Homegrown Linen Dishcloth

When I started this blog and picked the name, I was really excited about the little patch of flax I grew in my yard. Then we moved, I lost my nice little garden patch, life happened, and I didn’t do much with the flax. It’s been sitting in my shed for the last three years, but fortunately flax straw keeps just fine.

I finally got around to retting the flax this past summer. I put it in water, weighed it down, and let it sit for a few days. I didn’t exchange any of the water, so it got pretty disgusting! I was afraid I’d retted it too long, since the fibers seemed to be breaking off at the root ends, but I later figured out they were under retted overall. I think I need to suspend them with the root ends out of the water for further retting. Fortunately you can start and stop retting any number of times, so I can rett them some more later.

I pulled out a few of the thicker-stalked bundles, since they rett faster than the thin stalks. I don’t have any flax processing tools yet, so I improvised. I stomped on the flax to break it, tried scutching with a scrap of wood over the edge of my picnic table, and heckled with a sharp pointed metal brush cleaning comb and a dog comb.

Since my flax wasn’t retted enough, I had to handle it pretty roughly to separate the fibers. I didn’t get any really long fibers, since they all broke off. I gave up after three or four bundles, but I combed through the tow to pick out the longest fibers and got a decent sized handful of tow fibers. I got a few longer fibers that were about a foot and a half long.

linen towflax ready to spin

I spun the shorter fibers by just grabbing a small handful and spinning from the end. I spread out the longer fibers on a towel with the ends peeking out, rolled it up loosely, and spun the fibers from the roll. This method is described in the book Handspinning Flax.

flax in towel for spinning

I have an older version of the all-metal Columbine spinning wheel. I bought a high speed pulley for it, which was described as “experimental”, but after fiddling with it for a while, I decided it doesn’t work. I couldn’t get it to take up the yarn at all. I switched back to the regular pulley and got my flax spun into fine yarn.

spun linen yarn

After reading some recipes for scouring flax, I realized I already had the perfect detergent – Charlies Soap powdered laundry detergent. I could go on forever about how wonderful this detergent is. I discovered it when I was cloth diapering my kids, and now I will never use any other detergent as long as they keep making this stuff. It does what laundry detergent is supposed to – cleans your clothes, then washes out. What a radical idea, huh? When I feel other people’s clothes, they feel heavy and waxy from all of the detergent and dryer sheet residue. Several members of my family with sensitive skin get rashes from wearing clothes washed in other detergent, since most detergents these days are designed to leave residue in your clothes so dyes, brighteners, scent, softeners, and other toxic stuff are left on the fabric. OK, I’ll stop gushing about my laundry detergent now. Maybe.

I plied my yarn, then boiled it with some Charlies Soap powdered detergent for a couple of hours. I ended up with 44 yards of yarn.

scoured double ply linen yarn

I wanted to make something small that I would actually use regularly, so I knitted the yarn into a dishcloth using this pattern. The non-stretchy linen yarn was very difficult to knit with, so next time I have some linen yarn I’ll try crocheting instead.

The dishcloth was supposed to be square, but my yarn thickness and tension varied, so it came out skewed. The shape reminds me of a stingray. It can go swimming in my kitchen sink.

knitted linen dishcloth

So, the question is, will I do a better job keeping up with washing the dishes now that I have this lovely dishcloth to use?

Posted in Growing and processing flax
6 comments on “Homegrown Linen Dishcloth
  1. Tasha says:

    Impressive—plant-to-finished project!


  2. Kathy says:

    Yes, this is very impressive and interesting to me. I’m not sure I have the patience for all that.


  3. craftgnome says:

    wow, i admire your stik-to-it-iveness in carrying out this project. I love it!!! Ha, I’ve had this wool I bought (in the raw – grease wool) a pound, that I washed when I got it because it was so – in a state of right off the sheeps back stage and that was not something I wanted in my house. So after going thru the process of cleaning it I was exhausted – got it dryed and stored it away. somewhere in the back of my mind was this voice saying, what in the heck are you doing. But my curiosity and the desire to make and do over rode its little whispers, LOL. So it sat around for about a year and in that time I decided to dye it – having gotten myself and wool thru that process It then sat around for about another year. Then I finally got the gumption to get spinning it on hand spindles and have been doing so for a while now here and there bringing this project to about a 4 year time frame, LOL. So I can soooo identify with your process and time frame in the midst of life happening : ). I’m enjoying reading your blog : )


  4. Fadanista says:

    I am seriously impressed with this whole adventure. I am now wondering whether flax will grow in my garden. Your spinning is superb!


  5. […] it is doomed to poor light, but I’m trying anyway. The last time I grew flax I didn’t rett it properly and never got any fiber, but I’m hopeful this time. Not sure how I will manage to […]


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