I have grown an experimental flax patch in my community garden allotment every year since 2014. This year I have spun my flax patch yarn for the first time.
I always felt I needed to deserve to spin my own flax, to be procifient enough to spin it. There was so little of it and I wanted to be sure I could make it justice. The first years I practiced with commercially prepared flax and last year I got to spin the exquisite 80–100 year old flax from the Austrian Berta’s flax project. And this year I allowed myself for the first time to spin my homegrown flax.
Post prep prep
I always rehackle my stricks right before I spin them. I work every strick through rough hackle, fine hackle and flax brush for a fresh preparation. This gives me the best odds for a smooth yarn. And old preparation can be dense and tangled.
After I have rehackled and brushed I make a fan of the golden fibers and dress my distaff. My distaff holder is a bit on the short side, so I hold it in my hand when I spin and draft with the other hand.
The harvests from the first years were so small and I decided to spin the flax from these years together. 2014 and 2015 in one joined preparation, 2016 and 2017 in separate preparations but in the same stretch of yarn. 2016 was the year the neighbour’s cat decided my flax patch was the perfect napping spot. The harvest that year was minimal and very bent. 2017 cat free, but quite underretted.
The stricks were quite different. All quite short, probably due to the seed variety I had at the time. Retting and processing was of questionable quality in some of them, but all the flax was definitely spinnable.
2018 and 2019
2018 was a very dry and hot summer. Still, the flax that year was long (due to a new seed variety) and plentiful. I had extended my experiment with a second patch. A bit coarse, perhaps. The flax also had a yellowish tone. 35 grams of processed fiber in total.
I was really into flax that summer, and shot a video that for some reason got quite popular. In the video I dress my distaff with commercial flax and spin it on an in-hand spindle. In the background the lawn is visible, yellow from the drought. A month or so later I shot another video where I prepared my 2017 flax harvest at the Skansen open air museum. The 2018 flax was also prepared at Skansen, one year later.
The following year was quite modest and underretted. I have no record of how the processing went, I only see a sad little strick of 11 grams.
In 2020 the plants were quite uneven in both maturity and length – some were still green and a lot were totally wiltered when it was time to harvest. This was the last year with the spot I had used from the very start. The plants just didn’t thrive there any longer. Still, spinning the 14 grams from the 2020 yield was quite enjoyable and I managed to spin a fairly fine and even yarn.
I had such high hopes for the 2021 flax. I had two patches in the allotment and the flax was tall. Unfortunately I managed to underret it. As I processes it I cried for all the waste, in both length and amount. I got 58 grams out of it. As I spun it, it was indeed uneven in length. The fattest of the three stricks was rehackled waste and second hand quality.
The 2022 flax is my largest fiber yield yet – 123 grams. When I harvested this flax I did so in sections, beginning with the coarse edge plants, then moving on to the rest in order of length. This technique resulted in four different qualities.
It was a pleasure to spin these and experience the difference. The two medium coarse stricks were a joy to spin as they were both long and thick. I could create very well organized fans and lovely distaff dressings.
The rehackled waste
I always rehackle my flax before I spin it, unless it has been newly hackled. A lot of fiber ends up in the hackles as waste. I do rehackle the hackle waste, though, and spin a second quality flax from it. This resulted in 62 grams from the hackling and rehackling of the 2014–2022 flax harvests. To my surprise it was a lovely spin. I thought it would be rough and tangled, but it worked quite smoothly. I did spin it indoors, though, since our neighbours had decided to eat fermented herring on their balcony. It did not smell like raspberry pie. At all.
Experiencing the experiments
As I have been spinning nine years of flax harvests during the past couple of weeks I have gone through all my flax husbandry successes and challenges. I have seen and experienced what soil, rain, sun, cats, retting and preparation does in the spinning and in the resulting yarn.
Through this I have learned that
- different fiber lengths in one distaff dressing can result in an uneven yarn. It is worth the time and effort to harvest the flax in bundles of different lengths. A taller plant is also usually a coarser plant, so this separation also results in different coarseness in the bundles.
- underretting influences all the upcoming steps. From more work needed for hackling and more waste in both hackling and spinning to more tangles in the fan, less spinning flow and a lower quality yarn.
- rehackling with both rough and fine hackles and brushing does wonders for making the fan. The fibers are well separated and fan out smoothly and untangled.
- creating the fan in thin layers will result in smoother spinning and higher quality yarn. Think one fiber thin layers.
- cats need to be kept off the flax patch
- Switching the patch from one year to the next is important.
- retting is still a mystery.
I knew all this in theory. But experiencing it – literally – first hand is something completely different. My hands now know things they can’t unknow and I am richer for it. I can look at my 1136 meters and 223 grams of handspun and homegrown yarn and remember all I have learned. I may weave a towel or three with it.
And oh, I ended the week in the most perfect way by spending a whole day with my Austrian friend and flax princess Christiane Seufferlein of the Berta’s flax project. We had the best of times.
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