Scutching knife

There are so many beautiful antique scutching knives out there. In flea markets, yard sales and museums. Ornamented to fit a specific hand, often as a wedding or engagement gift. Clearly used by a skilled hand. A right hands. As a leftie I realized that I will never find an antique scutching knife for a leftie. But I worked myself around that.

With a simple search for skäktkniv or skäkteträ in the Swedish Digital museum you will find lots if beautiful old scutching knives. Here is one example with a sweet and plain design. And, as usual, made for a right-handed person.

Scutching knife from the Swedish Digital Museum.

While I have seen some neutral scutching knives (I actually have two neutral scutching knives, from the 1980’s), I have never seen one made specifically for a left-handed person. We are only about ten per cent of the population and in many cultures left-handedness has been frowned upon and even forbidden.

A new scutching knife

I follow a very talented wood worker on Instagram, Frej Lonnfors. He makes the most beautiful carving work. Last year he posted pictures of flax processing tools – exquisite hand distaffs, wheel distaffs and distaff pins. One day he posted a picture of a magnificent scutching knife. That’s when I realized that I could get my ornamented scutching knife. Not antique, but made to fit my hand, my left hand.

I contacted Frej and he was happy to do it. This was in late October. He had several orders to complete and I wasn’t in any hurry to process my flax that time of year, so he put my request on hold until he had caught up with his work. Just this week I got my treasure in the mail.

The features

As I talked to Frej about the design my first and foremost wish was for it to be comfortable to work with and fit my hand. I wanted a subtle ornamentation and sent him a few images from the Digital museum to use as inspiration together with his own artistic expression. I also said I would like to feel the traces from the tools in my hand as I used the scutching knife.

I think he captured my requests exquisitely. I love the tool traces inside the handle. The ornamentation is just perfectly subtle and I can see and feel the traces of the band knife and axe on the blade. Frej worked in birch wood, which is one of my favourites.

Test scutching

This week Dan, our daughter and I have been busy planning and organizing the reception for our son’s graduation from upper-secondary school, so there has been no time for anything else, let alone processing flax (I’m so tired I could sleep for a week). But I did carve out (pun very much intended) fifteen minutes to test drive my sweet new scutching knife on my very modest 2020 flax harvest that I broke six months ago.

The scutching knife worked perfectly. It is lovely to hold both when it comes to ergonomics and the sensation of the wood in my hand. I love the notion of a scutching knife made just for me as I work with the flax I have grown right here in the flower bed outside our house.

Processes

As I work in the scutching part of the flax preparation process I think of the process of making the scutching knife. The designing, planning, rough carving, shaping, fine carving and finishing. I have no idea what the parts of the process are called, let alone what they are, but my point is that there is a specific process in the maker’s mind and hands. I have no part in this process, but it is still there when I use the scutching knife. Like a sweet whisper from a craft cousin, holding my hand as I scutch away with a singing heart. I can’t wait to prepare the rest of my 2020 and 2021 flax. Meanwhile, my 2022 flax is growing in the allotment beds.

The 2022 flax is cozily growing in the allotment bed.

Thank you Frej for my wonderful scutching knife. I am sure we will be very happy together for many flax harvests to come.

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 missanything!
  • 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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • 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.

Spinning championships 2021

It’s that time of the year again – the Swedish spinning championships. If I remember correctly I have participated in the championships since 2015. I don’t want to miss this opportunity to spin from wool and instructions that I haven’t chosen myself and learn from the experience.

Last year I won the gold medal for my embroidery yarn. This year I didn’t get any medals, but I would still like to share my yarns and techniques with you.

Championship format

In the spinning championships all spinners get the same fiber and the same rules. The spinners get around one month to spin their yarn and submit it. A jury confers and the medalists are revealed a few weeks later. Usually the prize ceremony takes place on the fleece and spinning championships in different locations every year, but this year and 2020 they were both digital.

There were two competitions this year: Värmland wool and flax.

Värmland wool

The assignment for the Värmland wool was to spin a yarn for knitting, 2-ply or more. We got raw Värmland lamb’s wool in two shades.

Colour separation

Since we got two different colours of the Värmland fleece I figured they would want me to do something with the colours. But two seemed too few, so I decided to make three shades out of the two colours. Using combs I teased each colour separately. I blended a third batch of half dark and half light wool into a shade between the two browns. After that I hand carded each colour separately into rolags.

