Yes, you can use your handspun linen singles for weaving. Weavers for thousands of years of history did. You can too.
Most linen warp is spun from the long, luscious flax fibres called line. These make for strong, shiny, and fine yarns. When wet spun by an expert, the yarn is smooth. All these qualities make it perfect for warp and weft.
But what about poor tow? This often discarded fibre is described as hairy and weak. Not suitable. A waste of time and space.
Being a advocate of the underdog, I decided to learn to love tow. I wanted to discover if Tow's reputation was unbreakable, or if maybe different techniques would make it strong enough for warp. So I spun up a bunch of tow, playing with different techniques and discovered there is no reason for tow to be hairy or fragile. It's all in the spinning. Which is to say, how tow behaves is entirely up to the spinner. You have complete control.
Here are a few tips and tricks for weaving with handspun linen singles - tow.
Record keeping - The theory behind this is we can reproduce what we made before. But here we are, working with natural materials. Nature by her very essence is constantly changing. The weather, soil, air, sun, and wind all have their effect on the colours these plants produce. Every time we dye with natural ingredients, we are promised a different colour. I wonder if anything beyond the most basic record keeping is strictly necessary (although, it can of course be fun).
Mordants - I've discovered that there are a great variety of mordants and many dyes will affix to the yarn without any mordant at all. The sheer range of alum I've seen recommended in dyeing from 2% weight of fibre (WOF) all the way up to 22% WOF. I wonder if precision is really that vital when it comes to mordanting yarn and fibre.
Ratio of dye to yarn - I've had very bad luck following directions. I carefully weigh everything to the decigram and at best, I get a pale imitation of colour. However, the times I simply stuff my dye pot full of leaves or flowers, simmer a while, then add yarn, I'm greeted with vibrant results. I wonder if being less precise is actually the key to dyeing.
So what is the most vital part of dyeing in my opinion?
The most vital part in dyeing yarn, is final step - washing the yarn.
Why do I think this stage is the most important? Because this is the stage that teaches the most.
Being gentile at this stage is abusive to your future self. One quick rinse and hang the yarn to dry and you risk using that yarn, putting loads of work into a project, and first time through the washing machine, all the dye washes out. It didn't take. Or worse, it bleeds and stains the rest of the project.
I once wove a set of towels from hand dyed linen. The arbutus dyed linen was a gorgeous brown, and the carrot top dyed linen, a lovely lime green. But one trip through the washing machine, and all the carrot top washed out. It looked okay, but not as good as it would with the green.
The woman of Wovenwares are gifted fibre artists and well worth a pilgrimage into town to visit. They weave cloth. More amazingly, they weave clothing!
Cloth made locally by local artisans, with as many locally sourced materials as possible. That's my kind of thing.
As much as I want to do everything, growing fibres on the farm has taught me there is a finite amount of time in the day. Everything has it's rhythm and each element on the farm has it's task. I don't ask the sheep to eat bugs from the garden, likewise, I don't expect the chickens to grow wool. Why then, should I expect that I can do everything? At least, not until I find the time to invent a TARDIS.
But I want to. Especially when I see what amazing things are possible.
Wovenwares gives me heart and hope. Here is the skill to create clothing from the materials I grow. I couldn't ask for better!
And, wow! What skills these women have.
Entering the studio, I'm bedazzled by the collection of handwoven goodies. Cloth, clothing, rugs, and hand dyed yarn.
They work with local materials, connecting directly with the farmer whenever possible. Sustainable clothing at it's best.
I learn something new with each visit, and this week I understood, I don't have to do every step myself. I couldn't make clothing as beautiful as this, but I can grow yarn. By working together, we can keep everything local, sustainable and beautiful.
This morning petrichor was heavy in the air. Petrichor is a smell so strong; you can almost feel the texture gritting against your skin. It's a mixture of ocean and dust. But more than that. Petrichor is the smell rain makes after dry, grimy, hot summer days.
It's unusual to experience petrichor here, as it seldom rains in summer and never in June. At least not since we moved to the farm nearly ten years ago. It is an unusual year for weather. I expect unusual will soon be the new norm.
Most years, the rain stops on or before May first. There are a couple of rainy patches near midsummer and again at the end of August, but these showers usually miss the farm. It will rain at the neighbours and across the road, but not here. One of the things we strive for is low maintenance farming; farming without irrigation or rain in a Mediterranean climate. Most of the experiments on the farm have been focused on the assumption it won't rain in the summer. We've had great success with this. There are a few parts of the farm that are entirely irrigation-free and produce a decent crop even on poor soil.
We've grown chickpeas, peas, soup peas, kale, squash, hot peppers, sunflowers, woad, flax, and tomatoes without irrigation or rain. Pretty darn neat. This year, we've been experimenting with different row and plant spacing as well as potatoes. But the rain has skewed our results - not that we mind - so we'll have to try it again next year.
How are we growing these without irrigation?
I've learned a lot from permaculture. The world domination gardening videos are a great resource filled with different techniques, how and why they work, and how to build them. The last video is my favourite. It's about adding texture to the landscape to create warm pockets.
