Flax brush

A flax brush is traditionally made with hog bristle. The bristles were usually bundled together at the end and tied with waxed linen thread for a handle and painted with a mixture of tar and resin.

I used to go the Skansen Outdoor museum every August to process my harvest from my experimental flax patch since I didn’t have any tools. The past few years I have managed to get hold of flax processing tools of my I used to go the Skansen Outdoor museum every August to process my harvest from my experimental flax patch since I didn’t have any tools. The past few years I have managed to get hold of flax processing tools of my own. In this summer series of short blog posts I will present my flax processing tools. Previous presentations have been about my hackles, flax break and scutching knives and scutching board. This week I present my last, and most rare tool, the flax brush.

A flax brush history

A rare tool for flax processing is the flax brush. It has been most common in the county of Ångermanland in the middle of Sweden but has been used in other parts of mid-Sweden as well. Some sources also show that brushes have been used in some parts of Belgium, Flandres and eastern Finland.

The flax brush was used for the finest flax and the most exclusive linen products. After the hackling and just before the spinner dressed the flax on the distaff they would brush it to get rid of any short pieces of tow. This would also give an extra shine to the flax stricks.

The left strick is unbrushed and the right brushed with my flax brush. A bit shinier, a bit more organized.
The left strick is unbrushed and the right brushed with my flax brush. A bit shinier, a bit more organized.

Ångermanland has been the epicenter of flax husbandry in Sweden. Brushing the flax was a mandatory step in the flax preparation process for the fines flax fibers. In some cases three different hackles were used, followed by two flax brushes for the very finest fibers. The most common combination was two hackles and one brush.

The brush is traditionally made with hog bristle. The bristles were carefully tied together with waxed linen thread and covered with a mixture of tar and resin to form a handle.

A flax brush is traditionally made with hog bristle. The bristles were usually bundled together at the end and tied with waxed linen thread for a handle and painted with a mixture of tar and resin.
A flax brush is traditionally made with hog bristle. The bristles were usually bundled together at the end and tied with waxed linen thread for a handle and covered with a mixture of tar and resin to form a handle.

Source: Linberedning och linborsten i norra Ångermanland, by Örnsköldsviks museum

My flax brush

I didn’t know about flax brushes until I visited the study collection at Sätergläntan craft education center a couple of years ago. Marie, the weaving teacher at Sätergläntan showed me the collection brush and told me what it was for. When I found one at Swedish eBay this June I knew I needed to get it.

Helena Myhrman, Sollefteå, Ångermanland is brushing her flax with a flax brush.
Helena Myhrman, Sollefteå, Ångermanland is brushing her flax with a brush similar to mine.

When the brush arrived in the mail the seller had attached a lovely photo of a spinner brushing her flax with a flax brush. There is a name on the back of the photo, Helena Myhrman, and where she was from. I don’t know when the picture was taken, but my guess is the beginning of the 20th century. From the picture it looks like she has been doing this for a long time. Her elbow comfortably on the table to get a good height on the strick of flax without straining her arm. The brush in a light grip and a swinging motion. Her relaxed but focused gaze. She knows her stuff. I wonder who she was, how long she had been spinning and growing flax and what happened to the textiles that were woven from it.

A flax brush made of hog bristle.
Imagine that a hog bristle brush can be such a treasure!

Older flax posts

You can find earlier flax related posts here:

Happy spinning!


You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Hackles

The hackles have a raised wood foundation where the teeth are fastened and a metal brim around it.

I used to go the Skansen Outdoor museum every August to process my harvest from my experimental flax patch since I didn’t have any tools. The past few years I have managed to get hold of flax processing tools of my own. In this summer series of short blog posts I will present my flax processing tools, beginning with the hackles.

Flax processing tools

Flax is labour intensive and you need the right tools to remove the fiber from the cellulose core and arrange it into parallel bundles. Of course it is possible without modern (in a flax processing perspective) tools. Before I got my tools I used a fist-sized rock to break the flax. But I have dreamed of owning my own set of flax processing tools.

An old school poster with flax processing! Break, scutch and hackles. In the background you can see the flax field where the flax has dried and put out to ret.
A school poster from 1939 with flax processing! Break, scutch and hackles. In the background you can see the flax field where the flax has been dried and put out to ret.

After the flax has been dried, retted and dried again you need a break to break the cellulose core of the plant, a scutch to remove the broken cellulose bits and hackles to arrange the remaining flax fibers parallel.

I live in Stockholm, which isn’t the best place to find old farming tools. So whenever we go outside of Stockholm I put my textile crafting goggles on and start hunting for interesting things.

Finding hackles

For the past few summers we have rented a log cabin at a sheep farm in Tivenden in Sweden. Not far from the cabin is a large flea market that we make sure to visit. The first time we came I had big hopes of finding spinning wheels, hand cards and flax processing tools. I got quite disappointed really. There was a lot of nice things, a lot of rubbish and nothing of what I had hoped for. In the last stall we visited I found a hackle, though. Later I also found a second hackle at Swedish eBay. I don’t remember which is which, though.

Flax hackles in my experimental flax patch.
Flax hackles in my experimental flax patch. The teeth of the right hackle are a bit denser than the teeth of the left.

Unknown history

I don’t know anything about these hackles. One has the initials VES. They look similar regarding the construction – a raised wooden foundation for the teeth and a metal rim around it. One of the hackles has a simple carved pattern on the front.

The hackles have a raised wood foundation where the teeth are fastened and a metal brim around it.
The hackles have a raised wood foundation where the teeth are fastened and a metal brim around it.

Comparing to other hackles I have seen in the Swedish digital museum I would say they are from the late 19th or early 20th century.

Hackling

I have used these hackles a few times when I still processed my flax at home. They work really well. One of the hackles has denser teeth so I start with the sparse hackles and move on to the denser for a good result.

The old wood feels so smooth and is a joy to handle. Knowing that these hackles have been used probably over a hundred years ago makes my heart tingle. There are still pieces of fibers stuck between the wood and the metal rim. I see them as my lucky charms that give me the power to do the flax justice.

Older flax posts

You can read earlier flax related posts here:

My hackles with flax from the 2015 harvest. There are pieces of cellulose left, which indicates that the flax was under retted.

You can find me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.