Many people have expressed surprise and doubt when I’ve mention spinning cotton on Turkish spindles. Or flax.
No, this won’t be a tutorial on spinning bast fibers, rather it’s a look back at one of my main spinning projects this past summer: becoming adept at spinning various plant fibers with Turkish spindles in order to teach at workshop at OFFF in September.
Starting off with flax, I chose an Egret for its capacity and the long somewhat slower spin which would allow plenty of time to coax the long flax line, also called strick, from the bundle. Oh my, the hoops I jumped through in my search for a method of handling the long fibers, methods I’d read about in various books: Distaffs – a long one reaching into the air next to my chair and short ones tucked into my belt; Towel – laying the flax on a smooth dish towel then folding the sides over it and putting the whole over my shoulder; Ribbon – lightly criss-cross tied around the length.
There was a point, at the beginning of August when in desperation of ever gaining enough skill spinning flax, I phoned a nearby friend who years ago had been commissioned to spin flax and make the drapery cords used in Jefferson’s Monticello when it was restored. “Why,” she said, “Flax isn’t easy to spin! I never did like spinning the long stuff.” With a laughed she added, “I always cut the long fibers in half; it’s so much easier!” With that, a hurdle was jumped. Instead of fighting the length it was cut and no longer a hassle to spin.
Low and behold, cut and draped over my left leg worked best.
Through trial and error I learned that slightly dipping my right thumb into a small bowl of water provided sufficient moisture. Even better is to run the spun length through the mouth as the enzymes in saliva is excellent with flax. For sanitation sake I only did that when walking.
Yes! It even got to where it was fun to spin flax with a Delight during morning walks.
One of Ed’s original Delights which is quite clunky.
From long fiber to short! Spinning cotton on a swift flying, 26 grams Lark was a treat.
After the cotton came hemp, also spun with an Egret. Having overcome the struggle with flax, the hemp posed no challenge.
Towards the end of August I was reading more about spinning plant fibers when I came across ramie. Intrigued, I immediately ordered some. As soon as it arrived I selected an Aegean and set to not knowing what to expect.
The silky fiber was lovely to work with. To me, it felt sort of like of a cross between silk and cotton. A couple of the women in the workshop did not like spinning with it, at all. Seeing their reactions and listening to their comments it seems that ramie is one of those fibers which people either like almost right away or they can hardly stand to spin it. I’m looking forward to some big spinning project with it someday.
My favorite spindle spinning is chain-plying as each span of singles is spun. For an example of the method I planned to teach during the workshop I spun and chain-plyed cotton on an Aegean. Wanting to push conventional thinking about spinning cotton a 31 grams Aegean was used.
The workshop was a great success.Everyone seemed have a blast spinning the various fibers on Aegeans.