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Archive for the ‘handspinning’ Category

cindy in cotton vest - BLOG

Cindy Conner in her homegrown, handspun, handwoven, naturally-colored cotton vest

Have you ever wondered if it would be possible to make your own clothes from what you could grow in your garden? Well, I have done that and would like to teach you how to go about it. I am talking about growing cotton and flax for linen in your garden, processing it for fiber, spinning it, and weaving it into fabric to sew into clothes. Or, if you prefer, you could knit or crochet what you spin. In order to pass on what I have learned, I am giving a workshop on June 8, 2019 at my place, Sunfield Farm, near Ashland, VA. It would be just for that day from 9am-4pm.

The day will start with a garden tour. That is a big deal because I don’t normally open my garden to the public. You will see cotton and flax growing there and the flax will be nearing harvest. You will also see the other crops I have growing, including grains nearing harvest and the compost piles that are in the rotation on the garden beds. I will explain the growing conditions for cotton and flax.

flax straw and line-closeup - BLOG

flax straw and the line flax it becomes

Everyone will receive a pound of retted flax and have the chance to work with it on flax brakes, scutching boards, and hackles. You will produce the line flax that you will learn to spin in the afternoon. You will also collect the tow from your flax and learn how to make it into something useful.

There will be an hour lunch break at noon. Iced tea and water will be provided, but you will have to bring your own lunch and snacks. I am located only a few miles from the small town of Ashland. If you don’t pack a lunch you could get something to eat there. Of course, if you don’t need the whole hour for lunch, you are welcome to go back to working with the flax after you eat.

spindles for workshop - BLOG

spindles you will receive in the workshop

The afternoon will be filled with spinning and learning what to do with the spun yarn. You will receive raw cotton and a metal tahkli spindle to spin it with. Spinning on a tahkli is not something you learn quickly. It will take a lot of practice to get proficient at it. However, the lesson and practice you receive that day will get you started. You will also receive a wooden spindle to spin the flax you processed yourself. Once flax is spun, it is called linen. In the future you can use that spindle to spin tow and to ply the cotton that you spin on the tahkli.

homegrown-handspun- cotton shirt 2016

closeup of Cindy’s homegrown cotton shirt

There is much more to learn besides spinning before you can weave and sew and you will be exposed to all of that in the afternoon. I will be showing the garments I have made from my homegrown, handspun, handwoven fiber. You will also witness fiber being scoured, learn about shrinkage during scouring and weaving, see the looms I use, and learn about the equipment I have acquired and how much of it is actually necessary.

white cotton warp linen weft shirt - BLOG

Cindy’s shirt with white cotton warp and linen weft

That is the tentative schedule for the day. Of course, if it rains, the schedule of events will change, but we will get it all in. Canopies will be set up outside for the flax processing if rain is threatening. The garden tour can proceed during a drizzle, so dress appropriately. Spinning lessons will take place inside or out, but the show-and-tell for equipment will be inside the house, which will be open all day for participants to use the bathroom when the need arises.

The class is limited to 15 students. The cost is $115 for the day, including the spindles, retted flax, and raw cotton. To hold your spot, I will need a check from you for the full amount. If you prefer to pay in two payments, the cost will be $120 with $60 due as a deposit to hold your spot and the remaining $60 to be paid by May 8, 2019. Email me (Cindy) at cconner@HomeplaceEarth.com to let me know you are sending a check and I will tentatively put you on the list and give you my mailing address.

If you are coming from a distance, the charming town of Ashland, VA offers services you may need. There are a variety of hotels and restaurants near Interstate 95 and Rt. 54 at the edge of town. The historic district includes restaurants and the train station where Amtrak stops daily. If you should choose to arrive by Amtrak you could stay at the Henry Clay Inn and we could arrange to pick you up for the class. I have no connections with anyone there, but mention it because it would be convenient if arriving by train.

I am giving this workshop because of the interest that has been shown in my work growing cotton and flax/linen from seed to garment and I want more people to join in the fun. Unless you have acquired some of these skills on your own already, you won’t be able to go home and do all of this right away. However, you will be exposed to the process and learn what equipment you may or may not need. Although you may eventually move up to using a spinning wheel, you will have the spindles to get you started. I spun all the fiber for my first garment, a homegrown cotton vest, on a tahkli spindle. For a preview of what you will experience at this workshop, check out my blog posts about cotton and flax/linen.

I am looking forward to a fun-filled day and hope you will join me. Since the class is limited to 15 people, don’t procrastinate. Once it is filled (everyone’s check clears) I can only put you on a waiting list in case a spot opens up.

See you in June!

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hackling flaxHackling takes freshly broken and scutched flax and turns it into fine fiber ready to spin. You toss the ends of the flax onto the hackle and draw it through. With each new toss, add more length of fiber until you get to the middle. Then turn it around and do the other side, beginning with the tip.

