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 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!


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.
  • 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.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

2018 in retrospect

A Navajo spindle. Photo by Dan Waltin

In the last few days of the year I get a little nostalgic. I browse through the months, looking at all the memories of blogging and youtubing. They are like sparkling candy in a pretty bowl. All different, all sweet and all part of the whole. In this post I look back at 2018 and forward to 2019. Here is 2018 in retrospect!

If you have been following me for a while, this might be a walk down memory lane for you too. If you are new to the blog – welcome – this post  will help you can catch up with what happened during 2018.

The stats

During 2018 I have published

  • 66 blog posts
  • 17 public youtube videos
  • 20 blog post specific videos.

That’s more than one post a week and one one video every three weeks. At the end of the summer I decided I wanted to aim at one post a week during the autumn, but I didn’t realize that I had made even more than that in the spring.

Blog statistics
The stats

I am very proud of the videos and posts I have published this year. I learn new things all the time and I have sharpened my articles and learned how to analyze and reflect to produce interesting content for you. If you have enjoyed my posts and videos during 2018 and look forward to 2019, do become a patron and support my work. This work takes up a lot of my time and I also need to finance editing software and video equipment.

I love writing the posts and making the videos. When I get home on Friday after a week of work I can’t wait for Saturday morning to publish my next post.

During the year I had most viewers in the U.S, followed by Sweden, U.K. Canada and Germany. Thank you all for following, commenting, asking questions and giving valuable feedback. You help me become a better spinner, blogger, youtuber and teacher and I couldn’t do it without you.

Popular posts

The post with the single most views was, quite surprisingly, Willowing wool. I hadn’t planned it at all, I just thought of it one morning, grabbed a fleece and a couple of sticks and started shooting. And over 2500 people have visited the post and even more people have watched the video. It was great fun to make the video and I am happy to have contributed to sharing this old technique and craft.

Josefin Waltin sitting with a pile of wool. Locks are flying in the air around her.
Wool is in the air!

The second most viewed post was, even more surprisingly, Don’t waste your wool waste. This post didn’t even have a video attached to it, which makes it even more puzzling. But it was obviously interesting to both the spinning and the gardening community.

Third in line was Spinning in the 14th century and one of my favourite videos this year. I had such a great time with Maria, who provided the costumes and helped me with the shooting. There is a big difference in quality of the video when I have company (My daughter was with me in parts of the willowing video, which is also a favourite) compared to when I do it all myself. You can see and feel the interplay in the video which gives it different dimension than my solo videos. I hope to make more videos like that during 2019.

Josefin Waltin in medieval costume
Preparing for 14th century video shoot. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Blog series

During 2018 I have made four blog series where I have focused on a theme and looked at it from different perspectives:

They have been very popular and I have loved the opportunity to dig deep in a given topic. I have learned a lot from all four of them, but one of them in particular has totally changed the way I look at – and teach – spinning.

Spinning direction

The series about spinning direction started with an injury. I had started to practice spinning with in-hand spindles where you twiddle the spindle in your hand, basically without letting go of the spindle. A short while after I had started practicing this technique, I got  a cramp in the base of my thumb and I wanted to find out why.

I talked to a vocational therapist who told me that the muscles used for pulling are twice as many as the muscles used for pushing. Being a leftie, I had been pushing the spindle for a clockwise spin. When I changed hands so that the right hand was pulling the spindle for a clockwise spin, there was no more cramp.

A hand holding a spindle
Which is your spinning hand?

This made a huge impact on my own spinning and my teaching. I taught myself to spin with my right hand as spinning hand. It was difficult in the beginning, but with practice I managed to become as skilled with my right hand as I was with my left hand.

Now I teach spinning direction in spindle spinning in all my classes – I encourage them all to learn how to use both of their hands as spinning hands. I want them to have the opportunity to spin and ply with both hands without injuries.  Both my students and I are much more aware now of how the hands move and work.

The blog series was a combination of my own reflections about spinning direction, interviews with professionals in physiology and textile history and poll results from the spinning community. It was read and appreciated by many followers. Long after the series was published I have referred spinners to it who have had questions about pain or cramp in their spinning hand when spinning on spindles. And I am happy to help.

Twined knitting mittens

The blog series about twined knitting mittens was born out of the previous blog series about spinning direction. In the series you are invited to follow me on my path from fleece to a finished pair of mittens.

After having started practicing spinning with my right hand as spinning hand I wanted to give something back to my left hand that had been struggling for so long with pushing the spindle. I wanted to spin a yarn counter-clockwise so that my left hand could pull the spindle.

There is an old Swedish technique called twined knitting. You use two strands of yarn and twine them on the wrong side of the fabric. The technique takes very long to knit, but it results in  a fabric that is very dense and warm.

Close-up of the wrong side of a twined knitted mitten.
The two yarn ends are twined on wrong side of the fabric.

To compensate for the twining, you use a yarn that is Z-plied: Spun counter-clockwise and plied clockwise. So I spun a beautiful Värmland wool on a supported spindle counter-clockwise with my left hand as spinning hand. When the yarn was finished I made a pair of mittens in twined knitting. They weigh 60 g each and my heart sings every time I wear them.

A grey mitten with a venus symbol
Twined knitting mittens. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Flax

The autumn started with a series of processing and spinning flax. I have a tiny experimental flax patch at home. I started it in 2014 and learn new things about flax processing every year. The series includes a video where I process my flax from the 2017 harvest. I went to Skansen outdoor museum and borrowed their flax processing tools and got a lot of help from the friendly staff. The 2017 harvest was the first one I felt I can actually spin with ( I haven’t yet, though). In the series I also invite the viewer to follow the retting process on my lawn, with pictures of the flax straws in different stages of the process.