As I went through the wool I realized that the two colours had different qualities. The darker brown was silky soft and the lighter a bit coarser. I should have listened to this and blended the colours for an even quality. But I was so hung up on the colours so I kept going with the separation.

The wool was a bit difficult to work with. There were lots of very short sections, and the combination with basically no crimp made the fibers quite slippery and reluctant to conform in the twist. This was especially true for the light brown staples with coarser fibers.

Also I realized that I may have used the wrong hand cards ( 72 tpi) but with the very fine fibers I probably should have chosen my finer cards (108 tpi) for a more even fiber distribution in the rolags.

I divided the colours into two piles for two singles with the same amount of the three shades. Somehow I hoped that I would be able to card and spin consistently enough to make the singles equal in length and sections. It didn’t really work out the way I had planned, but still looked good.

Consecutive spinning

I spin a lot on my floor supported Navajo style spindles. I choose them when I want to spin woolen yarn on the bulkier side, but also for finer yarns. You gotta love those arm’s length longdraws.

With this project I wanted to practice in something of a consecutive spinning. I don’t know if this is the correct term, though (please let me know if you have the correct term for this technique). I’m referring to a technique where you spin one spindleful of yarn into a roving or sliver with a very light twist. Then you slide the cop off the shaft and spin the yarn again. A bit more, but still not finished. You keep going until you are happy, 3–4 times is not unusual.

As I understand it, many Navajo spinners often use this technique when they spin yarn for Navajo rugs. The technique facilitates an even yarn and goes a bit faster than a double drafting technique.

First round

For this yarn I chose to spin in three rounds. In the first round I just made a long roving with a very light twist, just enough to keep the fiber together. I made sure I was at a point where the fibers could slide past each other without coming apart. This is the point I call the point of twist engagement. This is where I feel the spinning most alive, where I, with just a very light roll with my thumb, can manipulate the twist so that the fibers work with me towards an effortless draft.

Second round

The second round I drafted some more and added some more twist, but still close enough the point of twist engagement to bring me the freedom to work more with my yarn in a third round.

Third round

For the third and final round I drafted a little more and added the final twist before I 2-plied the two singles on my spinning wheel.

The third round became my final round, where I drafted a little more and added the final twist. As it turned out, I had added too much twist in the second round, making drafting in this third round somewhat of a challenge. But, that’s what I like about these championships – I learn a lot along the way.

A soaked and finished Värmland 2-ply yarn spun in rounds on a floor supported spindle and 2-plied on a spinning wheel.

Final touch

I have no problem plying on spindles, but I know I can achieve a consistent plying twist on the spinning wheel. Since I didn’t want to jeopardize things I plied the spindle spun singles on my spinning wheel.

I was very happy with having tried new techniques and having learned so much from this project. I wasn’t very happy with the yarn, though. But one nice thing with the Spinning championships is that every contestant gets access to the jury’s assessment and learn what they can develop their skills. I’m looking forward to reading it when it comes.

Flax

For the other competition we got industrially prepared line flax. I bought the same brand of line flax a few years ago and I had worked with it all summer, so I knew its challenges. The assignment was to spin a yarn with two or more plies. The purpose with the yarn was knitting. I was very startled by this since all literature on flax preparation and spinning is aimed at weaving yarns. I literally had no clue to how I could adapt my spinning to a knitting yarn.

As I prepared for this post I realized that I hadn’t taken any photos of the flax preparation steps. Therefore most of the photos are from a different flax spinning project. So the fiber is different but the techniques the same.

Rehackling, brushing and dressing

The flax was very dense. Therefore I rehackled it with two different hackles. I knew from before that this flax had lots of different lengths, so I also knew that a lot of shorter fibers would be removed in the rehackling.

After that I brushed it with my lovely flax brush to bring it some extra shine and to remove the last short bits. I lost almost 50 percent of the weight in these steps, but ended up with the longest fibers in my preparation. And I saved the removed fibers for a later tow yarn.

Dressing the distaff

I dressed the distaff the only way I know how to – in a fan shape. This takes a lot of time, but I imagine all ways of distaff dressing take time. The fibers need to be well separated and easily catch on to each other in a consistent way. You can see how I create my fan and dress my distaff in this video.