Just like with flax brakes, flax hackles may be hard to find. I found my first one for $60 in an antique mall in Pennsylvania. The spacing of the tines varies and you will find them in fine, medium, and coarse spacing. Lucky for me, the one I found in that antique mall was a medium. The tines are a half inch apart with offset spacing, meaning they are not lined up like the corners of a square. If you have a medium hackle you can do a good job of processing flax into fiber to spin with just one hackle.

line flax-tow-hackle

line flax, tow, and medium hackle

The first flax I processed here was some I bought unretted from the Landis Valley Farm and Museum. When you hackle flax you will end up with line fiber that will look like a ponytail and you will have a good quantity of tow. Tow is what is pulled out of the ponytail by the hackle and can amount to quite a bit. You can re-hackle the tow and get usable fiber. Tow fibers longer than 6” can go back through the hackle. If the tow is shorter than 6” you will need to card it. Wool cards can be used for tow, but it is best to have a set just for flax. In this photo you can see line flax, tow, and my antique medium hackle.

coarse hackle in use

homemade coarse hackle

The medium hackle worked well, but I wanted to take it further and make a coarse and a fine hackle. For the coarse hackle, I sharpened 28 16D common nails and set them into a piece of walnut 1″ apart on offset spacing. The nails were 3½” long. I chose to use that many because I was keeping to the size footprint of my medium hackle.—about 4”x5”. I used walnut because we had a walnut board. I used a drill press to make the holes in the board using an ¹¹̷₁₆ drill bit. The nails didn’t fit quite as tight as I wanted, so I set them with epoxy. I made the base from pine. Screws are inserted from the bottom of the pine into the bottom of the walnut to hold the two pieces together. I sharpened the nails by putting each one into a drill press and holding a metal file to it until it was shaped as I wanted it.

That worked well for the coarse hackle, but sharpening all those nails was slow work. For the fine hackle I needed 267 16D finish nails, 3½” long. I decided to use the nails as they were, without sharpening. I put them at ¼” spacing and this time I lined them up as on the corners of a square. I used graph paper with ¼” squares and marked where each line intersected, poking a nail through the paper to mark the wood. I used a ⅛” bit in the drill press for this. The nails fit snug enough that there was no need to use epoxy when I set them. Since there were so many nails in this hackle we added a ½” wide aluminum strip around the sides, screwing it on at two places on each side. It may or may not be necessary to keep it from splitting, but it really looks great!

fine hackles-old and new

fine hackles–antique and newly homemade

We used the plans from Woolgatherers as a guide to start, with added inspiration from the medium hackle I already had. Flax hackles can be as distinct as the maker. In days gone by, they would have been made on the farm or by a blacksmith. In her book, The Practical Spinner’s Guide to Cotton, Flax, and Hemp, Stephanie Gaustad says that the tines on hackles for flax should be square in cross section, with each side sharpened, rather than round like the nails I used. However, they are round on the antique medium hackle I have. I was able to purchase a fine hackle at the auction at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in May for $40. The cross section of the tines on that hackle is square. The edges may have been sharp at one time, but they aren’t now.

I thought I would eventually get around to sharpening the ends of some nails for a fine hackle to compare to the one with the plain nails, but I haven’t done that yet. Since I acquired the antique hackle, I don’t know if I will bother making another. I thought I might notice a big difference between the two fine hackles, but I have worked with them side-by-side and nothing stands out so far. Future work with the two hackles might reveal a bigger difference. I do like having fine, medium, and coarse hackles.

This is how people processed flax for linen on their farms until commercial fabric was available. Some people are learning this so they can demonstrate it for historical purposes. I think we need to look at it as, not only something done long ago, but as an activity that we can do on our homesteads and actually make clothes and other textiles for ourselves again. We can go from seed to garment, right at home!

There is a Fibershed movement going on that is exploring ways to make local fabric a viable production possibility. For that, you need to go beyond the flax brakes and hackles that I have described to increase production for a community. It just so happens that the Taproot Fibre Lab in Nova Scotia has been working on production scale equipment. Also, the folks at the Chico Flax Project in Northern California have been working on a community Flax to Linen project and there is a Flax to Linen group in Victoria, British Columbia. So, local linen is a possibility for communities in the not so distant future, although it already is a possibility in your backyard.homeplace earth logo

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have completed another garment with my homegrown cotton! You may recall that I made a vest from my homegrown, handspun, handwoven, naturally-colored cotton in 2015. For the vest I used my green cotton. I had grown green and brown in separate gardens, but they crossed. There was some brown and a bit of white (although I wasn’t growing any white) mixed in with the green and I spun it all together. It was easier that way since I was spinning it off the seed.

