|A boll of cotton matures in the field |
(Research photo by Kathleen Phillips)
For spinning, plant fibres need a high ratio wheel to give the twist for these short stapled fibres. We recommend a small whorl or much treadling before allowing the yarn to wind on to the bobbin. It can be spun directly from the sliver or carded and rolled into a puni for traditional long draw spinning.
Bast fibre is collected from the inner bark (or phloem) surrounding the stem of dicotyledonous plants (flowering plants with net-veined leaves). The fibre has high tensile strength and is used for yarn, rope and paper production. Examples of bast fibre include Jute (for weaving Hessian), Flax (for weaving Linen), Hemp, Soybean and Ramie.
The quality of cotton is found in its staple length, with long stapled Sea Island and Egyptian as the finest, the shorter American form the most common and Asian cotton as the poorer quality. It can be obtained in the raw, deseeded state or as a combed roving ready for spinning.
The staple length of cotton fibres is between 1-2.5cm.
Reclaimed Blue Jeans Fibre
learn more about Silk Paper Making from our Fact File page.
Soybean (Soy Silk or Soya Bean)
For the purist, Soybean fibre should not appear on this page. Although it is a plant fibre, it is a protein fibre and is the residue of tofu production. Also known as Soy Silk, it has a natural colour similar to Tussah Silk and a good sheen. The fibre comes in sliver form with a 5.6cm staple length and spins like silk. This ‘silk for vegans’ is most effectively dyed using Acid dyes.
To extract the fibre, the Soya bean are flaked, the oil removed and the flakes treated with a solution of sodium sulphite to dissolve the protein. Hydrochloric acid is added and the protein precipitates as a curd. This is dissolved in aqueous caustic soda and the resultant solution is aged or matured. It is then extruded into a coagulating bath similar to that used in casein fibre.
Our blog post Soya Beans gives more information on this magical bean.
Tencel (or Lyocell)
Tencel is a very fine high lustre fibre derived from wood pulp which feels similar to white silk thereby needing a little more twist than wool when spinning. It can be blended with other fibres to add lustre and strength.
The best quality flax is water retted. Dew retted flax is slightly darker in colour. Flax line is the hackled form used on a distaff, and produces a fine smooth linen yarn. Flax is a bast long fibre and so closely resembles hemp that a high power microscope is needed to tell the difference.
Flax Tow is the shorter fibres left after hackling, and produces a textured linen yarn. The short, fibres are ideal for blending with other fibres for an effect yarn or spinning on their own to a strong linen yarn for weaving and summer knits. The fibres can also be used in paper making.