She is also very knowledgeable when it comes to the costume and textile traditions in the area. Her day job is as operation manager and antiquarian at the Dalarna museum. She also teaches påsöm embroidery, costume traditions and other textile techniques in her own business, Flodaros.

The påsöm technique is relatively modern, it came with the zephyr yarns and synthetic dyes in the mid-19th century. Embroidery was common in the area before that, but the yarns and the dyes marks a significant change in the expression of the technique. During the national romantic area women were hired as påsöm embroideresses.

A sewing hook works perfectly as a resistance to pull the stitches against.

Traditionally påsöm has not been practiced with embroidery hoops. Instead the material has simply been pinned onto the skirt of the embroideress. When I got home from the course I dug out my sewing hook that worked very nicely with the broadcloth material.

The wool traveling club took a short field trip to the Dala-Floda costume parts second hand shop. It was the sweetest shed-sized store filled to the roof with cuffs, hats, suspenders, skirt hems, baby slings, tie- on pockets, jackets and watch pockets – all parts of the traditional Dala-Floda costume.

The påsöm yarn and the stitch

The yarn typically used for påsöm is a very loosely spun 4-ply merino yarn in rich and vibrant colours. The stitch with the blooming yarn is supposed to fill out the motif and create a bulky, almost three dimensional look. As I was afraid to ruin the expression of the embroidery and as I am not a reliable dyer, I stayed away from trying to spin and dye my own påsöm yarn. I use the Flodarosyarn that Anna-Karin has dyed.

Nearly all the stitches for flowers and leaves are made in double satin stitches while the stalks and occasional borders are made in stem stitches. The surface underneath the satin stitch areas doesn’t show.

Her royal Mossiness, queen of the conifer forest.

Sewing the airy 4-ply yarn with the double satin stitch results in a spongy, cushiony surface, like a patch of moss on a spruce stump in a newly rained conifer forest. I want to stop and gently soak my hands in it, greet and smell its royal mossiness, just like I do when I do get to the forest and find that sweet mossy spruce stump.

Transferring the pattern

There is a set of flowers and leaves that have traditionally been used for påsöm embroideries. Anna-Karin had made both templates and stencils for us to play with and find a composition that worked with the påsöm expression and the embroidered item.

Anna-Karin shows us a way to sketch the winding stalks and the position of the flowers. Then she plays with templates of different flowers to build the bouquet.

A wool surface can be very fuzzy in the world of a pen and difficult to stick to. Anna-Karin showed us how to first make a sketch on the surface and refine it with an erasable pen. Once we felt happy with the composition and placement we could mark the final pattern and inside lines with a permanent pen.

The påsöm nitty-gritty

Påsöm has its foundation in a winding flower stalk. All the leaves, buds and flowers have a relation to that stalk, making the impression of a bouquet of flowers. The flowers – like dahlias, roses, pansies and lilies of the valley – usually have several colours. Sometimes a tinting technique is used to create the transition between darker and lighter.

A main flower and winding stems make out the motif of my tie-on pocket. I will probably push in more leaves to create even more abundance in the bouquet.

The motif fills out as much as possible of the surface (usually broadcloth) to create an abundance. Lots of reds and pinks together with the leafy greens, but sometimes also blues and purples and perhaps accentuating yellows and whites.

The projects

I had several ideas for påsöm embroidery. The one I picked for the course was a broadcloth tie-on pocket. If you look at the pictures of the inspiration Anna-Karin brought to the class you can see several tie-on pockets with abundant påsöm embroidery. I used these as an inspiration for my own pocket. I also brought a handspun nalbinding hat that I had waulked, to get inspiration for pattern transferring and design.

Upcoming projects that I have arranged the tempalates on are a nalbound and walked hat and a piece of needle felt punch.

My very first påsöm project that I did a couple of years ago was a yoga mat in needle punch felt. A difficulty then was that I couldn’t get a marker to stick to the fabric, so I had to free-form the flowers on the material. I brought a piece of needle punch felt to the course to find a way to transfer the pattern to it without having to improvise it.

Ellinor decided to embroider a broadcloth sample patch. She had her three month old baby with her and didn’t have the opportunity to embroider as much as the rest of us. We didn’t mind taking the baby every now and then, though.

Boel and Anna started on broadcloth bags of different sizes and Kristin had knit and felted a sweater that she embroidered on.

The setting

The Dala-Floda inn is a pearl in the Dalecarlia landscape. A garden not much different from a botanical garden – plants of all shapes, sizes and foliages form sweet rooms to discover. Carefully tended with skilled hands and hearts. Organic and locally grown food cooked with love is on the menu. The interior equally sweetly and thoughtfully planned. All about the inn breathes sincerity and warmth.

I practiced my early morning yoga at 6.30 am in the garden, filling my lungs and my whole system with the cool September air and the sweet garden view.

The company

One of the best parts of going on a wool journey with the wool traveling club is of course the company. Some of us don’t see each other at all during the rest of the year, so when we meet there is a lot to catch up on. For a couple of days we bathe in each other’s relationships, children work and play. Crafting helps bring the conversation deeper and despite the short time we spend together we manage to find truly meaningful and deep conversations. We are sisters in craft. I always go home with a mixed feeling of sheer joy of the company and desperately missing them.

The wool traveling club in the inn garden – Ellinor with baby D, Kristin, Boel, me and Anna.

Thank you sweet sisters in craft, I learn so much from you. We are already planning our 2023 and 2024 wool journeys and I can’t wait for them.

Pending påsöm projects

I’m back home now, embroidering away on my tie-on pocket. I hope to get the hat ready before winter. I also want to try some påsöm on two-end knitted material. Påsöm embroidery has been common on especially mittens. You can check out some lovely church going mittens in my blog post about an earlier wool journey. I have finished spinning a two-end knitting yarn for mittens, but I need to spin some more before I can start knitting and embroidering.

I also have a pair of unfinished two-end knitted jacket sleeves that I would love to decorate with påsöm embroidery.

Regarding the needle punch felt material I have plans to make a sweet… no, wait, that’s a secret.

