Plant Fibres for Spinning and Papermaking

Cotton Plant

Fibres derived from plants are also known as cellulose fibres (except for Soybean which is a protein fibre, see below). These cellulose fibres are used in spinning and papermaking (using both the traditional technique and the silk papermaking technique), 3d embroidery techniques and feltmaking when combined with wool fibres or worked with a felting needle. Cellulose fibres are best dyed with Fibre Reactive Procion MX dyes.

For spinning, plant fibres need a high ratio wheel to give the twist for these short stapled fibres. We recommend a small whorl or much treadling before allowing the yarn to wind on to the bobbin. It can be spun directly from the sliver or carded and rolled into a puni for traditional long draw spinning.

Bast fibre is collected from the inner bark (or phloem) surrounding the stem of dicotyledonous plants (flowering plants with net-veined leaves). The fibre has high tensile strength and is used for yarn, rope and paper production. Examples of bast fibre include Jute (for weaving Hessian), Flax (for weaving Linen), Hemp, Soybean and Ramie.

Cotton Sliver

George Weil Cotton SliversThe quality of cotton is found in its staple length, with long stapled Sea Island and Egyptian as the finest, the shorter American form the most common and Asian cotton as the poorer quality. It can be obtained in the raw, deseeded state or as a combed roving ready for spinning.

The red and green coloured cotton sliver has specially bred back to give the original boll colours. They are rare and grown under careful control. The colours are enhanced by boiling yarn in an alkaline solution after spinning.

The staple length of these cotton fibres is between 1-2.5cm.

Reclaimed Blue Jeans Fibre

Recycling Blue JeansBlue jeans fibre is a pre-consumer reclaimed fibre. It is garnetted from denim scraps from the cutting rooms of denim jeans sewing operations. The fibre contains bits of visible threads to make an interesting textured yarn. It can be added to wool fibres in felt making and blended to create paper.

This paper was made with Recycled Blue Jeans fibre using the traditional papermaking technique by Susan Cutts. Susan’s beautiful paper sculptures can be viewed in the Gallery section of her website. The web page will open in a separate window.

Blue jeans fibre can also be used effectively in the silk fusion (or silk papermaking) technique in which the fibres are laid out in a thin layer between two sheets of mesh and then bonded together by a medium pushed through the mesh.


Fibrecrafts Plant FibresBamboo fibre is short and fluffy, similar to raw cotton, with lustrous, curly fibres running throughout. This derivative of the bamboo plant will spin as cotton and cashmere and produce a textured yarn. The cellulose fibre will give interest and variety in papermaking.

Soybean (Soy Silk or Soya Bean)

Fibrecrafts Plant FibresFor the purist, Soybean fibre should not appear on this page. Although it is a plant fibre, it is a protein fibre and is the residue of tofu production. Also known as Soy Silk, it has a natural colour similar to Tussah Silk and a good sheen. The fibre comes in sliver form with a 5.6cm staple length and spins like silk. This silk for vegans is most effectively dyed using Acid dyes.

To extract the fibre, the Soya bean are flaked, the oil removed and the flakes treated with a solution of sodium sulphite to dissolve the protein. Hydrochloric acid is added and the protein precipitates as a curd. This is dissolved in aqueous caustic soda and the resultant solution is aged or matured. It is then extruded into a coagulating bath similar to that used in casein fibre.

Tencel (or Lyocell)

Fibrecrafts Plant FibresTencel is a very fine high lustre fibre derived from wood pulp which feels similar to white silk thereby needing a little more twist than wool when spinning. It can be blended with other fibres to add lustre and strength.

Flax Tow

The best quality flax is water retted. Dew retted flax is slightly darker in colour. Flax line is the hackled form used on a distaff, and produces a fine smooth linen yarn. It is a bast long fibre and so closely resembles hemp that a high power microscope is needed to tell the difference.

Flax Tow is the shorter fibres left after hackling, and produces a textured linen yarn. The short, fibres are ideal for blending with other fibres for an effect yarn or spinning on their own to a strong linen yarn for weaving and summer knits. The fibres can also be used in papermaking.

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