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Bast Fibers


Ever since I discovered now much I love linen, I have wanted to learn now to spin it.  Flax is the plant that produces the fiber and it becomes linen when it's spun into yarn and woven into cloth.  Other bast fibers include hemp, ramie and some bamboo.  A bast fiber comes from a plant and is usually inside the inner bark of the stems.  It's a cellulose fiber, similar to cotton, so it doesn't have any elasticity or memory like most animal (protein) fibers.

A note about bamboo.  Most of the bamboo we find available in spinning shops is made by a process like rayon.  The bamboo is the source of the fiber but it's chopped up and chemically treated and extruded to form the slick, slippery fiber that's available.  Ashland Bay is now offering bamboo that's prepared in a process similar to flax and hemp.  It's not the uniform super slippery preparation we have seen up to now.  It feels more like flax or hemp.  We have just order several pounds of this new bast bamboo and will be dyeing it and spinning it and will offer it for sale in the future.  I can't wait to try it!

I took a fabulous bast spinning workshop a couple of weeks ago.  In my experience, workshops in spinning and weaving can be a crap shoot.  Some are fabulous, some are worthwhile but not great and some are not worth the time and expense.  And you can't always tell from reading the write-up or the biography of the teacher how good it will be.  Even some well known people can give a mediocre course.   Well, take it from me.  If Susan Fricks of Yarnorama in Paige, TX is teaching anything you are interested in.... take the course.  Susan is a fabulous teacher and Yarnorama is a great place to be.  It's a wonderful shop full of knitting yarn, weaving yarn, spinning fiber, spinning wheels, looms, books, tools, space to teach and to learn and even a couple of fluffy bunnies.

My workshop was offered by the Austin weaving guild and since I'm not a member, I had to jump in at the end of registration when all the Austin people had had their chance to sign up.  I'm so glad I managed to get in.  Over the one day we spun a blend of wool and flax, dry spun flax roving, wet spun flax roving, ramie and flax strick.  Wow!  It was a full day.  The wool/flax blend was a great way to start for all of us used to spinning wool.  Flax has a very long fiber length and with no elasticity, it's totally different than wool so the blend was a great beginning.  Then we moved on to flax.  It's different and there is a learning curve but I loved it.  I liked the wet spun technique better than the dry spun.  It means you need a little bowl of water and you have to keep dipping your fingers in the water and smoothing out the fiber as you spin.  But I loved the flax strick most of all.  The stick is what you see suspended on a distaff in all the old paintings of women spinning.  We weren't able to actually dress our distaffs during the class but Susan gave us a description of how to do it.

I find it really appealing to be spinning like the women did hundreds of years ago when most people grew their own flax and spun it into the clothes they wore and the sheets they used.  Back in the days when cotton and wool were not very common and were very expensive.  I left Yarnorama with bags and bags of bast fiber to spin.  It will take a while before I'm up to spinning flax into very fine linen and weaving my own clothing.... but I'm on the path!