If you are a patron (or decide to become one) there is a video postcard from the wool journey available.

Happy spinning!

You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to missanything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

A day with the great wheel

Last Sunday I revisited Vallby open air museum to spin in public on their great wheel. My friend Cecilia and I got to dress in historical costume and spend a day with the great wheel.

If you want to see me spinning on the great wheel at Vallby open air museum, there is a video I recorded in 2020. It’s available in English and in Swedish.

Normally the great wheel at Vallby open air museum lives in the manor hall. For this occasion though, the 100th anniversary of the museum, we took the wheel outside and spun on the yard outside the museum farmhouse. It was a sunny day and perfect for spinning outdoors. We shared the yard with the flax processing team.

Wool prep prep

First things first, though. For great wheel spinning you need carded rolags. I always tease my wool before carding and I want the preparation to be fresh. To be able to spin for as long as possible on the great wheel I wanted to tease the wool at home before the event at Vallby so that I only had the carding to do once there.

What’s better finull teasing company than a bit of Austen?

I used Swedish finull wool from the silver medalist (at the Swedish wool championships 2020) Nypon (Rosehip), a sheep who lives at the Glada fåret sheep farm not far from the museum. Finull wool is very fine, very crimpy and very shiny. Usually I tease finull wool with a flick carder to get rid of any brittle tips. But this fleece was in exceptional condition and the tips were strong enough to tease with combs. Here is a video where I tease wool with combs.

Costume

My friend Cecilia is a volunteer at Vallby and she invited me to spin on the great wheel. The volunteers at Vallby wear historical costumes and I was thrilled to get the opportunity to dive into their costume chamber and pick something suitable for the task and the time. I’m very fascinated with all the layers and functions of costumes from this time.

I picked out a very comfortable linen shift, wool skirt and a bodice. To that of course an apron, a neckerchief and a cap. And, of course a pocket. They have lots of pockets at the museum, but I chose my own linen pocket.

Cecilia was dressed in basically the same parts. She had prepared the wheel at the museum that morning so when she picked me up at the train station she was already in character. It was such a joy to see her rushing through the busy waiting hall like a whirlwind with her 18th century flowing around her.

Bosom friends

Cecilia is my second cousin on my only Swedish family line. We met just a few years ago for the first time in decades, and instantly became close friends. A year ago I made Ceciliaand myself a bosom friend that Spin-Off later published as a pattern in the spring issue 2022, Cecilia’s bosom friend. The bosom friends were a natural choice to wear with our costumes and perfect for a slightly chilly September morning.

My friend and cousin Cecilia and I as 18th century women. Photo by Ulla Blomqvist.

I think we look absolutely smashing! Although I do have a problem with the cap. I call it the humiliation cap. It is very lovely, but I feel like a baby when I wear it. But, it was the high fashion at the time and probably outrageous to walk around without it.

Cecilia knows her way around at Vallby open air museum, from where the cuddliest cats live to how to carry a great wheel in and out of buildings with low doorways and high thresholds, capacities that are more useful than you may think.

You can read more about my friendship with Cecilia in the fall 2020 issue of Spin-Off magazine.

Carding

Once we had got our gear together and found a spot to set up camp I started to card my teased wool. It was such a precious moment to sit there on the warm steps by the barn wall in the September light, surrounded by wool and spinning tools in baskets and a great wheel that I had been especially invited to use. What a treat!

I’m carding rolags from teased Swedish finull wool before I start spinning on the great wheel. Photo by Cecilia von Zweigbergk Wike

I used my 108 tpi Finnish cards. They are truly lovely to card with. I am still learning the technique and it’s a joy to be able to focus on the technique.

Spinning

Spinning on a great wheel is like a choreographed dance. There are lots of factors to keep track on – holding the rolag, a stepping sequence, the changes of angles, turning the wheel and coordinating it all together with just the right amount of fiber release. It may look breezy, but I can assure you my brain was near boiling from all the concentration and coordination.

There is also an age factor to juggle with. The great wheel is antique and has its own mind. The spindle is wobbly and I need to take that into account when I make the draw. The leather straps that hold the spindle in place are old and dry. Cecilia changed them temporarily to straps in fresh leather for the occasion. The tensioning of the drive band is a little cranky and needs to be tightened often.

I managed to get one cop very symmetrical and even. Shortly after this photo was taken it collapsed, though and barfed out its innards at the tip end. Photo by Cecilia von Zweigbergk Wike

All of these factors come into the equation when I spin. As I am a beginner with a great wheel It took a while before I understood what was my beginner’s hand and what was the charm of an antique tool.

Still, yarn was made and people enjoyed themselves. Especially Cecilia and I, but hopefully also some visitors.

You can read more about the great wheel in an earlier post.

Meet and greet

Lots of visitors stopped and watched us at our 18th century corner of the farm yard. Some asked questions, some told sweet childhood memories of grannies carding and spinning by the fireplace. Some just watched and smiled in the pale September sun.

Photo by Cecilia von Zweigbergk Wike

It was such a joy to talk to the visitors, hear their stories and tell them a bit of spinning history when they asked about the wheel, the technique and the time.

Our day with the great wheel was a sweet joy and a success. Thank you Vallby outdoor museum for having me! I hope to be invited again.

Happy spinning!

You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to missanything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Mending hems

The other day I got a pair of third hand jeans. They fit me perfectly, but parts of the hems had been worn out, so I wanted to mend them. I threw out a question on Instagram and asked for advice on how to mend the hems. I got lots of really useful replies, some of which I decided to use and some of which to save for later. This post is all about mending hems.

When I was teaching at Sätergläntan craft education center this summer I met a woman who had the most beautifully visually mended pair of jeans. There were colourful embroideries all over the legs and they were just a joy to see. She had had them for 20+ years and mended them as soon as she had seen a hole, wear or tear.

One of my worn-out jeans leg hems.

With the mended pair of jeans as an inspiration I decided to take care of my own pair and mend them visibly as soon as I needed to, starting with the sad hems.

