Spinning Flax Notes from the Handspinner   Lisa Bertoldi


The handspinning of flax gives me great satisfaction.  Giving me even more satisfaction is using the handspun thread as the weft in handwoven kitchen  towels.  The resulting fabric has a rustic look and a substantial hand.   Over time the linen thread lightens in color. and with subsequent numerous washings the thread becomes somewhat thinner.

I am buying flax for handspinning now from three interesting sources.

One is Taproot fiber Lab in Nova Scotia.  Patricia Bishop and her colleagues growing flax, retting it in the field, and preparing it in their workshop.  One may dye their dark flax and spin it up.  Imagine flax grown in Nova Scotia!  I have had good luck spinning it, and weaving with it.  The dark color washes quickly away.

Another source is Black Cat Farmstead in Wisconsin.  Weaver and spinner Andrea Myklebust grew a good crop of fax and drove it to Taproot Fiber Lab to have it processed.  Flax grown in the United States!  I am spinning it up into thread just now, a single about 8/1.  Soon to be i the weft ofkitchen towels.

The third source on which I rely on heavily is coming from Scandinavia.  I buy mine at Vavstuga Weaving School in SHelburne Falls.  It may also be available from other shops in the United States.  It is pale and on the fine side, supple.  My mainstay.

I spin what is called wetspun thread.  I keep a small water bowl handy near my left hand at the spinning wheel.  The water binds the fibers a bit and nicely smooths down the surface of the thread.  Some people swear by spittle, and spin their flax using only that.  I prefer to use water!  The other option is dry spun thread which is exactly as it sounds one spins the flax using dry fingers.  The resulting thread is a bit hairy as a result.  For certain applications this is a perfecty good choice.

I am currently practicing to spin a finer thread this winter.  By uing a distaff I find I can achieve  more uniform and even thread, which is my goal.  BY slowing down I am able to spin a bit finer with greater control.  Aiming toward a consistently thinner thread I find I need to take more frequent breaks, so that I can do finger stretches with a rubber band and squeeze a ball of a sort of putty (given to me by my physical therapist)   I soak my hands then in some hot water get a breath of fresh air and a sip of water and I am ready to continue.

Handwoven Goods | Whimsy & Tea | Handwoven Tea Towels

Lisa Dertoldi

Weft Handwovens





My house has wool tucked in every corner .  I fell in love with wool, sheep and spinning in the early 80’s and collected all kinds of wool like there would be no more.  Now in my early 70’s I am trying to find uses for it all.  I hope to finish some of the projects that have been sitting around this month..


This is one of the projects which needs to be finished   I have been working on it for years.   Each area inteminated me and certainly brought me out of my comfort zone in hooking.  Thank you Deanne Fitzpatrick for pushing me forward on this project.   WIthout your example I would have never attempted it.

I am still spinning and took up rug hooking and made many huge rugs but my supply is still there.  This year I am going back to weaving in hopes to make woolen rugs and I hope that will deplete my boxes and boxes of lovely dyed handspun.

I have found there just isn’t a kind of wool that I don’t like, even the coarsest of wool’s have uses in rug making and felting.  On a recent trip to Ireland I could not resist these wild colors at Kerry Woolen Mills.


I have started some fleece lined mittens with this wool.


 I still have 4 sheep and love the quiet life of being a shepherdess.   This year I plan to send the wool out to a mill and have it made into yarn.  It is a wonderful way for me to share my love of sheep to others.



Word has come to me that Hannah Hauxwell Of England has passed away and I wanted to share this with you.  She was 92.  She lived on a remote farm for most of her life and at age 35 after her parents passed, she took over the day-to-day chores on the farm.  In this very remote area there was no electricity or running water.  She battled poverty and hardship most of her life and did this all alone. She was discovered and  her life brought to the public eye through wonderful documentaries and her books and her life did get somewhat easier.   She carried a bale of hay on her back to feed her beloved cows.  When she felt she could no longer continue on the farm she, with help moved to a small town nearby.  Leaving her beloved cows was one of the saddest things but a neighbor agreed to take care of them.  The documentary’s can be seen on you tube and her books are available from Amazon.  She was such an inspiring woman.

