Flaxperiments part 2

This is part 2 of my sampling experiments with flax. For part 1, click here.


Apologies for the ear in the above picture, Boo was a very helpful helper today.

So, the flax from experiment 1 was washed. I did this simply by sticking it in a pan of boiling water for an hour. The first thing I learned was that while tyvek wristbands do hold up to boiling water, Sharpie marker doesn’t, and while enough was left on the labels that I could read them, my water and flax were tinged pink. The cotton I used to tie the skeins with wasn’t though.

Does wet finishing do anything noticeable?

Here are all the finished yarns (bottom) with their unfinished counterparts. Immediately upon removing from the drying rack the yarns had a slightly crisp feel, but that has gone away with a little handling. The wet finished yarns are noticeably less fluffy than the originals.

Back to the original experiments

Here are the yarns after wet finishing:

1) Spun dry, Z twist

2) Water added after point of twist, Z twist

3) Water added at point of twist, Z twist

4) Water added at point of twist, S twist

It’s a little hard to see differences, especially in the very close up microscope pictures, but it’s very clear that for a smooth yarn, you need to spin the flax wet. Introducing the water at the point of twist rather than afterwards seems to give a slightly smoother yarn. I think I ended up with an unrepresentative part of the yarn under he scope for sample 2, as the rest was far smoother. Twist direction seems to make no difference whatsoever to the naked eye, but the microscope images of sample 4 do seem smoother than 3. I will have to check both several more times in different areas of the yarn to see if this holds true overall or if I just ended up with unrepresentative sample areas; I didn’t pick the area I photographed, I just wrapped the yarn on a card and pushed the card as far back under the scope as it could go, then move it side to side until yarn was in shot.

Bonus experiment!

Having just got hold of an old flax hackle from the Netherlands (thanks Pimmie!) I was tempted to have a little try with the stricks of flax I have, but only a teeny bit, as I do want to finish the top before starting on it properly.

I separated off just a small section of flax:


And ran it through the hackle a few times from each end:


Here’s the combed out stuff alongside the tow and the original strick:


I spun it without a distaff, rolled into my lap cloth. This didn’t work too well as there wasn’t really enough fibre to hold itself together in there, so after a minute or so it all pulled out, I laid it flat on my lap to carry on, but the fibres stuck a little while drafting, which explains the lumpy areas. Even so, they are far fewer than with the top. I spun this with a short forward draw with water added at the point of twist insertion, and the long staple length made the process far faster than spinning the top, and very enjoyable. Normally when people say ‘I let the fibre tell me how thick to spin it’, my reaction is ‘no! your fibre isn’t the boss of you! you tell it how thick it should be!’, but in this case, as it was such a small quantity, when the fibre wanted to draft fine, I didn’t object, figuring I can use it for sewing thread as it’s very strong. When the fibre was all spun I made a quick plying bracelet and self-plied it, which means one of my singles runs root to tip, and the other the other way… I can’t tell the difference!

As you can see, this stuff is far less fluffy than the top, the longer staple length means there are far fewer ends to stick out in the first place, and the more parallel alignment (until I messed it up anyway!) means there are fewer snags and lumps. I am also intrigued by the depth of colour variation, and having seen the disgusting dirty looking water after wet finishing flax am interested to see if and how it changes once boiled.

I have a feeling I am really going to enjoy spinning the rest of this flax, although I now need to decide exactly how I want to spin it: incredibly fine would be wonderful and make amazing fabric, but it would take a very long time, and there would be so much loom waste I may get disheartened. I forsee more sampling in my future… once I’ve made myself a distaff anyway!

One thought on “Flaxperiments part 2”

  1. Great experiments I love it
    Berta’s flax has encouraged so many people to try flax that haven’t even thought of spinning it before

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