Decisions, decisions

Among the replies to my Instagram question, some were leaning towards blanket stitching around the hem, others towards embroidery and some towards a bias band. One suggested weaving straight onto the hem. I decided to embroider on a bias band on one leg and sew a tight blanket stitch on the other. The weaving I will save for later. I feared that it might get too bulky on a pant leg hem.

Blanket stitch

Both leg hems were worn, one a bit more and wider than the other. I chose the blanket stitch for the less worn leg. I have a box full of thrift shop embroidery yarn in wool, silk and linen. But for a pair of jeans I would need cotton. The only cotton yarn I had was a melange pink pearl cotton one, which was perfect for visibly mending hems.

I think I will keep my eyes open for more melange pearl cotton for future mending emergencies, I really liked this one.

Bias tape and sashiko

I wanted to use sashiko as the main mending technique for the more worn leg. I had bought a bundle of 26 beautiful Chinese handwoven vintage cotton patches from the 1960’s from Indigoloom that I wanted to use. They are all great candidates for both a bias tape and other mending techniques. Since I wanted to make my own bias tape out of the Chinese patch – another great tip from my Instagram question – I had ordered a bias tape maker.

The loveliest bundle of cotton patches, hand woven in China in the 1960’s.

In the Ultimate Sashiko sourcebook by Susan Briscoe that I had in my book shelf I found sweet patterns based on chequered fabrics. There were a lot of those in the bundle and I chose one of them. I figured that as a beginner it would be a good idea to use a chequered fabric pattern as a guide when I did the stitches.

The world isn’t square!

As I meticulously measured the cutting angle and width of the bias tape-to-be I realized that something was wrong. Only I couldn’t figure out what. I saw that I had measured the angle and the width correctly, but still the checks didn’t add up. Measuring again and again I scratched my head until it dawned on me: There was a weaving error!

A bias tape to be from a vintage Chinese hand woven cotton fabric with, as it turned out, sweet irregularities.

I had made the mistake of counting on the squares to be square. But that’s the thing – the world isn’t square! It’s full of wonderful irregularities and differences. Therefore, so is my bias tape.

The making of a bias tape

Making the bias tape was quite entertaining. Once I had cut the fabric on the bias I eagerly waited for the bias tape maker to arrive. Once it did it took me five minutes to grab the iron and ironing board and make the tape.

The bias tape maker is just a metal guide where you stick the flat strip of bias fabric into one end and end up with a folded tape in the other. As soon as the folded end appears you just iron it and there you have it!

My very first bias tape, made from a vintage hand woven Chinese cotton fabric.

I cut the frays on the pant leg edges and stitched the tape by hand on the inside of the leg with a backstitch. I stitched the top of the tape onto the front of the leg with a whipstitch.

Sashiko pattern

I used a komezashi variation for the sashiko part, that took advantage of the chequered fabric pattern. This meant that I didn’t have to create a grid for my stitches since it was already there. I did want to continue the pattern above the tape, though, so I did my best to follow the lines from the tape onto the denim.

When mending my hems I allowed the sashiko stitches to run over the denim as well as the tape.

Since the bias tape was longer than I needed I could easily have cut out the weaving error. I chose not to, though, but instead to embrace the perfectly flawed irregularity and work with it as it was. It will serve as a tribute to the weaver who reminded me that the world isn’t square.

It was interesting to use the sashiko technique for mending. I haven’t tried it just for the sake of sashiko yet, but I have plans to make little sashiko project pouches. Perhaps to keep my sashiko kit in.

Mending with love

I love my old new pair of jeans. Every time I mend them, which will be a treat and an act of love in itself, I will get that feeling that a new piece of clothing can give. A new start, a fresh breath. But with a smaller ecological footprint and hopefully with the inspiration for others to mend their own clothes with love.

A pair of mended hems.

As I plan to keep mending my jeans I also ordered a book on visible mending by Arounna Khounnoraj . It’s supposed to come next week. I’m secretly looking forward to more wear on my jeans. There is so much to explore! Thank you all who contributed to my cry for hem mending help.

Happy mending!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to missanything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Upcycled linen pocket

A while ago I stumbled upon a vintage handmade embroidered linen purse on Swedish eBay. I immediately fell for the fabric and the embroidery. In this post I take you through my process of turning the purse into an upcycled linen pocket.

The purse was a bit too large for my taste and I have never understood the purpose of a bag that is meant to be held in the hand. How are you supposed to be able to craft if your hands are busy holding a bag?

The purse was beautifully made. The ad said hand woven and I have no reason to argue with that. The embroidery is very sweet in its simplicity and the two subtle colours. Both the front and the back of the purse were lined and all seams hand sewn.

British vs Swedish pockets

When I saw the ad I was reading the beautiful book The Pocket: A hidden history of women’s lives, by Barbara Burman and Ariane Fennetaux where all known secrets of tie-on pockets between the 17th and late 19th centuries are revealed. So naturally my mind went to a pocket when I played with ideas for the purse fabric.

If you make a search on the Swedish digital museum for kjolsäck, the Swedish word for tie-on pocket (literally meaning skirt sack) you find lots of embroidered and embellished pockets (and some plain) with a horizontal opening. In the book The Pocket, though, covering only British pockets, nearly all the samples have vertical lined openings and basically the same design throughout the the book, in both samples and artwork picturing pockets.

My first pocket was inspired by the traditional Swedish pocket design – in a rounded shape and with a horizontal opening.

I made my first pocket with more of a Swedish design with a horizontal opening. So why not make this one like the British model I had spent so much time reading about?

A pocket pattern

When I published pictures of my first pocket in social media I got a response from Anne/Hamblemouse who wants us to revolt and take tie-on pockets into the 21st century fashion. And why not – when there finally are pockets in women’s clothes they are usually too small and simple. And mobile phones usually too large and too heavy for said pockets.

Anne makes and sells tie-on pockets inspired by old patterns such as the ones in the book mentioned above. She also sells kits for making your own pocket, and patterns. I wanted to make a pocket the British style and figured a proper pattern would be perfect, so I bought Anne’s pocket pattern.

