SOAR mentor Gayle Vallance shares the Best of Bast

Gayle Vallance's enthusiasm for spinning bast fibers is contagious! Come join Gayle's Best of Bast workshop at SOAR (Spin-Off Autumn Retreat) in St. Charles, IL, on October 20-26, 2013. Here is a sneak-peek. ~Kate

Interested in learning more about flax and other bast fibers? Join Gayle Vallance at SOAR 2013 for Best of Bast. Photo courtesy of Kate Larson.


The three main sources of plant fibers that can be used for textiles are found in stems (bast fibers), leaves (abaca, sisal, New Zealand flax), and seeds (cotton). Bast fibers were the first fibers used by humans to make cording and braids. Traces of the fibers have been found in the earliest civilizations in Egypt, China, Peru, Europe, and central Asia. The bast family includes plants such as flax, hemp, bamboo, ramie, nettles, jute, kenaf, and kudzu.

Bast fibers are the long, strong bundles that enable plant stems to stand upright. The fibers are made up of long, thick-walled, overlapping cells held together by waxes and resins. They run from the root to the tip of the stem, with bundles more numerous and three times thicker at the root end than at the tip. Most usable bundles are found near the middle of the stem. Each flax stem contains between fifteen and thirty-five bundles. Each bundle contains ten to forty individual fibers. The full length of good quality flax fiber is 18-24" (45-61 cm), with the fiber becoming finer toward the tip. 

To obtain the bundles, the outer bark (cuticle and epidermis) and woody core of the stem must be removed to expose the fiber bundles, which are embedded in pectinous gums and waxes.  Although machines do the job now, the process of getting the fibers out of the tough stalks follows the same steps as it did thousands of years ago. Retting, scutching, and hackling are processes that remove the outer bark and woody core. Boiling spun yarns and fabrics removes the gums, waxes, and other non-cellulosic substances.

These are humble plants that can be grown quickly with a minimum of pollution and environmental damage, but their use is limited and production threatened. The purpose of this workshop is to encourage spinners and weavers to use the beautiful bast fibers so that good quality fiber continues to be available to us.

 

 

 

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