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Flax KnotI gathered several types of grasses, stalks of wheat, anything that could be dried and turned into straw.  I tried soaking them to make them more workable, and that did increase their flexibility.  But they were still fairly brittle and scratchy, not ideal for a wearable fly.  The round strands looked nice, but they would kink easily when bent.  I soon figured out that I could split the strands to make them flat, and that they would be more workable when flat.  But there was the inescapable problem of scale.  While I wanted the materials to be authentic, the grasses I was using were simply too coarse for tying something as small as a fly while maintaining the light, fine texture I required.  I wanted something with the consistency of hair.

As I researched plant fibers more, I came upon one grassy fiber that is well known for weaving fine fabrics: Flax.  Flax is used for several purposes, the seed being taken as a dietary supplement or crushed to harvest the oil, known as flaxseed or linseed oil.  Most important to me was that the fiber is used to weave linen.  If it is capable of making the fabric used to make paper bills and fine clothes, I reasoned, it ought to work for me.  Also, although it likely originated in the Middle East, flax has long featured prominently in European culture, today even serving as the emblem of Northern Ireland.  While the type of straw referred to in the Rumpelstiltskin story is not specified, for the sake of authenticity I at least wanted to use a grassy fiber from the same area of the world in which the tale was set.  Flax is prepared by beating the plant’s stem to help separate the fibers, followed by rhetting (a fancy word for rotting) the other parts of the plant away, leaving behind the long, weavable structural fibers.  While that process sounded fascinating, and I love preparing my materials myself, I didn’t have time for this project to prepare the flax from scratch.  So I bought some.

The flax was wonderful.  It came in a long skein and looked like a woman’s long, flowing hair. It had a rich, earthy blonde color.  Perhaps best of all, it even had the rich smell of straw!  That the fly would not only look but also smell like straw was an extremely pleasing prospect.  The flax was very workable both wet and dry and had exactly the fineness I was looking for.


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