Anne’s pattern is very easy to follow and paves the way for a beautiful and sturdy pocket.

The pattern has very clear instructions with a thorough and sensible process. While the pattern is made for hand sewing nothing will stop you from machine sewing your pocket. I chose to hand sew mine. I mean, why bring out a 17 kilo sewing machine from the -60’s when you can enjoy some peace and quiet with needle, thread and some sweet hand sewing?

Anne’s pattern suggests lining the front piece. The lining peeks through the opening and strengthens it in the smartest way. My eBayed bag was lined in both front and back piece, so I used the lining for the back piece as well.

Basting!

The pocket pattern calls for basting/tacking in nearly all the seams. And what a beautiful invention basting is! I haven’t reflected much about basting before (and I used to sew a lot), but this pattern really opened my eyes for basting. It may take a little longer, but it will also give you more time with a lovely fabric in your hands. And once basted the main seam is a breeze to sew.

A woven band

I needed a band for the pocket and I wanted to weave it. I turned to Kerstin Neumüller who sells lovely linen weaving yarn for her band weaving workshops. She didn’t have the exact colours to match the embroidery on the bag, so I went with two shades of blueish grey to at least match the subtle shine from the combination of two colours on the bag.

At the time I had a migraine and stayed home from work. Weaving a band on the balcony may not take the migraine away, but it did take my mind off it for a while.

The yarn was so smooth to weave with, the shed opened itself and I just lifted my heddle strings and let the weft yarn sing its way through the warp.

Round braids to finish the warp ends in a tassel-like fashion.

Since the ends of the band would be visible I chose to make them fancy – I made round braids of the warp ends for a tassel look. The braids are fiddly to make and takes a bit of time (seven minutes per braid and there were 24 of them), but it was definitely worth the effort.

Upcycled linen pocket

After having braided until my hands couldn’t move anymore I was finally finished. I basted and attached the band to the bag and wove in all ends.

I do love this pocket, it turned out even better than I had imagined. It’s sturdy, strong and does its thing. I can choose to wear it when my pockets are non-existent, too small or too weak for whatever I want to carry in them.

I’m not finished with tie-on pockets. I have ideas for at least three more in different materials, techniques and styles. And it’s just that – there is so much you can do with a small project like a pocket. You can make it in different materials, styles, with or without embellishments. You can embroider, try out new techniques or combinations or just enjoy a moment with a small sewing project. And you get to weave a band! There is room for so much more than physical objects in a pocket.

By the way – Does anybody have use for a bagless bag handle?

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to missanything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Flax harvest 2022

I have grown flax in an experimental flax patch since 2014. The aim has always been to learn, from sowing, growing and harvesting to processing. And I have learned a lot through the years. This week I finished the flax harvest 2022.

The flax patch is an ongoing classroom for me. I learn and relearn every year. Last year I had three flax patches – one in the flower bed outside the house (where I have had it since 2014), and two in the allotment. It became very clear to me that the patch in our flower bed wasn’t a good place for flax. The growth was very uneven and the plants very short, especially in comparison with the allotment plants.

So this year I gave up on the patch in the flower bed and prepared my patches in the allotment only. Let’s call them patch A and patch B. I used one seed in patch A and two different seeds in patch B.

Patch A

In patch A the flax grew evenly in length and development. The plants were evenly distributed over the soil surface. I was very thorough when I prepared the bed – I had read somewhere that the soil surface had to be even and I think I did a good job.

As I harvested the flax in patch A the plants were high and evenly high. The outermost stems were coarser, as expected, and I harvested them separately. The others were even in thickness (since they were evenly distributed) and length (as a result of the even surface I believe). It was a lovely harvest.

Patch B

I prepared the soil the same way in patch B as in patch A – I made sure the soil was even and spread the seeds (of two different kinds) evenly. Still, they grew quite differently than in patch A. The plants got unevenly distributed, they matured at different times and were uneven in length. The last two parameters may have had to do with the two different seed types. But why the plants matured in such different stages I don’t know. Perhaps the soil was drained from nutrition. I will make sure to fertilize it this fall.

Flax harvest 2022

Even though I had sown the patches on the same day they matured at different times. So I harvested patch A about a week before patch B. The patch A harvest was lovely, tall, strong and straight plants that behaved very well as I harvested. I could just grab a bunch, pull it out of the soil and shake a bit to remove the earth.

The harvest from patch A. Even in height, maturity and thickness.

The plants were not branched, yet they had lots of seed capsules. The bundles looked very pretty and even. I made sure to even the roots in the bundles for easier processing. I secretly have high hopes for this harvest.

The flax harvest 2022 from patch A. Tall, straight and even. I made sure to even the root ends in the bundles for easier processing.

In patch B there was another story. As the plants were of very different height I needed to harvest in a different way, scanning the patch for the highest ones and bundle them together, then the next level and so on. Tedious, but it worked. The shortest plants were very fine but too short to do anything with, so I left them to use as mulching in the patch. Some of the plants were altogether brown and I left them out too.

The bundles from flax B (left) and flax A (right) are quite different in length. The tall bundle in the middle is the rough outer plants from patch A.

The bundles from patch A were quite even in length, there was perhaps one bundle that was slightly shorter than the others, but nothing dramatic. The bundles from patch B, though were all shorter than the patch A bundles, and very different in length. However, the plants in patch B were finer than the ones in patch B. I may be able to spin quite different yarns with the flax from my different patches.

Anticipation

The harvest has been drying outdoors for a week or two now. This morning it started to rain, though, so I need to dry them a bit longer. When there is enough dew I will ret them on the lawn.

Sweet lax harvest 2022, what will you be?

Since I have been working a lot with the Austrian flax from the Berta’s flax project, I am very keen to follow this harvest through retting and processing. What will the result be? What colour will it have? Will I manage to ret it enough this time? How will the flax from patch A and patch B be different from each other? How will the flax spin up in comparison with the Austrian flax?

