Saturday, July 27, 2013

Fiber Arts for Bible Teachers & Preachers, Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of this blog series!  The fiber art tools talked about in the last post won't do you any good if there isn't something to use with them.  The following are fibers that are spun to create yarn or thread and then used where needed to create or embellish cloth.

Next Up: Fiber!

She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. Proverbs 31:13

Wool is the hair on a sheep.  It is cut off - sheared - and then prepared to be used by a spinner.  Wool can be spun in-the-grease which means that it isn't washed before spinning and so it retains all of it's natural oils - lanolin - and dirt.  The yarn made in-the-grease is naturally water proof.  I've spun in-the-grease once but I prefer to have my wool washed before I spin it into yarn.  :)

Different breeds of sheep produce different textures of wool.  Not all wool scratches the skin.  Fine wools are great for use in projects that will be worn close to the skin.  Coarse wools are better for coats and rugs where durability and coarseness are best suited.

After the wool has been shorn from the sheep and washed and brushed or combed, it's ready to be spun on the spindle.
If you've ever had anything made from wool, you know that you have to take special care of it or it might become smaller in size than when you originally received it.   I think most people have had a story in their life when they put a wool sweater in the washer and when pulling it out of the drier discovered an end result of a sweater that fit a man before washing that could now fit a child.  Wool likes to felt, which is a process of the fibers interlocking with each other.  The interlocking is what makes that man-sized sweater now child-sized and the fabric of that sweater denser. Felted wool does have its purpose like when I knit a pair of slippers and go through the felting process to make the fabric denser and stronger.

Shearing a sheep with Electric Shears - video resource - not used in Bible times. 
Shearing a sheep with hand shears - video resource - most likely the method used in Bible times. 

Flax (Linen):
But she brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof.  Joshua 2:6
She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. Proverbs 31:13 
She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple.  Proverbs 31:22
The workers in combed flax will be in despair, and the weavers of white cotton. Isaiah 19:9

Flax is a plant and the inner fibers of the plant's stalk is what is processed and then spun to become linen.  Getting flax prepared to spin is not as quick as the process for prepping wool to spin.  First, plant the flax and watch it grown.  After the flowers go away, pull the plants, and then lay the plants in the sun to cure.  After curing, take the seed pods off and then ret the stalks of the plants by soaking them in water for a few weeks.  This retting process is necessary to be able to soften up the outer fibers of the flax plant. The inner fibers is what will be spun into fiber. 

After the retting process is complete, the stalks are laid out to dry.  I'm thinking that it is either this part of the process or the earlier part with the stalks being cured in the sun that is being referred to in Joshua when Rahab hid the spies under the flax on her roof.  The next step is to break the flax stalks so that the outer fibers are broken up to then allow them to be scraped off in a process called scutching.  The inner fibers are then bundled up and beaten until soft.  Hackling (or heckling depending on who is spelling it) is the next step.  This step involves pulling the fibers through iron combs.  This straightens the fibers and removes the short fibers.  The longer fibers are best for fine linen goods and the short fibers called tow were used for coarser fabric.

If you wanted whiter linen, you would then take the flax fiber that made it to this point in the process and wash it in water and lye and then lay it out in the sun to dry.  If you haven't been able to figure it out yet, producing linen fabric from flax is not a quick process.  This explanation hasn't even taken you to the spinning process!

The basic spinning process is covered in the next post but what you need to know about flax is that if the long fibers are being spun, one doesn't need to use a lot of twist in the fiber to make the linen yarn.  Flax is the fiber where a distaff is used the most as it helps arrange the long fibers so that drafting them is easier when they being spun into linen yarn.  Spinning it with wet fingers is helpful to keep the linen yarn smooth. The linen does become softer with use.

The workers in combed flax will be in despair, and the weavers of white cotton. Isaiah 19:9

Cotton is another plant fiber.  The cotton fibers to be spun are those found in the bolls that develop after the flowers have fallen off the cotton plant.  The bolls are removed from the plant then the seeds are removed before the cotton can be spun.  While we think that cotton is by nature white, it also is available in other natural colors such as green, brown, and yellow.

Cotton fibers are short in length so when they are spun they need a lot of twist to hold the fibers together in a yarn.  Light spindles or supported spindles are best to use when spinning cotton fibers to create a fine / thin yarn.  If a heavier spindle is used, the yarn will be thicker.  I prefer to use my charkha to spin cotton instead of using a spindle or my spinning wheel.  The charkha I have is smaller than the one used in this video but the parts and the process are the same. 

Camel Hair: 
 Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.  Mark 1:6
I looked up the Greek on this verse to make sure that "hair" meant hair and not skin; it means hair.  Camel fiber has 2 parts: coarse outer hair and a soft undercoat called camel down.  The camel down is shed once a year in a way similar to how dogs shed their warm winter coats as the weather becomes warmer.  I can't be certain but as the Bible says that John the Baptist's clothing was made of camel hair I think it is likely that it was made of the coarse outer hair though it's possible that it could have been blended with some of the soft undercoat in the spinning process.  This would have resulted in a coarse woven fabric that would have been worn next to the skin. 

Special Fiber Notes:
You shall not wear cloth of wool and linen mixed together.  Deuteronomy 22:11
No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made.  Matthew 9:16  
I grouped these two verses together because, well, they go together.  Remember when I earlier mentioned about wool shrinking when it isn't washed properly?  This would be a good reason not to wear cloth that is made of wool and linen mixed together.  The wool would shrink but the linen wouldn't so the fabric would get all puckered up and weird looking.  I do understand that there are spiritual implications regarding the mixing of the wool and linen but I'll leave that to those called to preach to explain.

The verse in Matthew regarding not putting a new piece of cloth on an old piece has similar principles.  Even if you properly care for wool garments, they will felt down / shrink a little with use.   If you apply a patch to the garment with new material that has not been preshrunk, as the garment continues to be used that new patch which fit perfectly at first will start to shrink down as well and the hole you were trying to patch will now become bigger.  This is definitely not the desired effect you wanted when you put the patch on in the first place. 
For the moth will eat them up like a garment, and the worm will eat them like wool;   Isaiah 51:8
Wool is great for warmth and covering for people but the moth considers wool to be a tasty treat.  Moths can and will destroy wool in whatever form it can chew.  As a crafty person with a wool stash - roving for spinning, yarn to knit, knitted and woven items - I have to be on the look out for the worms and moths to make sure that my stash, my investment, my hard work is not destroyed by these little creatures. 

 Just a note of clarification: Mohair comes from the Angora goat.  Angora comes from the Angora bunny.  Two different animals; 2 different fibers.  Neither of these animals are specifically named in the Bible but as I'd also like to educate the general public concerning fiber arts, I figured it couldn't hurt to put this information out for everyone to read.


I hope that this post has been useful.  Don't forget to read Part 1 and then come back and read Part 3.  Remember, if you have questions, please post a comment so I can answer any questions you may have regarding this topic.  Oh, don't forget to share this post with others.  :)

Thank you,
Sister Jane
Romans 14:8

ps: The Whole Craft of Spinning by Carol Kroll and Hands on Spinning by Lee Raven were the major resources used to help me write this post.   

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