Many thanks for reading Fiberuary,  please share your stories with our readers.  Contact me at


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Introducing Weaving

To those of you who are weavers or have skills in other areas such as spinning, painting, crocheting, pottery, etc.; do you remember what it felt it like to be new in your field?  This week four members of the Weavers Guild of Springfield had the chance to introduce some eager university students to the field of weaving.

When I was approached about doing this I was not sure that this would work and wondered why students requested this particular craft but quickly became convinced that it would be worth the effort.  As background, the Weavers Guild of Springfield has been volunteering and doing weaving demonstrations from its inception in the Fall of 1951.  At present, the Guild demonstrates weaving in Cummington, Northampton, Shelburne, Hatfield, and Conway to all age groups and our most cherished loom for this purpose is the 4-shaft metal Structo (images of some of this can be seen on

So began the prep for this adventure:

  • Limit the size of the group to 20 participants
  • Gather up at least 10 to 11 Structo looms (threaded and ready to weave)
  • Ask for assistance from a few Guild members willing to donate a few hours and bring items for display

The planning of the two plus hours – something that would be entertaining and able to produce something that the participants could have as a finished product.  It was quickly decided to let each weave a specified minimum amount of material and then use this as insert for cards.  The next big decision was whether to have embellishments for the cards or not.  We did decide in the end to have a small amount of embellishments available.

It was a success!  We started the evening with a brief discussion of weaving – to find out that none of the participants had ever woven before.  This is how a loom operates, this is how to throw a shuttle, how hard to beat, how to advance the warp, and how not to draw-in.  Quickly they began and continued on until enough fabric was completed for at least two cards each; other material was available so that additional cards could be made.  The intense concentration was a joy to watch.  Several of the new weavers were excited to change colors or add metallic to give their weaving an extra punch.

Pride with their finished cards and many thanks to the helpers were the exiting messages.  Speaking for the four mentors/instructors, we had a great time too.

Who knows maybe we were able to stir an interest enough to create a new weaver or two.










Caring for your loom

Proper maintenance and cleaning of your loom, will keep it in good running order. If your loom came with cleaning and maintenance instructions, follow them. If you purchased a used loom, without instructions, the following list should help you extend the life of your loom.  After each finished weaving project it is recommended to dust the loom, vacuum or clean the floor under and around the loom, and give the loom a gentle shake to make sure it is still tighten and correctly align.  Once a year it is a good idea to use a level to check the position of your loom against the floor; and out of level floor can –over time – damage your loom.

  1. Metal parts of the loom should be cleaned with a cloth and oiled using sewing machine oil. Use silicone spray on nylon or plastic parts.
  2. Rust can be cleaned from reeds with powdered pumice. Using a stiff brush and pumice, scrub the reed to strip the rust off. Then oil the reeds well.
  3. Tighten all bolts and screws securely. If bolts are loose, this can cause permanent damage to the loom, with the excessive beating that a loom has to withstand. The wood can be crushed, screws stripped and bolt holes enlarged.
  4. In warm or changing climates, it is especially important to clean and wax or oil hardwood regularly to prevent drying and cracking of wood. Varnished surfaces can be dusted and cleaned with lemon oil.

For stained or unvarnished wood, use lemon oil. Rub it on with a soft cloth and let dry.  Lemon Oil – Lemon Oil is Mineral oil with 1 percent of synthetic lemon scent, or use paste wax.   To clean use Murphy’s oil soap (on wood).  Test any product before using it on the entire loom by using it on a spot that is an underneath surface.

  1. If using loom tie cords (not texsolv) coating them with beeswax can protect them from drying out.

Try to avoid using tape on any loom.

Do take a picture of your loom for insurance purposes.  Keep a notebook with date of purchase, cost, manufacturer’s instructions, and maintenance record.


Loris Epps has been a mentor of mine since my weaving days at Hill Institute.  I would have never gotten through the classes without her.  She is a member of The Springfield Weavers and is a prolific weaver.






