Flax break and scutching knives

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. Last week I presented my hackles and today I will show you my flax break and scutching knives.

Breaking the core

The flax fibers grow around a cellulose core. To separate the spinnable flax fibers from the core you use a flax break. You put the bundle of retted flax on the horizontal board and break it with the handle along all the length of the fibers.

The flax break helps you break the cellulose core around which the spinnable fibers grow.
The flax break helps you break the cellulose core around which the spinnable fibers grow.

Flax break and scutching knives

A flax break is quite big and heavy and not just something you find at a yard sale, especially not in Stockholm. But a couple of months ago I got a tip in the Swedish Facebook spinning group that a local weaving guild had a yard sale. I knew we didn’t have room for this tool, but Dan convinced me that we should go and have a look. After all, I had been looking for flax processing tools for years! So we went. This was in the beginning of the pandemic and we were only allowed to enter the cabin with the tools one party at a time. There were two beautiful flax breaks, one of which was spoken for already. But the other one was mine and it was 200 years old.

A flax break from 1821
My flax break is from 1821. Look at the wear on that handle!

There were lots of other lovely tools, but since we didn’t even have room for the break either in the car or at home, I let them be.

Not so shabby chic

The guild weavers were outside of the cabin ready to answer any questions. I told them about my work and they were delighted that the break would have such a dedicated new home. I asked them if they happened to have scutching knives too, and they did. And a pair of hand cards with leather pads.

Two fairly modern scutching knives. The larger one is dated 2000. The smaller one has no date, but it looks older.
Two fairly modern scutching knives. The larger one is dated 2000. The smaller one has no date, but it looks older.

As I reluctantly decided I had finished shopping I asked them how much I owed them. They said they had different price lists for shabby chic byers and real crafters, so they sold it all to me for $25. Wouldn’t that be something for the used tools market!

Perspectives

When we got home with my treasures our 17-year-old came out of the house. As we unloaded the car he said “Mum, you bought a flax break!”. Now, with a raise of hands, how many city teenagers would you say have uttered that sentence this century (or last)?

Oh, just one more picture of the flax break. It's so pretty.
Oh, just one more picture of the flax break. It’s so pretty.

When people ask me if our children have learned how to spin I say no and add that they have lots of passive knowledge. They know the difference between Gotland, rya, Texel and finull sheep, they know my different spindle types and they obviously know the names of the flax processing tools. I’m proud of that.

Older flax posts

You can read earlier flax related posts here:

Happy spinning!


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8 Replies to “Flax break and scutching knives”

  1. It is such a beautiful tool and so old. It just shows that they knew how to make things. I’m glad it has found a good home. You have come so far on this journey of flax!

  2. I loved when my now grown up sons were young and they would come home from school and mention that the class had talked about such and so. They usually (always) knew much more about a few topics than even the teacher….they’d end their reply with ..”oh yes, my Mom does that”…ha
    Of course there always the other stories as from our younger son who would be awakened during the night by his closet door swinging open and bags of fleece falling out….no wonder he is a Tim Burton fan…

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