As I underretted the 2021 flax I am a bit nervous about retting the 2022 flax. I have learned a lot from this year’s flax and I am sure it will keep teaching me through the coming stages. I have actually not spun any of my 2014–2021 harvests. Perhaps it is time to try next year?

Happy spinning!

You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to missanything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Linen shirt

A hand sewn linen shirt from antique linen fabric is the theme of today’s post. I dive into seams, details and techniques and find it surprisingly peaceful and rewarding. Spoiler alert: None of this is my handspun.

A two year project is finally finished: A linen shirt. Photo by Isak Waltin.

A couple of years ago, just in the beginning of the pandemic, I took a weekend class in hand sewing a linen shirt. The course took place at Historical textiles‘ studio (just a bike ride from home) and was taught by Magdalena Fick, museum assistant at the costume collection at Skansen open air museum. She is also a reenactor and creates lots of historical garments.

We got to use fancy tools in the class – a bone folder for folding seams and hems and a sewing hook for for keeping the fabric taut when sewing.

We were four students in the class, sitting in separate corners of a giant table. A couple of the other students took the class for reenactment purposes and one to add to her regional costume. I just wanted to hand sew a linen shirt for the sake of a hand sewn linen shirt.

Fabric

We got to sew small samples of different seams and techniques, which was quite fun. A wedge here, a hemstitch there, a sleeve gusset and some smocking in between. We also got to buy fabric, plan our shirts and cut out the pieces.

I wanted a 100 per cent linen fabric and I wanted it to be handwoven. At the studio I found an antique linen fabric to die for. It was at least 120 years old. A bit scary as a beginner to take on such a treasure, but I figured it would be my only chance to handle fabric like that.

Antique handwoven linen fabric to die for.

The width of the antique fabric I got my hands on was only 40 centimeters, though, so I had some planning to do. As it turned out, 40 centimeters was a bit on the tight side over my shoulders and bust. As I continued sewing at home after the course had finished I realized that I had to choose between wearing the shirt and breathing. I of course chose the best option: Procrastinating.

Sewing (or not) at home

When I picked the shirt up again I turned to my friend Cecilia who knows everything about anything that is important. Like shirt alterations. She guided me by telephone in making wedges at the sides and at the back. It was difficult and the fit still wasn’t ideal over the bust. I procrastinated some more.

A couple of months ago I got some new hand sewing mojo and picked up the shirt again. I had gone down a couple of sizes since I started sewing the shirt, so the shirt fit very well over the bust, but was quite roomy over the waist. I decided to leave the fit as it was, I didn’t want to risk the beautiful fabric by altering the side seams again.

Slow and reflective

Sewing by hand is slow. Which, to me, is a superpower. It gives me time to reflect over what I am doing and to better plan ahead. And there is something very grounding in holding a fabric made of natural fibers and stitch by stitch transform a flat surface into a three dimensional garment that fits my body.

When I am sewing a seam I don’t think about the length of it, I just get into the rhythm or the stitching and breathe in the sewing moment. So simple, yet so complex. All textile work is true engineering and I am so fascinated over the intricate techniques that have stood the test of time and developed since time began.

Seam anatomy

I know you are all dying to see the wrong side of the shirt. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? The wrong side of a garment tells a lot about the making. Well, I will not let you down. Here are some wrong side wedges for you.

It’s funny, I have sewn a lot of garments for myself in my life. At least up until around 20 years ago. And still I have never known the anatomy of a hand sewn garment.

One of the last things I made was a wedding dress for my best friend. I was reasonably confident in fitting and altering, but I had asked her not to get pregnant, that was an alteration I wouldn’t know how to make. On the day she was coming to collect the dress she whispered in my ear “I’m pregnant!”. I smiled and whispered back to her “So am I!”. I did sew some totally misshapen baby clothes after that, but once my child was born I didn’t want to risk having pins on the floor, so I stopped sewing altogether.

This was machine sewing, though. Hand sewing gives so many more opportunities to sew neat and strong seams. And that has been necessary since there was no such thing as a consumer society and clothes had to be kept in good condition to be worn and handed down over the generations. Clothes were sturdily sewn, patched, mended and altered until there was nothing left to put a needle in. We could use some of that knowledge and awareness these days too.

My friend got married and the dress fit her, despite her 12 week pregnancy. We both had sons who are now 19.

Neckline

As I had finished all the major seams of my linen shirt the most scary part was left: The neckline. I had just made a T-shaped cut at the top, large enough to fit my head. Now I had to plan, cut and sew the whole shape of the neckline.

This is how I constructed my linen shirt. Rectangles, squares, triangles, a hole for the neck and voilá! A linen shirt.

There is a freedom in making the pattern as you go along. One of the appealing parts of making a linen shirt in historical techniques is the simplicity of the pattern – rectangles for sleeves and body. A couple of squares for sleeve gussets and a handfull of triangles for wedges. A hole at the top for the head.

At the same time it is truly scary to take on the responsibility for the whole fit with just a handful of geometric shapes. That in combination with the antique fabric and my beginner’s mind scared me. At the same time I knew I needed to make something beautiful of the fabric. I had adopted it and it was my responsibility to make it work and make it beautiful.

A simple neckline. Photo by Isak Waltin.

So I tried the shirt on, placed a couple of pins, drew a couple of curves and cut out a neckline. And it looked beautiful! Just the right width and depth of the hole and a fitting slit at the front.

Lace

When Magdalena showed us samples of neckline lace seams on the course I knew I wanted to make one. Just a small lace triangle at the bottom of the neckline slit. Simple, yet elegant. So once I had hemmed the neckline I started to reinforce the edges of the neckline slit with a tight blanket stitch and a blanket stitch bridge at the top.

Laces stitch extravaganza in a booklet about seams. I chose number 108.

At the course we had used a lovely (discontinued) booklet about stitches. I managed to find one on Swedish eBay, though. After having oohed and aahed through the pages I chose one of the lace stitches and sewed a triangle inside my blanket stitch border. I managed to finish it and it was evidently a tiny lace triangle. But not very pretty. I tossed and turned in bed that night, knowing I could do better.