Have you ever wanted  to be in a Sheep to Shawl Contest.  I am going to share some of the ins and outs of the contest with you and hope to get some of you to participate in one..    Years ago I belonded to a spinning group WOOLGATHERES.  It was a lucky find for me.  There I found like minded people who loved spinning, weaving, sheep and other fiber animals and lifelong friends, now we stil share the same things plus rug hooking!

It all starts with a fleece and 4 people who work good together.  We had a weaver, Renee, a carder and plyer and sometime spinner Lynn, and Debbie and I who were fast spinners.    The planning started way ahead .  The first thing was finding a fleece and deciding if we should use a handspun  warp.   Handspinning the warp is something we always did, the extra points you get always helps.  We found that it was best to have one person do the spinning,  that would make an even warp..    Another consideration was to dye the warp and or weft.  This always depended on the pattern.  


Our favorite show was The Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival which is held on the first full weekend in May every year..  We did it for quite a few years.  At this show you need a live sheep and your own shearer.  We did get some lovely sheep from a woman in Maryland , the shearer was another thing.  We had asked a shearer from around here to do it and he did agree.  Never showed up on the morning of the contest, luckily the owner of the sheep was there and she did an excellent job of shearing.  We won many times there.  I will agree there is a lot of pressure in these contests.  The rules are different everywhere and need to be studied before hand.  Folks can be very competitive.  We always had fun and laughed and chatted all through the contest.


Costumes were worn and signs were made.  A rug and flowers or a plant helped make the space more homey.  Some people played music.  We found it distracting especially when one group play wolves howeling!!!!!! (at a sheep show really!!!!!) We always had some tools you never knew when you needed to fix a wheel or loom.  At the Maryland show Shawls were auctioned off and that was very exciting.  Shawls would go up to a couple of hundred dollars and with the first price money that added up to a tidy sum.




We did win most contests and in the first year or two we divided up the money and each went our own way.  But later we decided to pool the money and we all took a wonderful trip to Ireland on our Sheep to Shawl earnings.  I am not saying we didn’t have some losses and we did learn from them. 

I really miss those wonderful times and wish we could do it one more time!!


FIBERuary Margaret Russell


Fiberuary Day 18  with Margaret Russell  Writer, Weaver  researcher of Rare British  Sheep Breeds and so much more.

Weaving Legends

A collection of

primitive, rare, and threatened British breed handwoven pieces and their stories


Margaret B. Russell

Antrim Handweaving, Studio & Study

Byfield, MA

Self-taught handweaver, researcher, writer, weaving teacher, and

co-founder of the North of Boston Handweavers Guild



While growing up I listened to accounts of maternal ancestral weavers and wool workers from Ireland and England. Fascinating conversations with my mother and aunt certainly influenced me to follow the ways of my fiber forebears. One such ancestor, my 3X great grandfather William Truland (Trulan), was born in Ballymoney, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Early in the 19th century he left and settled in my native upstate New York, continuing his skill as a professional weaver. Antrim Handweaving, Studio & Study is named in tribute to him. I take great pride in my connections with those who came before me and I believe my weaving inherently upholds tradition. All my pieces are woven exclusively of natural fibers, with a focus on the timeless beauty of simple functional design.

William Truland, carpetweaver,

Troy City Directory 1861

An area of particular interest of mine is primitive, rare, and threatened British sheep breeds. In the 1970’s, there was growing recognition in the UK and the USA that large numbers of livestock breeds were in serious decline, and in fact several breeds had already become extinct. At least 20 known British sheep breeds were permanently lost before the 20th century and then a half dozen more disappeared between 1900 and 1973. With the founding of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) UK in 1973 and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy in 1977, now known as The Livestock Conservancy, plus the dedication of loyal flock keepers, sheep farmers, and consumers of wool and meat products, further extinction has been prevented. In fact, many British sheep breeds have experienced an increase in their population numbers but vigilant monitoring continues as there are breeds still struggling with low population numbers.

