Spinning flax is a craft not often seen, and I have never taught it until Dani asked if she could learn last week. It was a painful experience. Nothing to do with the pupil – the teacher trapped her forefinger between the crank and the wheel hub- How to look a chump in one easy lesson!
Flax needs to be spun damp and the other essential is a well=dressed distaff. The spinner needs a constant even supply of free-flowing fibre from the distaff – either that or four hands. It is often necessary to work with hands two feet apart as each baste fibre is two to three feet long and needs to be drawn to the desired thickness for the linen thread.
It is extremely strong and, unlike wool, flax has no elasticity in itself so is not forgiving like wool; once the twist is in that is it, it will not break, nor yield in any way. Hence the importance of keeping a steady flow of fibres, if any of them are tangled, then the only way is to stop and sort things out. You can’t force flax. Once spun, it is known as linen and is most commonly seen in woven form.
As the image on my home-page shows, it is very strong and fine and makes lovely table linen. The journey form flax, the plant, to the table linen is very labour intensive, but the finished goods last for decades and the more it is laundered, the whiter it becomes.
The flax used here is from Flaxlands and was supplied combed and ready to use. More about spinning flax can be found in my forthcoming book; Hand spinning – essential technical and creative skills.