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.


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.

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4 Replies to “Hackles”

  1. Josefin, I loved reading your flax posts. I took a 4 day flax class at Vesterheim in Decorah, Iowa, USA a few years ago, in late summer. Very hot and humid week I do remember. We were presented with bundles of cut flax from the instructor’s flax field. In the 4 days, we retted, broke the flax (uff, hard work!), hackled the flax in several different densities of hackles, spun and finally wove small samples on looms. The instructor (from a small Wisconsin town named Stockholm) brought several flax spinning wheels with and spindles too. It was a fun class, and I learned so much, most of all, why linen is expensive. I love linen. Thank you.

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