The next day I carefully and determinedly ripped the lace stitch and tried again. I realized that I hadn’t pulled the stitches tightly enough. My second try was miles away from the first one. A real lace triangle, and pretty too!

Hemstitching

Isn’t hemstitching the sweetest thing? Just pulling out a couple of weft threads and bundling up the warp threads in pretty patterns. Again, simple, yet elegant. And very time consuming. One sleeve took me one hour. But it was definitely worth it. Such a sweet stitch and such a lovely rhythm.

The rhythm of hemstitching is the sweetest!

I found myself looking for more places to sneak some hemstitching in, but I managed to control myself. Less is more. So I closed the hemstitching chapter by hemming the sleeve ends against the hemstitch seam.

Smocking

Can I have a smock too? Just a tiny one? I did have to do something with the sleeve ends, they were too wide and unpractical. And smocking would be smashing! So I made one, with four threads. It solved two problems: The width of the sleeves and my urge to sew smocking.

I love the result. Just on the right side of flamboyant. And sometimes that’s just what we need, right?

Monogram

The last detail of the shirt was a monogram. I have so many anonymous monograms in our linen cabinet from all the flea market sheets we have bought over the years. Small traces of people who once lived, loved and dedicated time and skill into beautifully embroidered monograms, but whose lives I would never know anything about. Except from those personal, yet anonymous letters. This would be my own monogram, a testament of my love and dedication sewn into that linen shirt.

I wanted it small but bold, so I chose a flea market bright red linen yarn for the embroidery and my upper arm for the placement and cross-stitched my little heart out. And, as it turned out, the bright red dye. It bled. Just by passing the thread past the neckline as I made the stitches, the neckline changed into a misty pink.

My very own monogram. Photo by Isak Waltin.

I texted Cecilia again. She said that the dye probably wouldn’t go out of the white linen and that it was a part of the cultural heritage. I replied that I had decided to sulk for a while before I would be ready to embrace the cultural heritage. I am over the sulking part for now, I’ll get back to you for a sulkiness update after the first wash.

A finished linen shirt! Photo by Isak Waltin.

I’m very happy with my linen shirt. I got a unique opportunity to dive into hand sewing and I learned some pretty groovy techniques, not to mention the thread waxing skills. I’m glad I managed to control myself and stick to those four details – the lace, the hemstitching, the smocking and the monogram. I would love to sew a fitted bodice to match the shirt.

Happy spinning!

You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to missanything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Flax brain

This week I have worked multidimensionally with flax. I have spun Austrian flax harvested and processed before 1900, knit my handspun yarn from 80 year old Austrian flax, hackled my own flax from 2020 och 2021 and monitored my 2022 flax. Have a peak in my current flax brain!

When I teach spinning (wool) I like to start from the beginning, preparing the fibers. As we go along in the class, I encourage my students to look at the previous step for trouble shooting – can I change something in the carding to solve problems in my spinning? When I have trouble getting my rolags even, will I find the solution in the teasing?

The other day I read a quote that stuck to me. It said: “Creative activity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil are located in the same individual.” (Arthur Koestler). As I work with the yarn, learning about its properties and the technique I teach myself to improvements on current, previous and following steps. And I would add the material as my teacher too.

The flax brain

I’m not nearly as experienced in flax processing and spinning as I am with wool and I only sow, harvest and process my flax once a year. But this week I have been in the flax on quite a deep level and in many dimensions. Those of you who follow me on Instagram may have seen my Daily flax theme in my stories, where I post one flax related picture or video each day.

I have had a flax brain this summer.

Searching for pictures and/or contexts where I can take a picture of something flax related has switched on my flax brain. What is it that I do and why? Can I make improvements in one step to ease the next? What can I learn from one step that may change how I do things in a previous step?

Knitting my handspun flax

As I wrote in a previous post, I have started knitting with flax yarn that I have spun from 80 year old Austrian flax from the Berta’s flax project. By knitting with the yarn I understand how my style of knitting influences the yarn.

Knitting with my handspun flax makes me reflect over and better understand how I need to spin it.

In this case, with a Z-plied yarn I take off some of the (already low) twist, which results in two singles almost parallel on the needles. This means that I need to add twist when I ply to compensate for the twist I take off when I knit. This way there is sort of a communication between steps in the process via me, a communication between the teacher and the pupil.

Rehackling and brushing pre-1900 flax

As I rehackle and brush the pre-1900 flax from the Berta’s flax project I see what really high quality is. I see how fine the fibers are, how little boon that is left (even if it differs between the three batches of Austrian flax I have, all are very clean) and how much time, skill and effort that has been put into the preparation of the flax.

After retackling my old flax I brush it with a hog hair flax brush.

Without that knowledge I would probably not understand how my own hackled flax should look like. Without the fresh experience of spinning yarn from flax of high quality I would not have the organic connection between the steps of the process.

Creating a fan and dressing the distaff

As I create a fan and and dress the distaff my flax brain is turned on. Since I made the previous distaff dressing and spun it quite recently I have a fresh understanding of how important a thoroughly prepared fan is for the flow of the spinning.

I’m spreading my rehackled and brushed flax out into a fan to dress my distaff.

For this distaff dressing I spent a lot of time creating the fan, making sure all the layers were very thin and evenly spread. And I did notice the difference from the last distaff dressing – the fibers came out into the drafting zone more effortlessly and evenly. Instant feedback between steps in the process is truly satisfying.

Spinning pre-1900 Austrian flax

Even if the 80 year old flax was in very high quality, the pre-1900 flax was exceptional, with next to no boon at all. I see what even the smallest proportion of boon remnants do for the spinning flow and the softness of the resulting yarn. The more boon the less fluent the spinning and the coarser the yarn.

Spinning this flax has been a joy and a journey back to pre-1900 Austria. As the flax has been going through my hands, so has my thoughts about all the people who have been involved in the preparation of this high quality flax and the significance it had for the people of that place and time.

Preparing my 2020 and 2021 flax

Preparing my own flax helps me understand what retting does in all the processes: An underrated flax will create more waste, more work, coarser yarn, more tangles and less flow in the spinning process.