I used the fan technique to arrange the flax before dressing the distaff (image from a different flax project)

Spinning and skeining

I wet spun the yarn (counter-clockwise) to make it strong and shiny. I tried to give it a little less twist than I would for a weaving yarn. This was the only thing I could think of to adapt the yarn for knitting.

I wet spun the flax counter-clockwise on my spinning wheel (image from a different flax project).

I used my niddy-noddy to wind a skein after having plied my yarn. The yarn went through a bowl of water to avoid fraying, and then through a niks. A niks is an Estonian tool for tensioning the yarn when skeining, but without breaking skin. I made mine from a willow stick. You can see a lovely video about the niks here.

Scouring

This summer has been my summer of flax spinning (more on that in an upcoming post). I think I have spun around 500 grams of flax yarn. But I haven’t dared to scour it. To be able to submit my championships yarn I would have to, though.

I read a couple of flax books, but most of them had scouring methods that involved a whole home chemistry lab or ingredients that aren’t readily available. So I asked around online and finally bought soda ash. It seemed like a chemistry lab on its own, but I managed to use it without any injuries. I boiled the skein in two one hour baths with soda ash and soap and they turned out light and soft.

My finished contribution to the 2021 Swedish spinning championships.

I’m very happy with my flax yarn and especially about all that I have learned from spinning it. I will continue my flax journey next summer. Perhaps I will even dare to spin my homegrown flax too.

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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.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.

A week of creativity

This blog post could have been about a five-day course in wool knowledge at Sätergläntan craft education center. However, the course was canceled. I was very sad about this, but I did keep the days off from my day job. Suddenly I found myself in a week of creativity.

A whole week to myself in the brightest and most thriving part of the year. I had some things planned but also lots of time to explore and create unplanned.

A park bench

Dan’s birthday was coming up and I had planned to build him a park bench. Recently Erik Eje Almqvist published a book called Hammare och spik (Hammer and nail) that builds on Enzo Mari’s idea of functional furniture with right angles that anyone can build. The book contains descriptions of stools, chairs, benches, tables, shelves and more that are based on standard Swedish timber measurements. I got the timber sawed up on Monday at the timber store and help from my father bringing the stuff home.

I spent a large part of Tuesday building the bench. It was a very hot day, but nice and cool in the basement where we have our storage room. The construction was simple, functional and very sturdy. It could even endure the wonkiness of a beginner’s mistakes.

Wednesday I created what I call crafting graffiti – an embroidered message of love for Dan. I drew the motif on the bench and drilled holes along the drawn lines and sanded down the roughness from the drilling. I wanted to make a root stitch, but the root (or in this case a split ivy stem) kept breaking so I abandoned that idea. Instead I went closer to home – I embroidered with a chain stitch along the holes with my handspun yarn.

Stools

Along with the timber for the bench I bought timber for two stools. Our teenagers spent Thursday building one stool each and by evening we had a whole set of furniture for Dan’s birthday on Friday. We prepared breakfast in the morning on the balcony. As the rain poured down on the sunshade above us we had the loveliest breakfast together all four of us (which is unusual these days since we get up at very different times).

Summer of flax

As I mentioned in a previous post I ended my very long flax spinning procrastination phase and started spinning some of my flax. I don’t have much practice spinning flax, so I was enjoying experimenting, listening to the flax and learning from my mistakes. To practice for my homegrown flax I used store-bought from Växbo lin.

As I preach with wool, the preparation is key. I learned how to best arrange the flax for dressing the distaff and how to move the distaff as the spinning progressed. You can see more of how I dress my distaff in this blog post and video. I built a MacGyver style distaff stand with the help of a parasol stand and some willow sticks. It works surprisingly well.

I have spent quite a few afternoons on the balcony with my flax. This is the time of day when there is shade on the balcony and I thrive away from the sun as it has been around 30 °C this week.

Spindle and shorter lengths

Before I have dressed my distaff I have brushed the flax with my flax brush. It has removed the shorter bits. Still, as I have reached the end of the flax bundle on the distaff only short bits have been left. Through my spinning I have saved both the brushed away lengths and the inner shorter lengths on the distaff and dressed them on a hand distaff for spindle spinning. I have an in-hand style spindle with a counter-clockwise spiral groove that works wonderfully for this.