Finding microclimates that are already moist
There's a section of the farm that is quite moist most of the year. There's an ephemeral stream and in the winter, the whole area floods. By deepening a hollow that was already there to create a pond we capture some of the winter rain that would otherwise pass us by. The stream we made curvier and planted willows and other trees to help capture moisture and hold it in the soil. Trees are also great at capturing dew and can often create their own rain on moist mornings. Since the ground is too wet to till until May, it is a good spot for warm weather crops like beans, corn, squash and sunflowers.
Making our own microclimates
Terracing adds texture to the landscape like nothing else. It's also great for reducing the speed that water runs off the land. Storing moisture in the soil during the rainy season is possibly the most efficient way we've found to grow without irrigation. Somehow terracing reduces the fluctuation in temperature.
airwells to capture dew
Capturing dew is an essential tool to irrigation-free farming. An airwell a great help with this. About three years back we transplanted 100 fruit trees at the start of what turned out to be one of the driest summers on record. We moved the trees to the spot with the most drainage and worst water retention soil on the farm and gave them nothing to drink. Not even watering them in when we moved them.
Two-thirds of the fruit trees were given an airwell. A small, dry stack, rock wall. One third was given nothing. Of the latter, we have on tree surviving. But the trees with the airwell are growing strong. Through extreme heat, drought, cold, and all sorts of crazy weather, we have only lost two of the 60-odd trees. The only difference is the airwell. We were shocked by just how much difference it made.
Even making texture on the soil increases dew collection. Molding up potatoes left furrows between the rows. I was surprised to see just how much dew collected in them.
One thing that isn't working is mulch. Mulch works wonders if it rains at least once a month, but by the end of the second month without rain, it seems to do more harm than good. By the end of month five, only well established perennials with high dew collecting abilities like rosemary, sage, and lavender can survive mulch.
Mulch covers the soil and prevents moisture loss, but it also prevents moisture penetration. Once the mulch dries out, the dew that runs down the stems of the plants, cannot enter the soil for later use. By the time the soil is warm enough for the invisible beasties to break down the mulch into soil, the mulch is too dry to sustain them.
Looking at our local forests, one can see why mulch doesn't make sense here. Mulch works well where the soil is built through layers of detritus like leaves and grass. But here, when one watches a pioneer area, the soil isn't formed that way. The cottonwood and alder grow on poor, but moist soil pockets, then when they fall, the logs quickly rot to create better soil. The leaves do very little except provide food and shelter for animals who fertilise and build soil that way. For this reason, I suspect Hugelkulture will be a useful tool in our area. Something to try in the years to come.
Before I moved to the farm, I lived in the city. Right at the heart of downtown, in a cement cube with south facing windows surrounded by other people also living in cement cubes. But living in the city had its advantages.
All that concrete and asphalt absorb the heat from the sun and holds onto it. This creates a warmer climate than the rest of the area, bumping us up one or even three climate zones. In the city, we can grow things that we cannot in the surrounding countryside. Banana and palm trees are popular choices - in Canada!
What I wish I knew at the time is that we can grow cotton too. Cotton grows in the same condition as tomatoes. Cotton loves the warmth and isn't adverse to being kept in pots. In a pot, you can bring cotton inside for the winter. Another thing the city gives us that I don't have on the farm is limited daylight. Cotton is daylight sensitive so on the farm, I have a challenge getting it to set bolls this far north because our days are just too long. But in the summer, the buildings act as a false horizon, cutting off the sun from the earth early. Warmth plus limited daylength.
There are lots of other fibre crops and animals we can grow in the city. Linen can also be grown in pots so long as you don't sow the seeds to densely.
Within walking distance of my condo were several mulberry trees on public land. Two of them are in gardens specially designed for public harvest - food forest community gardens. I know more than one person who kept silkworms hidden away in their pet-free apartments (caterpillars don't count as pets, right?). They snuck out each morning, about 5am, to harvest mulberry leaves, being careful never to take too much and to always ask permission first. There was an abundance of wormfood available.
There was a great article in Spinn Off a few years back explaining how easy it is to grow silk. It was the same one that introduced me to cotton and got me wondering what non-sheep plants and animals can grow fibre in small spaces.
Don't have mulberries, try wild silk moths. There are a hundred or more different kinds of moths that produce silk and chances are some of them are native to your area. These wild silk moths produce various colours and textures of silk and in my opinion, they are even more beautiful than bombyx silk. The best thing about them is if they are native to your area, then their food can be found in abundance. Many wild silkmoths consume a variety of different fodder. The Polyphemus moth that is native to my area eats a dozen different trees, so I don't have to go hunting for mulberries. Wormspit's website is the place to go for more information on
Bunnies take up a bit more space than silkworms. Angora or any fluffy bunny produces warm and soft fibre. Comb the bunny each day and spin the fibre into lovely lofty yarn.
Wildcrafting fibre like nettles or kudzu is another option. Talk to your local parks department to see what you're allowed to harvest. This is also a good source of dye materials.
Of course, if you absolutely must have sheep, you can always try to sneak some on the roof.