The sentence above is very sensible. I always tell my students that their mistakes are a map of what they have learned and I usually embrace my mistakes. I do that with my underretted flax too, but I can’t help but shed a tear too.

The large 2021 flax harvest was heavily reduced due to underretting. The longest fibers (but not so long after the brutal hackling) to the left, shorter in the middle. To the right is the short bundles of rehackled tow.

The 2021 flax harvest was large, the largest I have ever had, and with very long fibers (see picture of broken flax above). But it was all underretted. There was so much waste, both in amount and length. Even with the large amount of waste I still see a lot of boon and I know it will cause problems when I spin it and in the resulting yarn.

The hackled 2020 flax was modest but resulted in very fine fibers.

My 2020 harvest was very modest and of very different lengths, none of which was very impressive. Still, it resulted in very fine fibers of an almost silvery colour. And a high yield.

Rehackling the tow

I did take the opportunity to rehackle my large pile of newly produced tow, though. I have saved all my tow through the years, but without having done anything with it. Because of the underretted 2021 harvest, the strick of rehackled tow turned out to be the thickest strick.

Harvesting my 2022 flax

As I harvest my flax I have the chance to do what I can to make a high quality preparation. I begin by investigating the flax to find the best day to harvest. I was planning to harvest this week, but as it started raining I didn’t want to risk molding in a damp bundle. So due to the rain there is no picture of my harvested 2022 flax here.

I’m a little afraid of going to the allotment to check on the flax. What if the rain (and wind) has felled the plants?

Henrietta

This week I bought a spinning wheel and I now have three. It was all done quite spontaneously. I have been spinning my flax with my makeshift umbrella stand and carved stick sort of distaff. My sitting position in relation to the distaff hasn’t been ideal for my body.

The ad for the wheel turned up at a very convenient time. My friend Anna was selling her pre-production Kromski Mazurka that she in turn had bough from a spinner in Germany. Anna lives in Gothenburg and I was going there by car for my aunt’s funeral. My destination, the car and the sweet wheel all fell into place.

The wheel had a flax distaff and was quite petite. Anna came to the hotel where I was staying and brought the wheel. I tested the wheel in the lobby (always a joy to make spinning wheel transactions in hotel lobbies) and decided she would come home with me.

I am getting to know my new wheel Henrietta, a pre-production Kromski Mazurka. Since the distaff is too short (and too close to the flyer hooks) I hold it in my hand. I hope to get my wood turner to make me a taller distaff.

I am calling the wheel Henrietta, which is the name of one of my Austrian great-grandmothers (one of my other wheels is named Berta after my Swedish great-grandmother). My aunt was in turn named Harriet after Henrietta. If I remember it correctly, my aunt Harriet dreamed of being called Henrietta.

I have spun with Henrietta for a day or so and we are slowly getting to know each other. She is such a sweet wheel to work with! She is very easy to carry which is a big plus since I like to bring her out to the balcony to spin my flax. The distaff is too short (long flax gets tangled into the flyer hooks), so for the moment I hold it in my hand and draft from there. I hope I can get my wood turner to make me a taller distaff.

Today may be the day I harvest my 2022 flax. I have high hopes for the retting this year.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to missanything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

The flax princesses

There are many versions of the story of Sleeping Beauty. The brothers Grimm’s may be the most widespread one while the romanticized Disney animation may be the most known today. Recently I found a new version, though, and I’d like to share it with you.

If you aren’t familiar with the Berta’s flax project, started by Austrian fiber artist and teacher Christiane Seufferlein, read this post before you go on to the story of the Flax princesses.

I am often asked by non-spinners what the princess was stung by. Was it a part of a spinning wheel? Was it a spindle? Or a distaff? My standard reply is usually that while she may have said she was stung by whatever, she was actually just making sure she got some peace and quiet to be able to spin. The new version I found is about strong and independent princesses who save the whole community with golden flax.

The flax princesses

Once upon a time in a land far, far away – or near – where the golden flax grew all the way to the horizon, many bold and skilled princesses lived. All the princesses had precious spindles, wheels and looms. They knew how to take care of the golden flax and turn it into the most beautiful fibers, yarns and textiles.

Once upon a time in a land far, far away.

The princesses also knew that the golden flax was an important and valuable treasure. They weren’t extravagant with the golden flax, instead they saved it for days of hardship. To show how much they valued the golden flax they put it in treasure chests and adorned the precious stricks with paper flowers.

Princess Berta was a skilled spinner and weaver. She also shared the secret of the golden flax in the treasure chests with her son. Princess Gusti knew all the secret flax words. While Princess Maria spun her way through rough childhood winters, Princess Stephanie started a weaving service for her neighbours.

The years went by. Fewer and fewer people knew the secret about the golden flax. Spindles, wheels and looms were stored away or thrown out. The memory of the princesses and their skills was fading away.

One day people started to burn or bury the chests with the once golden flax. Nobody wanted it anymore and it took up too much space. For many years the secret of the golden flax was forgotten by most people. Until one day. A new princess came – bold, skilled and with a very generous heart. Princess Christiane was her name. The son of princess Berta had come to Christiane with Berta’s chest filled to the brim with her golden flax.

Princess Christiane kissed the golden flax and brought it to life again. She shared Princess Berta’s and many of the other princesses’ flax with the world. The stories of the princesses flew out of the chests and enchanted people wide and far. New skilled and bold princesses, with their wheels, looms and spindles polished, cared for the golden flax and made new textiles.

The golden flax, the old princesses and their stories would never be forgotten again. The old stories were spun together with new ones and the flax became golden again.

The story of the flax princesses does not end here, but continues to enchant the world.

Princess Christiane

As it happens, I took the train to Austria with my family just recently. I have an Austrian heritage through both my parents and have spent lots of summers there both as a child with my parents and as an adult with my own family.

My childhood summers were filled with hikes in the mountains around Salzkammergut in Austria.