Grass crowns

The last craft of this week of creativity is making grass crowns. It is a lovely craft you can do a large part of the year depending on what plants you have nearby. I have used grass of course, but also lavender, onions (!) and field flowers. Eventhough grass crown making is a perishable craft, most of the crowns age with dignity.

I have had a lovely week of creativity. On Monday I get back to work again, but only for a week and a half. After that I have six weeks of vacation with lots of room for more creativity. But first I will make another grass crown as a gift to my parents.

First grass crown of many this summer.

My week of creativity has not ended yet. More grass is waiting to become crowns, more flax is waiting to be explored. How was your week?

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.
  • You are also welcome to make one-off donations on my Ko-fi page.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • 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.

Flax plan

Since 2014 I have had an experimental flax patch of around 1 square meter. The sole purpose of the patch has been to learn about flax husbandry and preparation. The results have varied in quality. I have said to myself that I will spin my flax when I think the quality is good enough or when I think I deserve to. This year I will stop procrastinating and start spinning. I have a flax plan!

The experimental flax patch

My first year wasn’t really part of the experiment, at least not when I started. I bought some flax seeds to grow as a companion plant for carrots and potatoes. As the season turned I decided to harvest the flax and go through all the processing steps. My tools were less than ideal – a rock for brake and a spatula for scutching. I did get a hackle, though! I used a pillowcase and a rolling pin to ripple the seeds (a method I have used until last season when I build a ripple myself).

Through the years I have sometimes processed my tiny flax harvest at Skansen open air museum. I have also got hold of all the tools – brake, scutching board and scutching knives, a fine hackle and a flax brush, plus the ripple I built.

The resulting bundles of processed flax through the years have been of very varying quality. But I have learned something new every year, just as I intended.

One square meter of flax

Last year, Västra Götaland region in Sweden started the project 1kvmlin, one square meter of flax. Anyone in the region could, to no charge, get a bag of flax seeds enough for one square meter. In a Facebook group the participants could learn from each other. I think there were also flax processing workshops. The project was a success. This year all regions in Sweden participated. I planted my patch this week and I might plant another square meter in our allotment.

I love the community feeling of a project like this. Individuals, schools, organizations and others get involved in an activity that once was an industry that thrived and, sadly, died.

A flax plan

Through the years I have saved my processed flax and put it away. I have told myself that I would spin it when the quality was good enough. But how would I know that unless I tried? So many people all over Sweden are trying this, with far less experience than I have. So I’m jumping in now, extending my experimental flax patch to experimental flax spinning. My flax plan this summer is to spin.

Other flax sources

I have spun flax before, just not my own. I bought one kilo of processed flax from Växbo lin, a linen weaving mill situated in an area with a very long flax and linen tradition. The flax they use, though comes from France and Belgium. The Swedish flax industry died in the late 19th century due to import of cotton.

Spinning flax at the balcony in 2017. Note the distaff – a real flax distaff placed in the tube my blocking wires came in. Photo by Dan Waltin.

I do have flax that was processed in Sweden, though. My brother’s mother-in-law Birgitta was brought up in the heart of one of the the traditional flax regions in Sweden. Her grandparents grew flax and sent it for processing. She has saved it and recently asked if I wanted it. When she first asked me I didn’t know the story of her flax. I remembered all the unspun flax I had an declined her kind offer. When she told me the story and that it was old flax from her childhood home I immediately changed my mind. This was a true treasure.

The processing mill Birgitta mentioned was active between 1943 and 1953, so The flax from her grandparents’ home must have been processed at this time. Birgitta doesn’t spin herself, but she has woven from the flax from her childhood home. She remembers her grandmother spinning.

Summer plans

So, my plan is to spin flax this summer. As many of you know there is a lot of dust involved when spinning flax and I don’t want to subject myself to that. Therefore I will only spin it outdoors, which leaves summer to spin. Our terrace is the place I flee to in the afternoon when it gets too hot for me in the sun in the front of the house.

If I get the courage I will also spin the tow. I have no experience with this, so my plan is to create my own experience. You’ve got to start somewhere. These are sentences I tell my students and it’s time I listen to the teacher.

Flax videos

In the video Spinning flax on a spindle I show you how I prepare the processed flax for the distaff and how I spin it on an in-hand spindle. For some odd reason this is by far my most watched video. There is also a lovely video where I process my flax at Skansen open air museum.

