Flax from seed to shuttle

Since taking up weaving, I've had the opportunity to explore fibres I have never really enjoyed working with as a knitter. I've been using my tahkli and charkha to spin up loads of cotton (fantastic mindless spinning - when you can get in the groove, it's magic) and I've now started to become interested in flax/linen.

It's funny that two different plant fibres can be so dramatically different - where cotton is short, flax is incredibly long. Where cotton is soft and insubstantial, flax is unbreakably strong (really, it will cut your fingers before it will break). And while the cotton plant flourishes in hot sunny weather, flax is comfortable in the cool and cloudy climes of northern Europe.

This last point is what inspired me to order a flax starter kit from Flaxland. I tried to grow cotton last year, but it didn't work very well in always-overcast England. The Flaxland kit allows me to try out every stage of turning flax to linen, from growing to processing to yarn.

The kit really has everything - it is an excellent value! It contained:
- A packet of fibre flax seeds
- A booklet on the history of flax
- Some scutched fibre ready to be hackled/combed, enough to last me quite some time
- A 'breaker/hackle' - essentially a block of wood with teeth carved on one end :) a simple tool but effective!
- A metal comb for finer combing after hackling
- A face mask, as processing flax gets dusty
- A spindle - kind of a boat anchor, but it has these charming markings noting the traditional direction for spinning wool (clockwise / Z twist) vs flax (counterclockwise / S twist)
- A set of spools and a kind of mini-lazy-kate to ply off of
- Even some ribbon for dressing a distaff!

I tossed down some of the seeds in an empty patch in my garden (densely, so that the plants will compete with each other for the sun and grow nice and tall). They are doing well so far:

Who knows if they will make it to the end of the season, and if they do, if I will be able to successfully complete the long and involved process of turning it into fibre - but either way, I am having a fun time of it!

As for the linen I've spun? I warped up some cotton on the loom and am weaving some small towels in a mix of cotton and linen threads. I'll let you have a look when I've finished.


Offer!: Free pass to Creativebug

Creativebug is a platform for video craft classes, kind of like Craftsy. However, instead of buying single classes a la carte, they operate on a Netflix-style subscription model, giving you access to all the classes at once for a period of time. I feel spoilt for choice, having gotten a free month's access - there are knitting and crochet classes, along with a ton of other crafts including sewing, jewelry making, vegetable canning and more!

For your own free pass, click below and enter the promo code SUMMER2015. You'll then get free access to Creativebug until June 30, as well as any one class to keep permanently.
Creativity is Contagious - 1 month free craft classes

I'm looking forward to diving in to their classes on double knitting, a skill I've never had the chance to pick up. Plus all their beginner sewing videos are of interest to me - since taking up weaving, I now have the ability to turn my copious yarn/fiber stash into fabric...


Driven by a sock

Do you ever have a project that just won't leave you alone? Where you just feel... compelled to work on it?

Not in a bad way; actually, in a very fulfilling way. These are the socks I've been working on in the evenings, pulling out on my lunch breaks, every spare minute I'm knitting on them and I'm loving it.

Toe up men's socks in progress knitting in the pub
I don't know why this project should compel me in this way; in fact normally I should be dreading these socks. They're a pair of socks for my partner, He of the Size Thirteen UK Feet. If you ever sit near me while I am working on socks for him, you will hear me whingeing. Whingeing about the 84 stitches around. About the more than 100g of yarn that they require. About how knitting socks for him takes for-everrrr.

I am an expert at whingeing, especially about knitting projects. BF does greatly appreciate his handknit socks, however, and when a pair recently bit the dust, he had me promise a replacement pair.

Last weekend we took a short break up to York, where we visited the lovely little wool shop RamShambles. There, he picked out some stripy Regia yarn (from the Jazz Color line) and I purchased the requisite three 50g balls.

(Happily, it won't take the entire 150g - but it takes just enough of the extra ball to require it if I don't want to do contrasting heels and toes)
Regia sock yarn in York
That was last Saturday, and I cast on that very night. I worked on them each evening of the holiday, and on the train home, and I just keep working on them.

It's one week later, and I've cast off the first sock. (Trust me, for a BF-sized sock, that's very good going)
Grey and green striped socks regia knitting fleegle heel
I tried a new bindoff for these socks: Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bindoff. I had heard of JSSBO before, but I had gotten it confused with Jeny Staiman's other bindoff technique, the interlock bindoff. Interlock is a sewn bindoff which matches the long-tail cast on - looks nice, but fiddly to work. JSSBO is worked on the needles, and is very easy to do.

It stretches just as far as the knitting does - perfect. It beats out my old standby, the Russian BO, which is normally fine but to get it that stretchy it has to be worked carefully and loosely. JSSBO came out perfectly stretchy on the first try. I might have a new favorite bindoff. As you can see in the picture, it does flare out a bit, but so does the Russian BO, so I don't mind too much.


Interweave Earth Day Bargains

It's Earth Day (please tell me I'm not the only one who didn't realise until I saw the Google homepage) and Interweave is having a sale on digital items (get it? because they're paperless).

Digital back issues and ebooks are on sale, but the big draw for me is $6.99 videos. That's only £4.65, a steal compared to their usual price.

I really appreciate Interweave's spinning videos because, for the ones I have watched at least, they cover the topics at great depth and the presenters are all very knowledgeable. They go beyond the basics and I really feel like I've ended up learning something new.

The Interweave Shop's search and filtering options leave something to be desired, so here are some of my recommendations:

Three Bags Full by Judith MacKenzie-McCuin is an absolute pleasure for anyone who enjoys processing raw fleece or wants to learn. Judith is a wonderful, calming, and extremely knowledgeable instructor and I would in fact recommend any of her videos.

The Gentle Art of Plying is another great video of Judith's. You might think you know it all, that plying is an elementary step in the creation of yarn -- far from it. Judith talks in great depth about a wider variety of topics within the field of plying than you even knew existed.

Rita Buchanan is sort of a polar opposite to Judith MacKenzie-McCuin, in terms of energy and presence. Where Judith is calm, Rita is energetic. Where Rita is lively and silly, Judith is tranquil and smooth. Both display a great passion for their crafts, and I love watching them both, though they are completely different.

Rita's In Praise of Simple Cloth video is not really instructional - It features techniques, but it's more of a conversation about lots of different aspects of crafting (spinning, weaving, knitting, and various other fibery bits). How I Spin is decidedly more instructional and full of a lot of interesting information. I have enjoyed watching and re-watching both of them, very much.

And what am I getting myself? Well, here's a few of the ones I'm picking up...
Spinning Cotton by Stephenie Gaustad, because I just re-discovered my charkha and would really love to weave myself some towels, pillowcases, a blouse...

Handwoven Garment Construction, to help me with the goal above once I've spun all that yarn

Make That Yarn, Reproducing Millspun Yarns - A topic that really piqued my interest when I heard about the video.

Respect the Spindle: The Video - I already have and enjoy the book, as well as Abby's other video on drafting (which I wholeheartedly recommend). Normally I wouldn't be sure if I would learn anything new from what is marketed as a basic video on spindles... but every time I watch or read something from Abby, I learn something new, so at this price I can't resist.

The sale ends on Friday the 24th, so I suggest picking up some bargains while you can.