I have been working on my spindle. It's just a dowel with a large glass bead on it (low whorl). Version 1 had a notch cut into the top, like the Oseberg spindle, and that worked if I wanted to do a half-hitch. But I'm intrigued by all the medieval spindles that are just long and pointy at the top - no notch, no obvious place to secure a half-hitch. I went back to 15th Century Spinning and worked a bit more at trying to copy her technique. I think I get it - you loosely hold the spindle between middle and ring finger, while thumb and pointer finger spin it. Now the need for a tapered top becomes clear, as the 0.25" dowel did not want to spin easily between my fingers. I whittled it down and did a little supported spinning - I will need practice before I can spin it between my fingers but not drop it.
I had the opportunity last week to stop by the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown (formerly the Yorktown Victory Center). They are rebuilding the whole facility with a grand opening in the spring, but I did get to stop by the colonial farm for the flax processing demonstration. (They also have a pig butchering-and-salting demo on Thanksgiving weekend, which would be really need to see!) The flax processing had six steps. (These are mostly notes to myself and my own memory - if you are reading this, you can Google "breaking flax" or "scutching flax" to see the equipment that's used.)
- Harvest, followed by drying
- Retting (rotting, essentially) in water
- Drying again
- Breaking. This was the first demonstrated step. The breaker is a wooden gizmo about waist height, hinged at one end. The colonial-garbed docent first crushed the flax stalks between two flat surfaces at the open end of the breaker to crack the outer material. He said some people skip that step, but he thinks it's effective. Then, he laid the flax stalks across the "teeth" of the breaker and slammed the handle down. Lift, pull the flax a little towards himself, slam. Lift, pull, slam. Lift, pull, slam. Then he turned the bundle of flax around so he could smash the ends he'd been holding.
- Breaking results in exposed flax fibers and a bunch of crunchy stalk bits. The scutching board is next - a flat, vertical wooden board. Hold the flax against the board and use a dull wooden scutching knife to scrape down, removing the worst of the crunchy stalk bits.
- Finally, the hackle. It's like a big toothy dog brush. The docent liked to lay the flax through the teeth at about a 45 degree angle, but then pulled straight back towards himself, so that the fibers pulled more strongly against the teeth. Just as you would do for long hair, he did the tips, then a little up from the tips, the half the bundle, and so on. The short flax fibers and crunchy bits caught in the hackle are what he said are "tow," lower-quality flax that can be spun for lower-quality linen. In his hand was the long-staple flax for making good linen. And I got to take the flax home!
Only weird bit - the docent told me that linseed oil was toxic, so you had to be careful with the retting water and handling the linen itself. Now, it does not surprise me that water which has had plants rotting in it isn't healthful to drink, but I thought traditional spinners often ran the flax over their lips to wet it? Well yes, perhaps, said the docent, but it isn't good for you.
After I left, I remembered that oil-rich flax seeds are sold as a health food. So I did some Googling. Linseed oil is perfectly safe in normal doses. Yeah, if you take a megadose of supplements, it can have some bad side effects, like doing straight shots of oil tends to have on a body! The museum oddly does not have an email contact address, so I think I will write them a short note thanking them for the experience (it's a really cool museum and re-construction!) but also pointing out that maybe they should double-check that part of the docent script.