When it comes to feeding and clothing myself, I delve into the basics more than most, researching what it would take to do that from my garden. I wrote a book about the feeding part — Grow a Sustainable Diet — and have been working on the clothing part, growing flax for linen and cotton in my garden. My most recent clothing project is a vest which, except for the cotton thread I sewed the pieces together with, is made entirely from flax that I grew and processed into linen. Right down to the buttons!
Working with Flax Linen
Once flax is spun, it is called linen. The dorset-style buttons were made by wrapping linen 30 times around a half-inch dowel to make the core. Until now, I had used linen for the weft and cotton for the warp when I wove my homegrown fibers into fabric for clothes. (Warp is what goes on the loom first and weft is what is woven into it.) Each project is a learning experience and this one was no exception.
There is a hairiness to linen that is not in my cotton yarns and these hairs can inhibit weaving if they are used as warp. To tame the hairiness, I put skeins of linen in a sizing solution made of gelatin and water. Then I wound the yarn onto a swift to dry. I wound the resulting stiff yarn into balls ready to wind onto bobbins for weaving.
As you can imagine, the resulting fabric right off the loom is stiff, but soaking it in warm water washes out the sizing. There are many recipes for sizing and a friend of mine makes one using powdered milk.
Lessons on Looms and Linings
I once wove a linen sample on a small table loom when the warp threads were set at 16 epi. That’s 16 warp threads, or ends, per inch. There was no sizing applied and everything was fine. When I was ready to sample for the vest, I tried weaving a sample on a table loom at 24 epi. It did not go well, even though there was sizing on the yarns. The closer spacing didn’t allow the yarns to separate as well.
Things are different, however, with the larger floor loom. I wove the vest fabric at 24 epi on a 4-harness floor loom and it did fine. The shed, which is the distance between the upper and lower warp threads when weaving, on the floor loom was greater than that on the table loom. That difference helped separate the warp threads, as did the greater distance from the shed to the back beam of the loom.
I also wove the vest lining from my homegrown linen. The lining turned out so interesting that some of my friends liked it better than my intended outer fabric, which was partially dyed with Japanese indigo. So, I made it reversible.
The photo shows the side I had intended to be the lining. That is the eclectic side and the other side is the more formal one. You will find more information on all that in my blog post at Homeplace Earth.
Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet (available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store) and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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