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Flax!

February 22, 2009

Aloha from my sleepy little island of Molokai.

Well, maybe not so sleepy after all…I learned to spin and dye flax this week, and I am knitting a towel from my yarn.

I grew up at a time when linens were linen. I fell in love with linen fabric. Its gentle roughness and absorbency speak to me of home. I have always wanted to learn to spin it.

Detta urged me to try the fiber that I am starting with. It is a blend of half flax and half tussah, combed into a shining top. I figured it would be the easiest to spin, since I have already spun silk, and I have spun from both silk and wool tops.

After a disastrous attempt to spin it from the fold, I predrafted the fiber just as I do my tussah tops, spilitting it lengthwise and then drawing and loosening the strips into long coils. I spun it from the ends, and I spun it wet.

The Little Gem is perfect for the job. The bobbins are plastic, so they won’t be ruined by storing sopping wet yarn on them. I kept a cup of water on the table beside me, and I put a plastic mat under the wheel to protect the rug. Linen singles should be spun S-twist because of the way the fibers grow inside the plant stem. To do that I twisted the main drive band, just as I would do to ply silk or wool. As I went along, I found that the spinning went smoother if I also twisted the scotch tension band. I used the next to biggest groove on the regular whorl. This slowed down the wheel so that my orifice hand had time to smooth the fiber before it fed onto the bobbin. I kept the fingers of my “smoothing hand” sopping wet, and my “fiber management” hand scrupulously dry. Never once did the fibers stick or gob together. I set the tension as light as I could get it, barely drawing on, at the point where the slightest hesitation of my hand on the yarn would stop it and there would be no pull against my hand. I have never had such a relaxed and pleasant spinning experience on that sweet Little Gem!

In the picture you can see the set-up and the singles.

I also plied the linen yarn wet. The two-ply came out smooth and consistent. However the spun yarn on the bobbin dried stiff as wire. I wondered whether the finished yarn would be too stiff to use. But, fingers crossed, I kept on.

I dyed the yarn with Procion MX dye in cerulean blue, using an alkaline immersion method suitable for flax. Since fiber reactive dyes work with both cellulosic and protein fibers, I hoped that both silk and flax would take the dye, and any difference in color that the two would develop would make the yarn look rich and interesting. I didn’t sleep at all that night, as the fiber batched in its dyebath. First thing next morning I raced outside in my pj’s and pulled the yarn out of the dyebath. It was…..

35 grams of sky blue success!!!

My linen yarn is beautiful, and it is soft. In the dyebath and subesquent washing, the silk prevailed. I am knitting it into a hand towel from Liz Lovick’s collection of delightful washcloths and towels. The lace is the Shetland New Shell pattern. I love the way that the silk makes a soft halo in the lace holes of the ladders. When I get back to North Dakota I am going to spin more of this luscious stuff, and knit all the towels in the collection.

What a satisfying way to finish out my time on Molokai. This week I pack, and on the weekend we will fly home to cold and snowy North Dakota. My stay here has been an intensive workshop in dyeing. I have dyed with fiber-reactive, acid and natural dyes. I have dyed silk, linen, wool, and cotton. I have immersion dyed and handpainted, and having tried tie-dyeing a t-shirt for the first time and it being too late for another order from Dharma, I have tie-died all the clean undies in my underwear drawer.

My friends, I am hooked.

It has been a good stay in Hawaii. I thank all my internet friends, vendors, mentors, and fiber family, for turning this ‘workshop’ into the learning experience that it was. I thank you all, and I leave you with the flower picture that I love the most from this year’s photos. It is my gift of Molokai to you.

Aloha.
-Jan
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7 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2009 6:08 pm

    That’s beautiful! What alkaline immersion method did you use? Do you think I could handcard tussah top and toe flax and create a blend that would be fairly easy to spin? I’ve taken a flax spinning workshop, but that was over a year ago and I haven’t touched it since. Thanks!

  2. February 23, 2009 10:13 pm

    Tie dyed your underwear??
    Not that I ever see you in person, but I’ve missed you being in the midwest (suffering the cold, wind and snow with me) and will be glad to have you back!
    Gorgeous pictures, as always!

  3. February 24, 2009 8:28 am

    I have a bump of flax in my stash and haven’t ever tried spinning it. I bought it because I love linen. Linen and silk sounds even more heavenly. Have a safe trip home!

  4. Melanie permalink
    February 25, 2009 10:45 am

    Jan, what lovely photos and what lovely yarn and knitting! Thanks for sharing your process with us.
    Just think, every time you open your undies drawer you will have a lovely reminder of your time on Molokai. Safe travels.

  5. Sam permalink
    February 26, 2009 10:26 am

    Oh, my – what loveliness! Thanks again for sharing so much wonderful information, and your completely inspirational pictures with us. I’m looking out a snowy morning and dreaming of sun and warm breezes. šŸ™‚ Safe travels home!

  6. February 26, 2009 12:02 pm

    That towel is stunning. Good for you! I love your photos and am so glad to hear you are feeling better enough to share them with us. Safe journey homeward.

  7. Kim permalink
    March 3, 2009 1:12 pm

    Hi: My husband used to live on Oahu and we’ve been visiting HI for a long time, maily Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island. We’ve been thinking about Moloki the last couple of years and would be interested in your thoughts. Are mainlanders welcome, can you hike, surf, explore? Decent grocery stores? Anything else? Thank you. Kim

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