Flax blog posts

The easiest way to find earlier blog posts about flax is to use the search field and type flax. Below are some of my favourite flax posts.

Happy spinning!


You can follow 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.
  • Read the new book Knit (spin) Sweden! by Sara Wolf. I am a co-author and write in the fleece section about how I spin yarn from Swedish sheep breeds.
  • 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.

Flax processing at home

I have grown flax in our townhouse flower bed since 2014. It is only one square meter and I call it my experimental flax patch. Every fall I have taken last year’s retted flax to the Flax Days at Skansen Outdoor museum to process. It has become a tradition that I look forward to every year. This year was different. The Flax Days were cancelled due to the pandemic. Luckily I now have a complete set of flax processing tools, so I did my flax processing at home.

Ripple

During the late summer I have presented my flax processing tools, but I was missing a flax ripple. My friend Cecilia made a beautiful ripple and I decided to make one myself. I bought wire nails from Swedish eBay and nailed them into a board I found on the attic. It is not the prettiest ripple I have seen, but I have made it.

I rippled this year’s very sad flax harvest with my new ripple. It works so much better than putting the dried flax in a pillow case and trying to remove the seed capsules with a rolling pin, I can promise you that. I just placed a sheet on the lawn and held the ripple fast on the ground with my feet and rippled away. The seed capsules danced off the stems and rolled together into puddles of beads on the sheet. When I was done I placed the rippled flax on the ground to ret.

Break

The gem of all my flax processing tools is my break, dated 1821. The wood is smoothed where skilled hands have held it. When I broke my flax from the 2019 harvest I imagined all the people who had used it before me. I got goose bumps.

While I was standing there my neighbours came by and wondered what I was doing. It can take a while to explain the process to someone who has never thought of where their flax shirts, skirts or trousers come from. A few hours later they came back and I was still working with my flax ( a very small harvest). Once again I sent a thought to all my predecessors who had processed whole fields of flax.

Breaking flax can be quite straining, especially with a break that has been made in a time when people in general were shorter than I. The break breaks the cellulose core that is surrounded by the long fibers. It takes quite a few beats to break the core of a bundle of flax sufficiently. I understand why flax processing must have been something a whole village or community did together. It is hard labour. I do my flax processing at home just like they did, but with just a teeny, tiny harvest.

An in-between step

When I have processed my flax at Skansen Outdoor museum there has been another step after the breaking and before the scutching. In this extra step the broken pieces of cellulose core are further removed from the fibers. At Skansen I have used a tool for this called draga (“puller”) that looks quite like a break. You can see me use this tool in this video. I have also seen pictures of a hand tool for this purpose, called stångklyfta (“cleft bar”, also used instead of a scutching board and knife). You hold the tool and control the “mouth” with your hand, pulling the scutched fibers through the jaws.

Stångklyfta, cleft bar, from digitaltmuseum.se

Scutch

My scutching board and scutching knife are a bit younger than the break. I have seen so many beautiful antique scutching knives – perfectly shaped to fit the hand, ornamented with flowers and perfectly fitting a right hand. I would sacrifice my flax harvest for an antique scutching knife made for lefties. But I doubt I’ll ever find one. The ones I have works well and is made to fit both lefties and righties and of course I’m grateful for that. But still.

Scutching removes the broken cellulose bits from the flax fibers. This is where the retting will be revealed – if the flax hasn’t been retted enough the cellulose won’t separate enough from the flax fiber. And if it is over retted I imagine the fibers will break in the process (if not sooner).

Rough hackle

My first flax processing tools were two hackles, one for rough hackling and one for fine hackling. They are both quite old and I use them with great respect of their age and their potential to hurt me (I only got one hackling injury this time!). Hackling takes care of the remaining bits of cellulose (if the flax is retted enough), removes the short fibers and aligns the fibers.

Fine hackle

In the final step, the fine hackle, the fibers are aligned even further and short fibers removed. Two hackles has been quite common, but sometimes three have been used, with the addition of one or two flax brushes just before dressing the distaff.

When I was done with the fine hackle I looked around for a second bundle of hackled flax. But I found none. This was it, just a tiny bundle. There is a lot of waste in flax processing! Well, not waste per se, all of the flax is used for something – the short fibers (tow) are used for coarser yarn or insulation and the cellulose bits becomes food for the chickens. But the yield of finer spinnable fibers is quite low.