Extinct – Limestone Ram

Photo from The Standard Cyclopedia of Modern Agriculture 1910

I really wanted to work on something where I could pay tribute to an ancestral weaver from County Antrim, Ireland, raise awareness of the fragility of watchlisted British sheep, and support safeguarding of the breeds by using and encouraging others to use their wools, so I started a long-term endeavor of weaving an extensive private collection of “Preservation Wraps”. My objective is for each of the watchlisted British breeds to be individually represented by a wrap woven exclusively of its naturally colored wool. I use the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, UK and The Livestock Conservancy, USA watchlists to identify the breeds whose wools dress my looms. The wraps representing the breeds from the RBST’s watchlist are woven using wools sourced from the UK. Wraps representing the British breeds raised in the USA and identified on the The Livestock Conservancy’s Conservation Priority Listing are woven using wools sourced in the USA. Most of the wools are purchased directly from the farmers themselves! The wraps in the collection are specifically woven to highlight the fleece characteristics of each breed. They are all woven in plain weave, the simplest of weave structures therefore the wool is always the feature, not various patterns. If I am able to find it, I add handspun to provide even more texture. The size of each wrap depends on wool availability and dimensions range from 30”x40” to 40”x60”. I like to think each wrap looks as if it were lifted right from the sheep itself. When complete, there will be over 70 wraps in the collection. More than half of the wraps are woven. Almost all the wools have been acquired and are waiting for their turn on a loom.

UK Leicester Longwool Preservation Wrap– millspun & handspun

UK Leicester Longwool Preservation Wrap – close-up

When I first started weaving with British breed wool, I realized I wanted to know more about the breeds themselves. Who are the creatures that produce these intriguing and remarkable fibers? I soon learned about loss and survival, hardship and triumph, heartache and happiness. I discovered sheep with two and even three pairs of horns, some with long tails, and others with lustrous ringlets of fleece that trail along the ground. There’s a breed that has a natural smile, another with a diet of seaweed and the feet of dead seabirds, one with fleece so soft it was historically used for knitted undergarments, and that was only the beginning. I am totally smitten by all of them.  “Sheep That Roar”, “The Death and Life of the Norfolk Horn”, “Identically Different”, and “A Sheep in Sheep’s Clothing” are but a few of my heartfelt tales about these extraordinary animals.


Photo courtesy of Darren Morris, Park Ranger, Tatton Park, Knutsford, Cheshire, UK



Photo courtesy of Linda Bjarkman, Patchwork Farm & Fibers, Georgia, USA

Manx Loaghtan

Photo courtesy of Alice Underwood, Sheepfold, Penrith, Cumbria, UK


Come join me at Sheep & Shawl on February 21, 1-3pm, in celebration of FIBERuary!

A selection of Preservation Wraps and their stories, fleece and yarn samples, photos, books, and yarn sources will be shared during my British breed presentation known as “Weaving Legends”.

