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.



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