Learning The Art Of Natural Fabric Making

Oct 26, 2016

The Northern Utah Fiber Artisans is a guild which focuses on knitting and making crafts with fabric. This often includes producing their own fibers which will be turned into cloth. The guild recently held a Flax and Fiber workshop in Logan Canyon where the participants learned the process of making linen out of a flax plant.

Bob King and his wife Jenny King found themselves drawn to fiber arts when they started spinning wool from their own sheep. Through the years, they learned how to use fiber from buffalo, alpaca, cotton and flax to create clothing. Bob attributes much of his success of learning the art of fiber to the Northern Utah Fiber Artisans Guild.

“For 10 years we kind of taught ourselves," Bob King said. "Just did things ourselves. Then we learned about the guild. A lady moved into Ogden, got people together and we created a guild. We learned more in one year participating in the guild than we did in the 10 years trying to learn on our own.”

With trees and a river behind his workshop, King taught the attendees of the workshop - made up of guild members and interested locals - the process of creating linen. This process, when done by hand, takes months, including drying the entire flax plant and rotting away a large portion of the plant in water. The final step is to separate the fibers, that are found inside the stem, from the rest of the plant. Each participant was able to complete the separation by breaking the long stems and dragging it through a board of nails. After that step, the fibers can be spun into thread.

“So flax is really strong - a lot of garments are made with flax. With linen. flax is a plant but once it’s broken down and made into a fiber, it becomes linen" King said. "Real fine, delicate things can be made. It’s not always used as a garment because initially, it’s quite rough. But the more you use it, the more you wear it, the more you wash it; the softer it gets.”

King thinks that learning to make thread and clothing is important for communities.

“Appreciation," he said. "People nowadays, just don’t appreciate what goes through a garment or a piece of clothing or a sack or bag or something like that. And nowadays most things are already made for us - a lot of things are made out of petroleum and stuff like that. But before all that came into existence, they were all made with natural fibers.”

King also finds the connection between the wearer of the garment and the fabric important. He believes natural fibers are more compatible.

“They’re much more user friendly," he said. "It’s friendly to the environment and everything. But friendlier to us ... With the wool and with sheep, the byproduct you get is lanolin. That’s the main base we use for hand cream. Lanolin is close to our own body oil.”