Spinning Plant Fibers

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.

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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.
DSC00346One 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.DSC00339

After the cotton came hemp, also spun with an Egret. Having overcome the struggle with flax, the hemp posed no challenge.

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2-Plyed hemp.
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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.

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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. DSC00369
The workshop was a great success.Everyone seemed have a blast spinning the various fibers on Aegeans.

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Author: Wanda J

I never dreamed my life would be entangled with fiber and the tools used to produce fibery items. When I bought a boat shuttle Ed looked at it, decided to make a better one and the rest is history. For a decade he made shuttles, crochet hooks, knitting needles, until his spindles became so popular that he had to devote his time to making them, as well as Great Wheels. Free time is spent reading, trying to coax food from the ground, and playing in the creek near our place. I love long walks and camping far from crowds. Playing my fiddle beside a stream or with good friends brings sweetness to my soul. Sundays we try to set aside for worshiping God with our small Quaker meeting.

6 thoughts on “Spinning Plant Fibers”

  1. What a fun reason to do the research. Teaching what you discovered at the workshop must have been so satisfying! I am sure your students were thrilled!! The results in the photos are beautiful!

  2. It’s really neat that you experimented with – and expanded your skills into – spinning plant fibers! Having the workshop ahead must have provided excellent motivation!
    Thank you very much for sharing your experience with those fibers. Plant fibers are the next ones I want to tackle, as I would love to eventually weave with my handspun – it must be so satisfying!
    Thank you, also, for challenging conventional thinking and demonstrating how what’s thought to be impossible can actually be done. You are inspiring me to keep questioning everything, and to try pushing the boundaries imposed by the mind in order to find out what experimenting can teach me.

    1. Challenging, sharing and helping each other with our knowledge and experiences is one of the best things about blogging, and the internet!

      On Tue, Dec 1, 2015 at 8:20 PM, Fiberjoy wrote:

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