Flax fibre comparisons

I have some amazing vintage Austrian flax from the Berta’s flax project, which is beautiful, but clearly a finite resource.


I also have some homegrown flax, which is very exciting, but will need a lot of work before it is spinnable.


So I thought I’d look around and see what commercial alternates are available. One I haven’t tried is flaxland, which is where I got my seeds from. I have no doubt their product would be of similar standard to the vintage stuff, but sadly it’s just too expensive for me. Knowing the work that goes it, it’s a totally fair price, but it’s still out of my budget.

Onto other options.

The first is the readily available flax top. You can get this from World of Wool, Winghams, and many other suppliers. It is the fibre I used for my flaxperiments where I explored some of the commonly stated ‘rules’ about flax spinning. It is available in a natural brown shade, as well as bleached white, and dyed various colours. The main way in which it differs from the vintage flax is in the staple length; it has been processed using the same machinery used for wool (or cotton, I’ve never been able to get a definitive answer on which they use), which just not designed to handle staples of a couple of feet long, so it is cut to about 4″ lengths and then made into a long length of commercially combed top. It has less dust and fewer bits of unwanted plant matter (boon/shive) than flax strick so it’s less messy to handle, but it’s rather tedious to spin as the drafting length is determined by the staple length, so I can only draft maybe a quarter of the length I’d like to. The coarseness of the fibre is about average for flax, and the yarn made from it turns out okay, and will soften up nicely when washed. It had a really strong sweet farmyard hay smell, far stronger than the less processed flax I’ve seen, but not unpleasant.

Pictured is fax top from world of wool


My second option is water retted line flax from George Weil.

On opening the bag I found several bundles of fibre, looking somewhat coarse and matted and rather more green than I expected, and it was easy to tell the root and tip end apart.


After running through the hackle the transformation was amazing, it looked and felt really smooth, though still had a more greenish tinge than I expected.


Hackling the whole lot (aside from a small bit kept for comparison) didn’t take too long, but it did produce a surprising amount of tow. For 47g in the strick, there is 36g of tow. It won’t go to waste as we always need string for the garden, but if buying for a project, you’d need to budget a lot extra. It’s possible that combing out with a dog comb or similar would result in less waste than the hackle, but I suspect it would be far more work.


Even allowing for wastage though, this is a good low-ish budget alternative provided you’re willing to put in the time hackling it.

The final thing I tried is Dew Retted Flax Line Sliver also from George Weil.

I really had no idea what I was getting with this, as the description said “Dew retted flax tow with a very long fibre for hand spinning into a linen yarn or paper making. The fibre is very similar in appearance to the Natural Flax Tow.” This confused me, as how can it be line flax, and sliver, and long, and tow all at the same time, but it was cheap (only £2.64/100g) so I thought I’d give it a go.


It’s a beautiful soft grey, has a lovely sheen, and is in a long continuous sliver. It’s the finest flax I’ve ever seen. I was under the impression that commercial machinery can’t handle the staple length of flax, so I pulled off a few staples to see how long they were


Impressive, in the region of the lengths of the other flax, around 20″ for the longest fibres, with the bulk being 12″ or so.

I took this pile of staples I’d pulled from the sliver and ran them through the hackle a bit. This did leave me with an improved product, smoother and even shinier, but there was way too much waste for it to be worth it for me. I will see if combing out with a dog comb or similar removes the shorter bits and aligns the longer ones better without so many longer ones being wasted.


I have not spun this (or the previous) fibre yet, but I am really excited to give it a try, it seems so soft and is such a beautiful colour I’m sure it will make a lovely yarn. It even feels like it might be draftable from the end of the sliver easily without any clumping, but if not either pulling off staples and overlapping them on a distaff, or wrapping in a towel would be an easy way to manage it. I may revise my opinion after spinning it, and I may decide that hackling it is worthwhile after all, but currently I am very impressed that one of the cheaper options seems so good.

Sojourner makes a new friend


“Yes Sojourner?”

“We’ve been on lots of adventures, seen lots of plants, done lots of spinning, and met some of your friends, and it was great fun, but I’m a little lonely, I’d really like a friend of my own.”

“What do you mean? You’ve met loads of new people, we went to 4 guild meetings, did you not have fun?”

“Sure, it was fun, especially helping the first time spinner make wonderfully even yarn, but, yanno, it was work. I was hoping for some fun social time.”

“What about the espinner party we had last week?”


“Those guys are even worse! All they wanted to do was talk about work, no fun at all! And one of them was an Eel… eew! I was thinking maybe of something more… avian?”

“Oh! I know just the thing! hang on, let me put some shoes on and we’ll go visit Nina and Rowena”


“Thanks! That’s more what I was thinking, but, and I really don’t want to sound ungrateful here, but chickens are stupid. Really really stupid. We just don’t have a huge amount in common.”

“Hmm. I know! I have the perfect friend for you! Clive!”


“Professor Clive Tawny, Guardian of the Craft Room. Let me take you to meet him. Don’t be scared, he’s a vegetarian!”


“Perfect! Thank you so much for introducing us, we had a wonderful evening together. Please pass on my email address to him, I’d really like to stay in touch.”

For those wondering about Clive, when you live in the countryside you meet all sorts of strange people in the pub, including your local taxidermist. My parents used to live in a converted barn and my Dad decided it would be nice to have an owl sitting on one of the beams in his library. He mentioned this to the taxidermist in my village and after a year or so one of his roadkill collectors found Clive for him, so my Dad got his wish. When my parents downsized to a smaller place, Dad offered him to me, and now he sits on a very high shelf in the craft room, away from cats.