The remaining flax after the second hackling. It isn’t much, but it is mine and a result of flax processing at home.

When I look at the resulting skein of flax I can evaluate last year’s harvest and retting. When I harvested this flax (2019) I knew it wasn’t top quality, so I was prepared for that. I can also see that it may have been slightly under retted. Some pieces of cellulose remain in the flax.

A flax odyssey

I like to bring out all my flax to see the progress (or not) from year to year. The first year, 2014 (to the far left) I only got a rat’s tail, but I was immensely proud of it. 2016 was the year of under retting. 2017 quite successful, but 2018 was really good, both when it comes to quality and regarding the amount of flax ( I had a second patch that year). And 2019, well very little, but a decent quality.

Flax harvests: 2014 (less than 1 gram), 2015 (4 grams), 2016 (5 grams), 2017 (17 grams, new flax seeds), 2018 (53 grams from two patches) and 2019 (7 grams).

I’m fascinated by the different colours. All my flax has been grown in the same place and retted the same way, but still the colour varies significantly in all shades of dew retting.

This year was a disaster and I’m not sure the result will be more than a rat’s tail. But the goal with my experimental flax patch is to learn and I do learn a lot every year through all the parts of the process, both growing and processing.

The retting of the 2020 flax harvest is finished after 19 days of dew retting.

This week I checked my retting flax and decided it was finished, after 19 days of des retting. When I broke the stems the fibers separated easily and in all its length from the cellulose core. Next year I will learn know if it was right to finish the retting when I did.

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.

Distaff pins

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 have presented my flax processing tools. Previous presentations have been about my hackles, flax break and scutching knives, scutching board and a flax brush. This week I present a bonus: Two distaff pins.

Recently I reconnected with my second cousin Cecilia. We hadn’t seen each other for almost 40 years, but now we are close friends and chat almost every day. Family things tend to come her way and every now and then she shows me forgotten treasures.

A wooden family mystery

A few months ago she sent me a letter with two wooden items carefully wrapped in paper. She had found them together with old photos and letters in a family chest of drawers. The wooden items were signed with my grandfather’s name and therefore she had sent them to me. She thought they might be some sort of letter openers or perhaps book marks.

Wooden items, probably distaff pins, made by my grandfather to his mother and aunt. The message says "Greetings to aunt Hildur from Eje".
My grandfather Georg, Eje, made these as gifts to his mother Berta and her sister Hildur. The message says “Greetings to aunt Hildur from Eje”.

One of them had a name on it, Berta. On the other was written “Greetings to aunt Hildur from Eje”. Eje is short for Georg, my grandfather. Berta was his mother and also Cecilia’s and my great-grandmother. Hildur was Berta’s sister, Georg’s aunt. Georg was born in 1901, so my guess is that he made these around 1910–1915.

Distaff pins

I didn’t think they were letter openers or book marks, though. I believe they are distaff pins (Swedish: Rocksticka). A distaff pin is a thin wooden pin tied to the end of a ribbon that goes around a dressed flax distaff to make sure the flax stays on the distaff. A distaff pin was typically made by a young man as gifts to the girl he had his eyes on. A more elaborately carved distaff pin could be given to a girl in a proposal of marriage.

Elaborate distaff pin from Digitalt museum.
Elaborate distaff pin from Digitalt museum.

Eje’s aunt Hildur was a teacher of textile crafts and a distaff pin would make sense. Cecilia has found a spinning wheel in pictures of Berta’s home. Also, since distaff pins were usually made from boys to girls as a token of their affection it makes perfectly sense for younger school boys to make distaff pins for their mothers, perhaps for Mother’s Day.

Berta’s distaff pin sits happily in my dressed distaff. As my spinning patron she watches over me when I spin.

Regardless of what they were meant to be they were a very sweet gift from a little boy to his mother and aunt. And of course I use them as distaff pins. They do their job wonderfully well.

Who wouldn’t want to spin flax from a distaff dressed like this! The ribbon is tablet woven by me with commercial flax yarn.

When I look at my distaff pins I see Berta, my grandfather Georg (who died before I was born) and my dear friend Cecilia. It has been quite a while since I spun flax. Perhaps I will do it today!

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.

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 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.

Flax break and scutching knives

A flax break from 1821

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!


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.

