Flax Spinning

As you may already know, my Swedish ancestors grew, processed, spun and wove flax in northern Sweden.  I inherited my great great grandmother’s (Anna Amalia Landstrum 1866-1950) spinning wheel.  It was obtained by my maternal grandmother when the farmhouse of her maternal grandparents in northern Sweden (Svensbyn) was sold in the mid- 1970’s.  They somehow got the spinning wheel home.  And they gave it to me after I started learning how to spin.  Before they gave it to me my grandfather made a new footman and two bobbins for me as they had gone missing at some point.  As it is a flax spinning wheel I wanted to learn how to spin flax on it.

First though I needed to get a distaff as this had gone missing too.  I asked a woodworking and spinning friend Allen Berry if he could make me one.  He was thrilled, and he did a great job.  I chose to paint it yellow.

spinning wheel with new distaff

I also inherited from my grandmother a linen towel that her aunt Lydia Lundstrom (1895-1959) had woven.  Here is the towel with her initials embroidered in it.

Here is a closer up of the weaving.  It is likely made with handspun flax from my wheel.

The family story I have been told is a sad one though.  Lydia had wanted to marry a particular man, but her mother Anna did not allow it and wanted Lydia to stay at home and eventually take care of her in her old age.  And this is what happened.  So I am proud to own this towel of Lydia’s and to be able to have more choices in my life than she did.

Since I did well on Fiber Day, I decided to take some of those proceeds to attend a flax spinning class.  So I signed up for one held this morning at Fiber Fusion.  Here are samples of different forms of flax fiber that the instructor showed us.

And then here I am putting a loop of ribbon around the root end of my first strick.  The instructor had purchased theses stricks for the class, and they are from Sweden.  Apparently it is challenging to find these as China is taking over the market.  I guess I should have looked for some when I was in Sweden.

And here I am fanning out the fibers of the strick.

This is the instructor demonstrating how to tie and wrap the fanned fibers onto a distaff.

Here is my strick wrapped around my distaff and tied on.

I then proceeded to try to spin it.  I was spinning counterclockwise, having to pull and wet the fibers, and I was struggling with grandpa’s bobbin as it was not winding as it should.  I finally switched over to the original bobbin (which I did not want to use because I was worried about water damage to it).  But I was able to spin much better with it.  I forgot to take a photo of the full distaff with my wheel, but here it is when I am almost done.

Here is my spun flax on the antique bobbin.

And here is the spun flax wound off into balls.  The one on the right is the first attempt with Grampa’s bobbin, and the one on the left is from the original bobbin.

So now I can say I have spun flax.  Not very well, but it is a start.  I would love to be able to spin as well as Lydia and Anna did as evidenced by the amazingly fine spinning in the towel.  Maybe someday (I do have their mitochondria in me).  And I may even try to grow flax again.

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9 Responses to Flax Spinning

  1. Sharrie Brockhaus says:

    Very interesting blog today, not that the others aren’t interesting. Loved the trip to Sweden. Did not know so much about how the flax was spun. Thanks for the easy to understand explanation. Good luck with your continued spinning.

    • Donna says:

      Thanks Sharrie! One selfish reason for the instructions was to remind myself in the future how I did it. I was not sure how flax was spun either but now I know a little.

  2. mcfwriter says:

    I missed you at Fiber Fusion, Donna! I was volunteering, but not until the afternoon on Saturday, then again today. Since it’s so close to home, I “can’t not.” 🙂
    This is really interesting, with your family history! And there’s a big flax movement going on right now – growing flax in Oregon (https://www.corvallisadvocate.com/2019/sustainable-linen-movement-revitalizing-flax-hemp/?fbclid=IwAR2kfpjN_Of_6Mw_f4oLzODgEhzklqgdFYB5JldLvAykcKY2jkPutIE-5kA) via the Pacific Northwest Fibershed out of Portland.

    • Donna says:

      How cool Maureen! I knew hemp was getting popular but did not know there was a localish movement for flax. It would be so nice if we could have good quality flax for spinning and linen production again! I didn’t stay at Fiber Fusion long. I just took the class and said hi to Allen, John and Rocky who I knew were going to be there. Then I can home to finish spinning my flax as I did not want to leave the wet fiber on the bobbin and watched an awful football game.

  3. FullyFleeced says:

    love the distaff! So glad Allen was able to help you out with that. Nice job on the flax spinning- probably a whole different feel than wool, eh?

    • Donna says:

      It is really different than wool. Trying to spin backwards (for me) and then the wetting and the very long fiber length took some getting used to. Plus fighting with my bobbin. I did not do a nice job but at least it is a start!

  4. Jeanne says:

    Very interesting! Was the bright blue some of the original paint? I wouldn’t have thought of using bright colors like that! Good job on spinning the flax!

    • Jeanne says:

      P.S. The embroidery work is beautiful!

    • Donna says:

      Thanks Jeanne! The blue is the original paint. Apparently Swedish wheels are known for being painted bright colors. I am not sure if I can attach a photo but will try to of a wheel in a museum in Sweden that is identical to mine.

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