This time I did get a chance to meet Princess Christiane. She drove for two hours to pick me up at the bed and breakfast where I was staying with my family, and drove another 40 minutes to Bad Ischl where there was an exhibition of traditional and non-traditional costumes in the breakfast parlour of the former emperor and empress. While the exhibition was very interesting and well designed, I enjoyed our talks more than anything.

Josefin and Christiane, both a little star struck. I’m wearing the shawl Christiane gave me.

Christiane is such a generous soul and we shared so many experiences. We talked of spinning, flax and spinning teaching as well as the stories all the flax princesses have told and entrusted Christiane with. And we were both a little star struck with each other.

Sister shawls

As I have been reading about Berta’s flax and all the work Christiane has been doing I have seen her wearing a beautiful shawl. While spinning my Austrian flax (from Princess Stephanie) I realized I wanted to knit something similar, like a sister shawl to the one Christiane was wearing. I spun the yarn and cast on for the project (Veela by Libby Jonson) in time for our long train journey to Austria.

When we arrived to our destination it was a very special feeling to pick up the needles and knit the sister shawl with the yarn I had spun from Austrian flax back home in Sweden, there in Austria. On the same ground where the flax had grown some 80 years earlier.

When I met up with Christiane she was wearing the shawl I had admired so. And when I told her about the sister shawl I was making she instantly gave her shawl to me. It was spun and knit by artists of a Nepalese cooperative, from Nepalese nettles.

A common thread through all the lands

As I am writing this I am going back home on the train to Stockholm, a long journey from Austria. I keep knitting the shawl from my Austrian flax yarn. The thread goes from stitch to stitch, but also from town to town along the way, knitting all the communities together into a kind-hearted flax weave.

We start our journey back home from Salzburg, Austria. I thank the mountains and the land that raised my father and my grandmothers and that is a part of me and my children.

Every time I pick up my knitting I feel the skills and love put into the preparation of the flax, the stories and the value it had and almost lost. I knit this shawl with so much love and respect (and some skin chafing on my index finger) for all the flax princesses.

When I met Christiane met I did take the opportunity to buy some more flax from her. This time I got five stricks (about 800 grams) that were harvested before the turn of the last century. It was safely rolled into her nettle shawl in my luggage on the way back home. I will spin it in Sweden and I will think of the Austrian roots of both myself and the flax.

Berta’s flax. This time with an unknown story. What I do know is that it comes from Walding near Linz and predates 1900.

Vielen lieben Dank Christiane! For bringing the flax world together through princesses all around the world, for the conversations, for your kind soul and for a nettle shawl that will keep warming my heart. I hope we can continue our conversations soon.

Resources

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to missanything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Daily flax

Last summer I mustered up the courage to spin flax. I had got some very long 80 year old Swedish flax from a relative of a relative. To manage it more easily I rehackled it, and spun it whenever I could spin outdoors. This year I am rehackling again – with 80 year Austrian flax from the Berta’s flax project.

It was a mixed feeling when I unraveled the Austrian flax from Stephanie Gumpenberger. I was both eager and scared to spin it. It had such a significant history and I wanted to be sure I could do it justice. But then again, just spinning it at all would do it so much more justice than seeing it burnt, as so many flax chests of the time had been.

Rehackling

Stephanie’s flax has been neatly stored in a chest for many years. As with any flax I like to rehackle it right before I dress it on the distaff, just to give myself the best possible spinning conditions.

80 year old Austrian flax, ready for rehackling.

I have one rough hackle and one fine hackle and so that’s what I used. As I opened the strick I was amazed at the quality of the flax and the condition it was in. Long, smooth and shiny. Almost no tangles. Still, it had been compressed for many years and would do good with rehackling.

I divided the opened strick into smaller bundles to be able to work as gently as possible in the rehackling. The rough hackling took some shorter fibers and a just a few tangles. This first rehackling opened the bundles up a bit and aligned them.

The fine hackling took even less fibers but there was still a significant improvement from the rough hackling. The fibers were even smoother and a bit loftier.

Brushing

In Ångermanland, a small part of Sweden, but an important place of flax husbandry in the past, a flax brush was often used after the fine hackling and just before dressing the distaff. Sometimes two or even three brushes of different fineness were used – the finer the fibers the finer the brush.

Last year I managed to get my hands on a flax brush on Swedish eBay – a real hog-hair brush with a tar handle. I don’t know if it’s considered a rough, medium or fine brush. It does its work though, and it feels very special to be able to use it on my flax. After the brushing all the short fibers are gone and the flax shining in all its glory.

Dressing the distaff

By distaff I mean maple stick I have carved and shoved into a parasol stand on the terrace. Despite its origin and makeshift construction it works very nicely as a floor distaff.

To prepare the flax for the distaff I make a fan of it. I place the flax on the table in front of me and draft out one thin layer at a time into a fan, until I have fanned out the whole bundle. The fibers are now criss-crossed across the surface so that each fiber easily can catch on to a nearby fiber. You can watch how I create my fan in this video.

Sittin’ in the morning sun

I have been spinning the Austrian flax daily when I haven’t been away. I spin the flax on our terrace, either in the pale morning sun or in the shade in the afternoon. The wind catches both my hair and the flax on the distaff, giving the spinning an extra dimension.

As I slowly draft the fibers from the distaff into the twist I find a sweet rhythm – draft, treadle, draft, treadle, occasionally mixed with wetting my spinning hand fingers or moving the draft across the flax. I feel every fiber go through my hands as I think about why they were grown, the land they grew on and the connection to Austria and my own Austrian heritage.

Switching hands

It’s really hard to stop spinning flax. As there is quite a lot of fibers dressed on the distaff I can alway spin a little more before I take a break. When I finally do I realize that I have been spinning for over an hour, just treadling and drafting.

I work a lot with switching hands, both for reasons of ergonomics and to teach both my hands to understand the roles of both spinning hand and fiber hand. With the knowledge that I often spin for long periods when I work with flax, I find it extra important to switch hands.

My daily flax session on the terrace is one of focus and joy. Having the flax going through my hands right in front of my eyes makes my heart sing. And my hands with it.

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to missanything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.