Flax Day

Six stages of processed flax. The fibers get increasingly finer and cleaner.

This past weekend was the Flax and wool days at Skansen outdoor museum in Stockholm. I went with a friend and brought last year’s retted flax. My focus for the theme weekend this year was Flax Day.

The experimental flax patch

I have a small experimental flax patch in the flower bed in our tiny townhouse garden. The patch is about one square meter and big enough for me to experiment and learn about growing and processing flax.

A small flax field in bloom
The experimental flax patch in July.

Creative solutions

I have grown flax since 2014 and I have improved and learn every year. I have no tools for processing except a rough hackle and a fine hackle. For the other steps in the process I have had to improvise. I rippled the seeds by putting the flax in a pillowcase and roll a rolling pin over it. For breaking the flax I beat the flax with a fist-sized rock against a stone. I used a spatula to scutch. None of these methods work very well. Last year I took my 2017 harvest to Skansen outdoor museum for processing. I also made a video from the processing. The result was wonderful. For the first time I felt I could actually spin my flax.

Flax processing video, released in August 2018.

Flax Day processing

So, this year I went back to Skansen. I put the retted flax from 2018 in my backpack and hopped onto my bike. My harvest was bigger than previous years and I had really watched over the retting process and got a very good result.

The flax biker

Last time I rode my back with a big load I crashed. I had a chili plant for a friend in my bike bag. When looking back to make sure the plant was ok I turned the handlebar too much and the pedal got stuck in a rock by the side of the road. The plant didn’t break, but I did. My left arm broke in two places at the shoulder. The doctor said I wasn’t allowed to move the arm backwards or sideways, but “small movements in front of the body are encouraged!”. I could still spin and knit and that was the important thing.

A woman in a bike helmet. She is wearing a backpack with retted flax in it. Sunflowers in the background.
A small flax harvest fits nicely in a backpack!

So I was a bit conscious of my load this time. Every few minutes of my 8 km ride I tilted my head back so that the helmet touched the flax. When I heard the scraping sound I knew the flax was safe and sound in my backpack.

I did get both me and the flax to Skansen safe and sound. I went straight to the farmyard where the tools were out for demonstration. The museum educators recognized me from last year and were happy to help.

Breaking

The retted and dried flax is stiff and uncooperative. I want to separate the flax fibers from the cellulose core. This happens in a break. By jamming the break onto the flax I crush the core. When I’m finished the flax hangs sloppily instead of being stiff like a broom.

A woman breaking flax. Ladies in period costumes in the background.
I break the flax to break the cellulose core that is surrounded by the flax fibers. Breaking flax is an excellent workout! Photo by Cecilia von Zweigbergk Wike

I had the museum educators at my side during the whole process. They were happy I was there and happy to help.

The hardest part of breaking is the upper tips. If the straws in the bundle aren’t even in length there will be a thin end of just a few straws. It is difficult to get the ends properly broken since they are too thin for the break to come far down enough to crush them. I knew this, at least in theory, but I didn’t realize the implications of uneven bundles. Always bundle the flax in even lengths, that’s what all the books say. But it is not until I see what happens in practice that I realize why. My mistakes are a map of what I learn.

Pulling

The flax pull is a step between breaking and scutching. By pulling the flax through the puller (I have no idea what this tool is called in English) more of the broken cellulose is removed from the flax fibers.

A woman pulling flax through a flax puller
Pulling the flax to get rid of some of the cellulose bits. Photo by Cecilia von Zweigbergk Wike

Most of it ended up in my shoes.

I have never heard of this tool or read about it in my flax books. Perhaps it is a regional tool. Nevertheless, it is a great tool that will help you get a better result.

Scutching

The goal of the scutching step is to remove as much as possible of the remaining cellulose bits. This is done with a scutching knife – a sword-like wooden tool – against a board. An ornamented scutching knife used to be a gift from the groom to the bride of a couple. These knives were seldom used for flax processing, though. Instead they were hung on the wall for decoration and keepsake from the wedding.

A woman scutching flax.
In the scutching station you remove most of the cellulose bits from the flax fibers. Photo by Cecilia von Zweigbergk Wike

At Skansen there is also a scutching mill. This was open for demonstration on Flax Day. If you have ever seen a crime series in the English countryside, this would be the perfect murder scene! A big water-driven wheel with scutching knives doing the laborious work for the flax farmer.

