My Friend Flax - The Spinning

Flax has been grown and spun into linen for making cloth for nearly as long as there have been people on this earth.  As long ago an ancient Egypt, the spinners were amazingly adept at spinning and weaving linen cloth that is so diaphanous you can see through it.  I cannot begin to explain how much better those spinners and weavers of flax were compared to what I can do.  By comparison I'm a bumbling amateur.  But I keep working on it because it always makes me smile.

There is lots of tradition to the spinning of flax as there is to all aspects of this fiber. Book after book has been written about the growing, harvesting, processing, spinning and weaving of flax.  Each part of the world has it's own tranditions.

Here is what of all that history I've taken as my own process.  I spin a flax single to the left or counter clockwise and ply in a clockwise direction.  This is opposite to the way wool or cotton are commonly spun.  Allegedly is has to do with the way the fiber grows.  I do it because it's different and special.


My flax wheel has a very traditional design with small bobbins and a small narrow orifice.  It's a small single treadle wheel.  I don't hang my linen yarn by the fireplace for all my neighbors to admire but I would have if I lived a couple of hundred years ago.  You have to show off your work in any way that works.

Even when my flax is beautifully processed, I hackle it before I spin it.  This makes sure that the fiber hasn't been tangled or clumped together.  Any hackle needs to be treated with care.  The nails or spikes are sharp and could do some real damage if not used properly.

I use a distaff for my spinning.  You can spin flax without one but I love the bundle of fiber sitting there above me.  A distaff is a wooden stick or staff, sometimes attached to the spinning wheel or free standing.  The unspun fiber is attached to the distaff and tied in place with a ribbon or string.  I use a free standing distaff which sits to the left of my wheel and it keeps my fiber orderly while I spin.  Of the many ways to dress a distaff, I use the cross dressing method.  This spreads out the flax while keeping the top tied together.  It goes on the distaff beautifully and is easy to draft from.


I always wet spin my long line flax.  That means the fiber hanging on the distaff is dry but I have a small cup of water next to me and keep my fingers damp when I grab the fibers, a few at a time, to spin.  This way the linen yarn is smoother.

My flax spinning is a work in progress.  As with most of the fiber things I do, I flit from one to another and back pretty quickly.  Weaving, spinning and knitting all have a place in my heart and I do all of them regularly.  I keep getting better but usually in little bits and bobs here and there rather than making great strides in any one skill.