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All Wrapped Up

I don’t know about you, but I find that my senses are a powerful thing, especially my sense of smell. This sense will sometimes take me places in my memory that can be joyful and sometime even sad. Pine and peppermint candy canes are a favorite memory of Christmas. The fragrance of lilies and carnations are delightful to most people, but reminds me of the local funeral home. Yet paper whites and gardenia’s are a totally different story, which are positively intoxicating to me. Have you ever noticed on the first warm day of spring the wonderful smell of the earth opening up and releasing its fragrance? That too is another smell that excites me knowing that planting season is just around the corner.



Some smells are odd, but still delightful. I love the smell of flax and hemp, I know that it's odd because what you are smelling is the result of many hours, no days, of retting or the rotting of the flax plant but to me it's a wonderful smell. This retting process helps to separate the spin-able fiber from the woody portion of the plant. To me, it smells of hay and freshly mowed grass... this too for me is the smell of linen and pure spinning joy.



My first spinning wheel I purchased at the age of 14 was an antique wheel and was lucky to still have its' original distaff. To use it, I needed to know how to dress a distaff and learn to spin flax into linen thread. I bought pounds of prepared flax and read everything I could find on how to dress a distaff on an old antique wheel. I dressed my distaff so it looked like a cone of cotton candy, or even more like the leading actress in the movie, “Hairspray”. Not to date myself, but many of us are of the age that we can remember bee hive hairdos, this was exactly the look of my distaff. Long strands of golden fiber wrapped around a wooden armature provided an easy way to spin flax into thread keeping my hands free to control the fiber. Today spinners are hard pressed to find a wheel maker that offers you the option of a distaff. This is largely because of the availability of what is called long line flax fiber. For many years it was difficult to get the long line flax fiber, and could only find flax roving. Hand spinners now had to spin from the same roving that the thread manufactures were using and willing to share with our small industry of hand spinners. To that advantage spinning from roving didn’t require the use of a distaff to spin and therefore fell out of popularity.




my first wheel purchased when I was 14 years old.

Much to my surprise Sara brought me the other day a gift, “Close your eyes” she said. She then placed in my hands a beautiful prepared strick of flax. This is the same long line flax fiber that I dressed my distaff with years before, and loved so much. Without thinking twice I placed the strick up to my face and smelled it. It smelled of newly mown hay, and was like perfume to this old spinner. “ We now carry this in the shop, start brainstorming idea of how to teach others how to spin it”, she said. Oh, I broke into the happy spinner's dance. It was like an unexpected chance encounter with an old friend, and like an old friend we had to catch up and get reacquainted again.

Without a distaff on most people’s wheels, how would spinners handle this long line flax. I remembered reading a very long time ago about spinning flax by placing the strick in a towel and spinning it much the same as you would spin long stapled wool from the fold. It works great and I am currently spinning enough to weave some new towels for the kitchen. I will let you know later how I am making out...



controlling the long fibers by wrapping in a linen towel

It’s now Spring and the soil is giving up that wonderful smell to let me know it’s time to plant my flax seeds. I have been told that when the flax is a few inches tall you should get the help of young maidens to weed the flax patch. Their tiny feet are perfect in-between the rows and wont crush the tender plants. As romantic as this seems, I think I will just leave Windsor and Imogen out of the patch for the time being. Our newly walking Imogen is still a little tottery. If you are interested in knowing more about spinning flax and hemp be sure to check out times when we will be offering day long classes on spinning bast fibers. It’s very different and a lot of fun to try. If you wish to try spinning flax and hemp fibers on your own, check out our website or give us a call for price and availability.

Spinning Flax, Hemp & Bamboo

I wish you Happy Spinning.

Tom