Preservation Wraps from top to bottom: UK Balwen, USA British Registered Soay,

UK Herdwick, and UK Galway

Antrim Handweaving, Studio & Study –

Rare Breeds Survival Trust –

The Livestock Conservancy –

FIBERuary Peggy Hart Blanket Weaver


FIBERuary Day 15  Peggy Hart  Weaver


Photo by Tripps Eldridge   Caney Fork Farm

Red Headed Sheep

For the last 30 years I have woven blankets on old industrial looms. A large part of my work is weaving blankets for sheep farmers, who send me their wool spun into yarn for me to weave it up for them. Their blankets are unique to them as I work with them to choose a pattern that will bring out their yarn’s best qualities. The breed of sheep determines much of the look and feel of the finished blanket. Over the years I have worked with many different breeds, everything from Rambouillet and superfine Merino to Churro.
One of the joys of this work for me is that every warp is different, and that there are sometimes delightful surprises. The current project is a case in point, Tunis wool from Caney Fork farm in Tennessee, spun in Michigan as a singles at Zeilingers.  100% Tunis wool had never come through my barn door before. The farmer chose an overall textural pattern of twill floats within a plain weave background. When washed up, the hand was unexpectedly soft and supple.
Tunis is an American heritage breed, developed from fat tailed Tunisian Barbary sheep crossed with Leicester and Southdown to make the wool finer and softer. The earliest documented importation were two rams gifted to George Washington by the Bey of Tunis. The two rams were placed with Judge Richard Peters of Belmont, PA, with flocks later established in PA, MD,vA, GA, NC and SC. They became the dominant breed in the midAtlantic and upper southern states until the Civil War, when they almost became extinct due to most of the stock being eaten by troops.
Tunis are hardy, medium size sheep, and adapt to both northern cold and southern heat and humidity. They are raised for both meat and wool, with the fleece in the same micron range as Corriedale and Shetland. Wool yield is on the low side, only 4-5 lbs. per ewe. The wool is a creamy white, with a crispy texture and a healthy crimp. The staple is 3”-5”.
Tunis often bear twins, and the lambs are born red (hence the name), gradually turning
Photo by Christie Davenport
Otterknol Farm Tunis Sheep
Peggy hart



FIBERuary Day 3

Today, Michelle Parrish grower of flax here in Western Massachusetts and dyer and weaver is writing about her adventures.

Michelle Parrish is a weaver, natural dyer, and spinner, who has been growing flax for over ten years. She is a member of the New England Flax and Linen Study Group, and an organizer of the upcoming symposium Flax and Linen: Following the Thread From Past to Present.

On February 28th at Sheep and Shawl in Deerfield from 1-3, she will explain the steps involved in growing and processing flax, and share some of her research into different varieties of fiber flax.


Planting Flax In Western Massachusetts

Flax is the plant that linen comes from. The Latin name, Linum usitatissimum, tells you it’s the “most useful” plant, and highlights how important flax has been for thousands of years as a source of fiber. The fiber has been used for yarn, thread, rope, fine and rough cloth, sails, and a multitude of other purposes.

Flax is a bast fiber, meaning that the fibers are found in the stalk of the plant. Growing flax isn’t too tricky, but getting the fiber out of the stalks is a long and complicated process. In agricultural communities before the Industrial Revolution, the knowledge of how to grow and process flax was commonplace. However, since this crop is no longer widely grown, knowledge is harder to come by.

I’ve been learning to grow and process flax for over ten years. I’m still learning, and every season brings as many questions as answers. Learning by trial and error is slow, so a few years ago I was thrilled to meet up with some other flax and linen enthusiasts, and form the New England Flax and Linen Study Group. I learned so much from the enthusiasm and support of this group. In our quest to learn more, we hatched the plan to organize a symposium, where we hoped to bring together as many knowledgeable people as possible to share experience and advice. The symposium will be Saturday and Sunday August 20-21, 2016 at Historic Deerfield, and is organized in collaboration with Historic Deerfield. We’re proud to say that registration is now open for this symposium! You can learn more about the symposium on our website ( and can register on Historic Deerfield’s website (

On this FIBERuary blog, I’d like to share some of the steps involved in growing and processing flax. Step one is getting seeds. If you want to plant flax this season, you should order your seed now. Flax is typically planted early in the spring, as soon as the ground has thawed but while it’s still wet. Usually around here you can plant in April, though this winter has been so mild we may be set for an earlier planting date this season. If you are growing flax for the fiber, rather than for edible seed, make sure you have bought a fiber flax variety such as Marilyn, Evelin, Viking, or Ariane. Two reliable sources for fiber flax seed are The Hermitage in Pennsylvania ( and Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum’s Heirloom Seed Project (

You can read more about Michelle’s adventures in dyeing, weaving, flax and other fibers in her blog:


Welcome to all

Day one of FIBERuary


Three or Four year ago I discovered WOVEMBER.  I learned so much from the wonderful folks that wrote daily blogs.  From knitter to spinners and weavers to dyers and writer’s of knitting books.  Everything I needed to know about British Wool was in the blog.  I still look forward to WOVEMBER each November 1st.  
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