Monthly Archives: August 2012

Field of flax in full bloom

A field of flax in full bloom is a lovely thing. Years ago we had a summer place outside of Lipton, Saskatchewan.  One day when we were driving around exploring the countryside, we came around a corner and saw a lake shimmering in the distance. As we got closer to the lake we realized it wasn’t water at all, but a field of flax in full bloom.  The blue flowers and the gentle way the plants were swaying in the wind looked like water and waves.  We didn’t have time to be disappointed that it wasn’t a lake — as we were so thrilled by the beauty of flax field.

While my wee field of flax is nothing in comparison to those 50+ acre parcels in Saskatchewan, it is still a thing of beauty.  Since the flooding wiped out a lot of our crops, this is the prettiest thing in our garden these days.

So what’s the plan for this field of flax?  About 30 days after the flowering is over, the flax is ready to be harvested.  Then the work begins.  I pull the plants up, roots and all.  If I want to save the seed — for next year’s planting (?) I have to dry the plants out.  If I decide not to save the seed, then I can move to the retting process right away. Retting is the process of rotting the outer layers of the stalks that are holding the linen fibres to the  woody core.  This is the first step in extracting the linen fibre. You can do this by leaving the flax outside on the ground and let the morning dew do it.  You can also do it by leaving the flax in standing water for a while. According to “Linen in the Middle Ages — A Guide to Growing and Processing” by the Baroness Eleanora van den Bogaerde, water retting is faster and leaves the flax a whiter colour than dew retting does.  The challenge is having something large enough.  With my wee field, I don’t think this is a problem.  Maybe in the future it will be, but for now, I think I can manage with a huge rubbermaid bin.  After it’s retted, there are three more steps before I have fibre for spinning.

One step at time.  Right now I am growing the stuff and admiring its beauty.

Status update on my 100-mile skirt

It’s a hot day here in Glen Valley, threatening to go up to 32 degrees by mid-afternoon.  So I thought I’d catch some time indoors next to the fan and do an update on the 100-mile skirt.

A while back I combed a bundle of the grey alpaca and divided what I had done into two batches.  I’ve spun most of that onto two bobbins — very fine with a light twist. Even though this spinning has produced a lot of yardage, I may need more.  So I asked my friend if she would return the bag of grey alpaca I gave her.  It is so nice to have understanding friends.

I have next to spin an equal amount of the blue fibre — totally amazing stuff from Sweet Georgia Yarns fibre club.  Titled “Placid Waters” it is 50% merino, 25%  bamboo and 25% tussah silk.  It has a wonderful sheen and subtle gradations of blues.  As with the grey alpaca, I underestimated how much I would need, so again in a mild panic and relying on the kindness of friends, I asked another dear friend if I could have her braid of “plaid waters”.  She willingly gave up her braid and for that I am very thankful.

Now I have no excuse to procrastinate.  I have more than enough fibre to do the job and a good chunk of time on my hands.  My problem is my own attention span.  I like starting projects and trying new things.  The part where you have to finish is the part that takes a lot of discipline.  Right now, this project is in the spinning marathon phase.  Just sit and spin.  And spin.  And then ply, and ply.  And so forth until I have what I figure is enough to get the job done and the skirt made.

Then it’s a knitting triathlon as there are different aspects to the skirt. That I can manage, what with my transit assisted commute to the city.  I’m aiming to wear this skirt by Thanksgiving.  See if I’m right.

Yarn for a new project

At the Aldergrove Fair a couple of weekends ago, a young gal asked me to make her a special pair of mitts.  She liked the half-mitt style in hand spun yarn — but for this pair, she wanted them to come up to her elbow.  So after a few minutes of finding out what fibres and colours she likes, I agreed to make her a pair.

I’ve got the pattern designed — it’s a variation on the Baby Fan Lace mitts, starting with more stitches and decreasing as you get to the wrist.  And now I am working on the yarn.  She liked the idea of blending alpaca and wool and adding just a wee bit of silk for some luster.  So I set out to do that. Here’s a sample of the blended fibres and knit pattern. The first half (on the left) is the one I settled for, the yarn on the right is wool blended with cinnamon alpaca and silk.
Here’s what it was made out of: beige/cream alpaca, polworth (wool) and some tussah silk.  Blending fibres can take a long time on the drum carder so I decided to use the picker to do the blending.
A picker is a piece of machinery that helps you open the fibres and get them ready for carding or even spinning.  It’s also a great tool for blending fibres so they are mostly mixed before you put them through your drum carder. My girlfriend, from the dyeing days, owns a Patrick Green picker and she kindly let me borrow it for a spell.  Here it is.
It has some pretty sharp teeth, so there’s no sipping wine while you do this.  You have to pay attention on every single swing.  The fibre is fed into the front and on each swing, the teeth grab the fibre, drag it across all the other teeth, and spit it out the back.  All loose and opened up.
Then I took this wool/alpaca blend, added silk and put it through the drum carder.  The results weren’t what I was hoping for — too many noils.  I’ll post some photos of the sample yarn, when I have the issue sorted.