Turning flax fibre into linen cloth was this summer’s project. The last post dealt with the spinning – now comes the weaving.
Unlike wool, linen has no elasticity or stretch. This makes it unforgiving when it comes to warping on the loom (even without somewhat haphazard and impatient warping methods). Creating and maintaining a firm and even tension on the warp is a tricky business.
Warp on – and time for some weaving. Just a plain (tabby) weave for this project. This wasn’t the time for fancy twills or basketweaves.
Important Things to Remember when Weaving Linen:
- Sizing – the linen warp threads need to be sized to strengthen them, hold the fibres together and protect them from fraying and possibly breaking when rubbing against the heddles and reed. All manner of things, often starch, were used in the past. But thinned out wallpaper paste with a couple of drops of vegetable oil works a treat. This needs to be painted on the warp behind the heddles as you go along.
- Damp – linen yarn likes to be damp. It tightens up the threads and really helps with maintaining tension on the warp. Ideally work in a humid environment (not best for comfort). A light water spray works too and is a tad less sweaty for the weaver.
It took a while to get going. There was a fair bit of trial and error with the size. Progress was slow and mistakes were many. Turns out the yarn was over spun, with far too must twist (a lesson learnt, in retrospect, for Part One of this project).
At last the weaving was done – off the loom and looking decidedly sack like.
Time for the final stage
This is very important and turns the stuff that comes off the loom (whether wool, linen or other fibre) into proper fabric. It involves a certain amount of mistreatment to prepare the fabric for its end use. Linen does not shrink, so in this instance it went through the hottest possible cycle in the washing machine. This removed not only the size, but also the gummy stuff in the linen, changing the colour from brownish to creamy greyish. it also evened out lots of the dodgy looking weaving, hiding a multitude of sins.
Perhaps the most satisfying stage of all. It involves beating and bashing the fabric into submission. It softens fibres and helps the weaving mesh together, helping the handle and drape enormously. Basically the more beetling the better. Industrially produced fabric have special machine for this – but a rolling pin will do for a small amount.
And there we have it. Not exactly ‘fine’ fabric. But about a 2.6m length 40cm wide piece of linen fabric. Many, many hours of labour to turn flax fibre into cloth.
Now just to decide what to do with it.