book-charkha-cotton-seeds-mat-blog

Indian book charkha

This time I carefully separated out the colors and took the seeds out by hand before spinning. Examining the seed and noticing the feel of the fiber helped with identification, since sometimes the colors are so faint at harvest that it is hard to tell them apart. Once the fiber is spun and boiled to set the twist, the color pops. As for feel, the green feels a bit silky compared to the brown. The green fiber is also a little longer than the brown. The Nankeen brown seed I was working with is naked seed with no lint on it. Everything else had fuzzy seeds. I spun all the cotton for the shirt on my Indian book charkha that I bought from Eileen Hallman at New World Textiles.  I plied the singles on my Louet10 wheel. I had Nankeen Brown, Erlene’s Green, and light brown. When I got right down to it, I didn’t have enough green and brown fiber for my project, so I used the white cotton I had grown in the late 1990s. I didn’t know how to spin then and had put it away in a box, seeds and all. That first homegrown cotton is now in my new shirt.

loom-with-fabric-for-shirt-blog

My loom with fabric for the shirt on it.

I spun the brown, green, and white separately, then plied brown and green together and brown and white together. I used the same 12″ table loom as I used for my vest, resulting in 9½” wide panels of fabric to work with. There are 2 panels on each front and back and ½ panel on each side. Each sleeve is made from 2½ panels. I wanted to conserve as much of the fabric as I could, cutting only the lengths apart. The only shaping was for the neck. The color of the cotton that had crossed expressed itself as light brown, whether it was in the brown bed or the green bed. I used the light brown for my warp. My loom has 8 spaces per inch on the beater bar and enough string heddles for 8 ends per inch (epi). I could have made more heddles and doubled up the warp ends through the beater bar, but I didn’t. The 8 epi made for a weft faced fabric like my vest. I used my homegrown 2-ply cotton throughout.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI wove four full length (30½”) panels for the front and back. The change of color from brown/white to brown/green is woven in, not pieced. The side panel was woven at 22” long. The sleeve panels were woven at 14” (10½” brown/white ply and 3½” brown/green). The hem is 1” plus an additional ⅜” turned in from there. I had to make sure to allow for shrinkage when I determined my measurements for weaving. Shrinkage in the length amounted to about 8%.

Most of the seams were ¼”. I made facing for the neckline from cotton fabric that had been dyed with black walnuts. There is a ⅜” seam at the shoulders. I designed this pattern myself and made a shirt from pieces of denim saved from old jeans to try it out before cutting my homegrown cotton. The shirt fit beautifully. To make more room in my hips, especially when putting my hands in my pockets, I did not bring the seams where the front and back panels connect to the side panels down all the way to the hem, leaving a few inches open. Those edges were faced with the walnut dyed cotton.

yarn-for-shirt-blog

Cotton used in my shirt. I didn’t need the green/white ball.

The hardest part of this project was estimating how much fiber I needed. I had the calculations of how much 2-ply yarn it took to make my vest, but now I was using a charkha to spin. That, combined with having more spinning experience, my yarn was finer, requiring more yards per woven inch. I needed to calculate carefully because I had a limited amount of fiber. By keeping careful records and weaving a sample, I estimated that I needed 43.65 yards of raw singles for each 1” of weaving. This cotton would get boiled twice—once after spinning into singles and again after plying. I estimated about 12.5% total shrinkage for that. Once everything was plied, I needed a figure for how much 2-ply yarn necessary to finish my project. I estimated 22.2 yards of 2-ply yarn for each inch of weaving. My calculations from actual weaving were 18.1-22.2 yards of 2-ply for each inch of weaving. Thinking back to the 43.65 yards of raw singles, taking out 12.5% for shrinkage and dividing it by 2 to make the 2-ply yarn, I would end up with 19 yards of 2-ply per inch of weaving. There are many ways to calculate and I wanted to use generous estimates to make sure I had enough fiber. Periodically I checked my 2-ply yarn for wraps per inch (wpi) and found it to vary from 29-35 wpi.

I loved doing this project, although, at times I thought I would go crazy doing the calculations. I wanted something appropriate to wear it with, so I made a pair of jeans from naturally brown denim I bought from Sally Fox at Vreseis.com. I’m wearing those jeans in the top photo.

I am enjoying wearing this shirt everywhere I can. It is so comfortable! The design allows freedom of movement and that contributes to the comfort, but I think all the good energy it embodies contributes even more. Knowing I grew it from saved seeds, spun, wove, and sewed it gives me a great feeling of satisfaction. I want to encourage other spinners out there to do the same. This shirt weighs 14 ounces. To give you an idea of how much space you would need to grow that much, in my Grow and Spin Cotton post I gave yields of 12-16 ounces per 100 sq. ft. Your yield could be higher or lower, depending on where you live. I hope you give it a try!homeplace earth

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