How to Process Flax into Linen

How to Process Flax to Linen

Flax has been grown and processed by man for at least two thousand years.  As a material, the complete plant can be used, whether its using the fibers to spin into linen, the seed for food supplements or oils, or the chaff to be pressed into fiberboard.  These videos portray the processing of the plant from field to strick ready to spin into linen thread.

For the history reconstructionist, processing flax presents a whole series of archaic terms and tools to explore.  In the field, the plant is pulled up by its roots and placed in  stooks to dry before using the ripple to remove the seed pods.  Then the plant is retted either by leaving it to partially rot in the dew of the fields or in a body of water.  Once retted, the stalks are again dried and crushed in the flax break.  From there, the remaining fiber is scutched to remove bits of the chaff and then still further, pulled through a series of graduated hatchels to clean and align the plant fibers.   And this is all before even beginning to consider spinning the plant fibers.

If you want to try this, flax seed or retted flax stalks can be purchased through the Landis Valley Museum seed project at http://www.landisvalleymuseum.org .

Click once to view video.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

candace January 23, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Hello friends;

Thank you for your videos I found them very helpful. My husband and I are planning on raising flax plants this year and I was hoping to make some thread from them. Now that I see the process I am weary that I will succeed this year lol. I was wondering if you knew any where I could purchase these tools or if you had directions how to make them yourself. I would be most thankful. We are trying to become self dependent and learn the old ways of doing things. Thank you
candace Garner

Cedric January 24, 2011 at 1:28 am

Thanks for your question. It’s a good one. First, one good thing about flax is that you once it’s processed in the field, it can be dried and put in storage. Just make sure you keep the mice out of it. Some of the tools are relatively easy to make. The ripple for removing seed pods can be made from a 1″x6″ pine board with teeth cut in it. The scutching knife and board are similarly straightforward. The break is a little more tricky and they are harder to find even as antiques. We’ve made one with a gang of 2″x4″‘s but think that can be improved on. A decent woodworker might be able to come up with a solution. Hackles or hetchels can still be found on the antique market at near reasonable prices; however the fine hackles are harder to locate. The coarse hackles are essentially a set of large wrought square nails. The finer ones are similar. I have seen a frog used for the fine hatchel. It’s one of those prickly things people use for flower arranging. All that said, videos on making the tools would be exciting and you’ve got us thinking. I’d encourage you to give it a try. We learn more by doing.

John Sawyer September 20, 2011 at 7:25 pm

Excellent! Many thanks…I’ve grown a small amount of flax this year for purpose of making my own bowstrings.
It seems I got lucky timing the harvest, the stalks being yellow to the roots. The tools seem easy enough to make, so much so that I would guess there to be a market for repro’s. I’ll use a washtub for retting, the muggy weather here in Alabama probably too humid for laying out, not to mention the chiggers that would infest the plants! Thanks again!

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