A woman scutching in a scutching mill.
In the scutching mill the water drives a wheel with scutching knives. A person puts the flax over a beam and lets the scutching wheel scutch the flax.

Hackling

The hackles are also potential murder weapons. A gazillion pointy needles on a board through which you comb the scutched flax. Usually you go through both a rough and a fine hackle, or even a third in between. Luckily I didn’t break any skin this time.

A woman hackling flax
I hackle the flax in two hackles – one rough and one fine. Photo by Cecilia von Zweigbergk Wike

After two hours my friend Cecilia and I had finished all the flax from my tiny patch and ended up with this pretty strick. Imagine the time needed to process a whole flax field! I guess the whole village would take part in this work.

A strick of flax lying on top of flax tow.
Finished! Line and tow in sweet harmony.

I was really happy with the result. The strick was more than double the size of the 2017 strick. I had really paid attention to the retting process and it gave a great result. Almost all of the cellulose is gone.

Six stages of processed flax. The fibers get increasingly finer and cleaner.
All the steps side by side. From the left: Retted and unprocessed, broken, pulled, scutched, rough hackled and fine hackled.

In the image above you can see the results of all the steps of the process. From left to right:

  • Retted and unprocessed. The glue has been retted away and the fibers is ready to be separated from the cellulose core.
  • After being thoroughly broken in the break the cellulose core have been chopped to pieces. The bundle of fibers is no longer straight.
  • The in-between step of pulling gives a good result – some of the cellulose bits have been removed.
  • After a waltz with the scutching knife most of the cellulose bits are gone (most of them in my shoes, actually).
  • In the rough and fine hackling the fibers have been aligned and shorter bits removed.
  • A final step in the process can be a flax brush that is used to brush the line to remove the very last bits of shorter fibers, just before spinning. They didn’t have one here, though.
A small brush
Brushing the flax can be a final step after fine hackling.

Flax analysis 2014–2018

Five stricks of flax. Smallest to the left and chunkiest to the right.
My flax harvests through the years. From the left: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Even if my first rat’s tail of flax from 2014 is truly sad and despicable, I have saved it and all my stricks of flax from the following years. Looking at them I can learn from my results and experiences.

2014 – an unplanned harvest

Well, what can you say. It is just a rat’s tail really, but it is my rat’s tail. I processed it at Skansen this first year. I had only cultivated the flax for fun as a companion plant in the allotment, and without any sort of plan. Not until August did I come up with the idea to actually process it.

2015 – First fiber intention

This was the first year I had a fiber intention with my flax patch. The result is actually quite good, even if the fibers are rather short. I processed this harvest at home. The only tools I had (and still have) were two hackles. The other steps were creative inventions (see above).

2016 – under retted

This was the year of poor retting. The glue hasn’t been solved properly and a lot of the cellulose bits are still in the strick. Because of the under retting I got lots of waste and poor quality tow.

2017 – new crop!

I got new seed from a retired flax farmer. In the image below you can see the difference in length compared to previous years. I processed the flax at Skansen. This was the first harvest with actual spinning quality. The retting seems to be good too, even if I didn’t have a structure for it.

2018 – my best flax day yet

The result I got from the 2018 harvest is by far the best. This is actually a real strick of flax! This was a really good Flax Day!

I realized already in the summer that this would be a good harvest. Long and straight stems of even length grew in my tiny patch. Come harvest day I had very pretty bundles to dry and ret. I was very structured in the retting process and kept records. All of his gave a good result.

Five stricks of flax in a row. The three leftmost are shorter than the two to the right.
My flax harvests 2014–2018. 2017 and 2018 with new crop.

When processing a relatively large harvest I learned a lot and could improve during processing. I knew where to hold the strick, when I needed to work more in a step of the process and what to look for. I can actually spin with this flax, and not just a meter or two! Perhaps I can weave myself a small project bag together with the tow.

A strick of flax.
One more picture, just because it is so pretty.

2019 prognosis

I don’t think this year’s flax will be as good as the 2018 result. I had sowed the seeds unevenly which resulted in plants with uneven length and thickness. Towards the end of the summer the flax bended and looked rather sad. I’ll let you know next year how it turned out!

Gotta get my rolling pin and a pillow case ready, today is rippling day for the 2019 harvest.

Happy spinning!


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