About Bast Fibers
Bast fiber is collected from the phloem (the "inner bark") or bast surrounding the stem of certain dicotyledonous plants. In the plant, these fibers provide strength to the stem.
Two things that are super-cool about bast fibers: 1) They're mega strong, because that is their purpose in life. 2) Their "staple length" is the length of the plant stem ... And extra length equals extra strength! Bast fibers are great for projects that will see some abuse, such as bags and rope.
Bast fibers typically used in handspinning include: flax, hemp, ramie, and stinging nettle.
If you were to conjure an image of yarns from any of these fibers, they would probably be in un-dyed, natural colors. There's a reason for that! Bast fibers are notoriously hard to dye -- but on the flipside, they're super easy to sun-bleach.
Allison's Tips for Spinning Flax and Other Bast Fibers
There are three basic tricks to spinning flax and other bast fibers:
Spin "wet".Keep the fibers just a bit damp as you're spinning -- wrap the roving in a wet paper towel and/or dip your fingers in a bowl of water periodically as you go. The water helps to break down pectin in the fibers, allowing them to adhere to one another in the finished yarn.
Apply an "S" twist to singles.That means, if you're on a wheel, the wheel should be spinning counter-clockwise. If you're on a spindle, roll that baby off your right leg.
Spin from the fold.Rather than drafting from the very end of a very long fiber, fold the fibers over your index finger, and spin from the middle. This will give you more control over your draft, and the ability to spin a more even yarn.
Allison's Tips for Spinning Ramie
Ramie fibers are super-smooth, making them a bit difficult to draft. Thus, there are two additional tricks to spinning ramie:
Give the top a little shake.Spread those fibers out before you start drafting.
Take advantage of static cling.Let the fibers spread out and cling to your fingers.
Blogs about Spinning Flax and Other Bast Fibers
A roundup of some great tips and experiences!
- Cindy Conner, Flax to Linen: Spinning (Homeplace Earth: Education and Design for a Sustainable World, 2017 March 28)
- Lee Juvan, Tow the Line (Knitty, Spring 2008 issue)
- Spinning Flax Stricks using a Distaff (Wild Fibres)
- Penny Coupland, Spinning Flax on a Drop Spindle: How to avoid the 'drop' part (The Urban Weaver Project, 2013 February 18)
- Joybilee Farm, Finishing Handspun Linen Yarn (2012 February 27)
- Mari, Spinning Flax (Gather and Grow, 2013 September 6)
- Learning to Spin Flax (Interweave, 2016 August 19)
- Spinning Ramie (Colours from Chaos, 2014 August 7)
Where To Buy Flax & Hemp Spinning Fiber
A curated list of indie vendors and artists offering up bast spinning fibers:
- Botanically-dyed flax and other plant fibers from AppleOak FibreWorks
- Dyed flax and other vegan fibers from Spin Flora
- Flax, hemp, bamboo, and ramie fibers from The Woolery
- Flax strick and top from Mielke's Fiber Arts
- Flax, nettle, hemp, and more from Wild Fibres
- Hand-dyed flax from Vegan Yarn
Where To Buy Flax & Hemp Yarn
A curated list of vendors and artists offering up sweet yarns from bast fibers and blends: