Spin Flax and Cotton

Oct 8, 2012

Spinning Through the Ages

We've invited Anne Merrow, Interweave spinning and knitting video producer and eMag editor, to share some exciting details about our upcoming workshop video with Norman Kennedy. Norman has spent his life travelling the world and learning traditional spinning and weaving techniques used to make cloth that needed to last a lifetime. We are very excited to be able to make his vast knowledge available to spinners with our new Interweave video.

Norman Kennedy's skills as a spinner, weaver, singer, and raconteur earned him the National Heritage Fellowship and recognition as a Master Traditional Artist by the Folk & Traditional Arts Program National Endowment for the Arts. Photo by Hester + Hardaway, Photographers.
Anne Merrow: Spinning always makes me feel like I'm practicing an ancient craft. With my upright double-treadle wheel and a braid of handpainted superwash top, I'm connected to the line of spinners before me, right?

But really, I'm a Jane-come-lately.

Spinning wheels are newfangled devices; why, they're only a millennium young! Wool spinning is about 5,500 years old in general and 700 years old in North America. If I really want to get connected to my spinning roots (as it were), I should break out some flax or cotton and a handspindle.

Historical Knowledge
Though he clearly didn't learn from the first spinners of flax and cotton, Norman Kennedy learned the techniques of the spinners and weavers who made textiles necessary for maintaining any home. From Cajun spinners, he discovered how to use a cotton bow to clean and open cotton fiber by hand. He practiced spinning cotton on a great wheel (also known as a walking wheel) outfitted with an accelerated minor's head. He learned to grow flax from seed, harvest it, and transform it into fine cloth in the old style, using flax brakes and hackles and distaffs.  

As Master Weaver at Colonial Williamsburg, Norman created textiles using the methods used in America's first years.
From his youth in Aberdeen, Scotland, Norman traveled throughout the British Isles and around the world learning spinning and weaving skills that were in danger of disappearing forever. By watching and asking questions, he preserved generations of textile skills—and through his new video workshop, Spin Flax and Cotton: Traditional Techniques with Norman Kennedy, he has given today's spinners the opportunity to do the same.

Spinning Yarns
In addition to his textile knowledge, Norman is well known as a performer. His reputation as a folk singer and raconteur is even better known in some quarters than his extraordinary textile knowledge. I winced when Norman told how New England homes were burned down by drying flax carelessly next to the hearth, and I chortled when he mentioned how Christopher Columbus's status as the son of a mere wool weaver made it even more difficult to secure support for his expedition to the Americas. (If only his family had been linen weavers or—better yet—cotton spinners!)

Spending a few hours with Norman Kennedy is as delightful as it is educational. Join the journey of discovery in Spin Flax and Cotton: Traditional Techniques with Norman Kennedy.

Featured Product

Spin Flax and Cotton: Traditional Techniques with Norman Kennedy

Availability: In Stock
Price: $19.99


Learn techniques for spinning flax and cotton in this DVD workshop! Norman Kennedy shares traditional techniques passed down from generations for processing and working with these plant fibers.


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Crystalheart wrote
on Oct 8, 2012 8:35 PM

Hi there, Would love to see this video featuring this talented weaver of flax

and cotton.!  The museum where I work is located near the lush Memramcook Valley, which used to be the largest producer of flax in mid 1800's Canada. The Bay of Fundy marshlands were dyked by the Acadians, to produce the fertile soils for farmlands, and the climate was just right for the planting and harvesting for flax to be made into linen, and other products which came from the flax such as linseed oil.

Just wanted to point out a typo in the article, where you mention an

accellerated minor's head. It's actually a Miner's head, it was invented by Amos

Miner, from Massachusetts, while he lay recuperating on the daybed in the family

kitchen watching the women work at their great wheels, he figured there had to

be a faster way to get those wheels to spin. He thought about it, and when he

felt better, he went to work building it.

He set up shop in New York State in the early 1800's.

There is information about this in the Spinning Wheel Sleuth magazines and also in  Candace Crockett's Complete Spinning Book I believe. We have a copy at

the museum, so I can't double check right now as I am home and don't have a copy of the book here.

Thank you,

Denyse Milliken

Tour Guide, Spinner & Weaver

St. James Textile Museum

Dorchester, New Brunswick, Canada