Retted flax
The flax fiber is easy to pull off the cellulose core. The retting is finished!

 

Cotton

The cotton blog series started with a gift. A fellow spinner gave me 130 g of newly harvested cotton from Stockholm. I am very reluctant to buying cotton clothes because of climate reasons – the fashion industry takes up a lot of farming ground for cotton farming. The industry also uses a lot of pesticides that are harmful for biodiversity and the people working in the business. But with small-scale and locally grown cotton I had the opportunity to try a fiber that I hadn’t spun before! In the series I prepare the cotton and spin it with Tahkli, Navajo and Akha spindles.

New grounds

During the year I have investigated grounds that were new to me. It has been a truly wonderful journey, but also required a lot of energy. In the end, I am very proud of what I have achieved.

Patron launch

In February I launched my Patreon site. This is where followers have the opportunity to support my work and get extra Patreon-only benefits like previews of upcoming videos, Q&A:s and their names in the credits of my videos.

Article in Spin-off

Last June I submitted a proposal to Spin-off magazine. It was accepted, and in March it was published. The link goes to a shorter version of the article. If you want to read the whole article you need to buy the magazine. I wrote about the process of the making of the video Slow fashion 2 – from sheep to shawl (the video was published in August 2017), where I processed and spun yarn for a shawl that I wove on my rigid heddle loom.

I will be writing more articles for spinning magazines.

Business

Around the same time, I started my own business. It feels very grown-up and totally terrifying, but it also gives me a boost to ignite my entrepreneurial switch and acknowledge my work as something more than just a hobby.

Josefin Waltin wearing an apron with an embroidered sheep
My wool handling apron with sheep logo. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Teaching

2018 has been the year of teaching for me. I have been teaching supported spindle spinning in different parts of Sweden during the year. Every time I learn something new about teaching, spinning and analyzing, but most of all I have learned to see and listen what the students need and how they are most likely to understand and learn. There is a big difference between conveying a message and for the receiver to actually understand and make use of it. I’m still learning and I jump with joy every time I see a student make progress.

Online school

I have been planning and working with my online school for nearly a year now, and in December I finally launched it. The first course is a free course in How to pick a supported spindle and bowl. Over 120 people have already taken the course. Come to the school and take the course you too!

A spindle and puck
Supported spindle and bowl by Björn Peck.

I have received a lot of wonderful feedback. Many students have really enjoyed and appreciated the course and given me valuable suggestions for future courses. I am truly thankful for that, it helps me become a better teacher and course creator.

There will be more online courses in 2019!

Favourites

One of my personal favourite videos in 2018 was the one I shot in Austria about plying on the fly on a Turkish spindle. I had such a lovely time standing in the big meadow in the beautiful morning light. And a lot of you enjoyed the video as well.

A hand starting a spindle.
Plying on the fly on a Turkish spindle in Salzkammergut, Austria.

Another favourite, with some shots from Austria, was my craftivism project I choose to stay on the ground. It is a video and a theme that is very important to me: Reducing our carbon footprint by avoiding flying.

Josefin Waltin reading a book on a train
Image from I choose to stay on the ground

A third favourite was the supported spindle video A meditation that I shot by a fulling mill. A beautiful day with pale September light.

You

Even if I have published lots of videos and posts this year I couldn’t have done it without you, my followers and readers. The feedback, inspiration and love I get from you is invaluable. Keep commenting, asking questions and sharing your knowledge. It helps me make better content for you. You are my biggest inspiration!

Plans for 2019

As I write this, it is still winter, which means that I can’t shoot any videos outside. Well, I could, but not with spinning involved, my hands and the fiber won’t work in the cold. I will have to wait until spring to shoot new videos. But I do have a few unedited videos left from 2018, I will publish them until the weather permits new outdoor videos.

I will launch more online courses during the year. Hopefully I will be able to buy a better microphone, so that I can improve the audio quality in upcoming online courses. I will also offer in-person courses around Sweden, perhaps I will see you there.

Björn the wood turner and I talk regularly and we will have a workshop in his workshop (!) in January to look at new models and designs. He will open a web shop soon.

I create my videos out of a special idea I get or if I find a special location I fall in love with. I have a few plans up my sleeve, involving spindles of different kinds. My husband gave me a lightweight tripod for Christmas, so I will be able to get out and about easier. The old one weighs over 2 kg, this one was only 800 g.

If there is anything you would like me to cover in an upcoming post or video, do give me a holler.

These are some of my favorite sweets in the 2018 candy bowl. I hope you found some favourite sweets as well.

With all my heart I thank you for 2018 and wish you a happy new spinning year 2019!

Josefin Waltin spinning on a supported spindle. Photo by Dan Waltin.
Looking forward to spinning in 2019!


You can follow me on 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!
  • 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. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. 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 posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Horse buggy cover

I have written in earlier posts about my miniature-scale flax patch and how I grow, process and spin my own flax. This post is about flax processing at a whole different scale.

This is the sixth and last post in my flax series. Earlier posts have covered flax processing in general, the 2018 harvest in my experimental flax patchspinning flax on a spindle,  flax processing and retting. Last year I wrote about the first harvests in my experimental flax patch and my first attempt at spinning flax on a wheel.

A horse buggy cover

This summer we rented a cottage in the Swedish countryside. The landlords are well aware of my textile interest. One day they came to the cottage and said that they had something to show me. I followed them into their kitchen and saw a giant piece of textile. It was a horse buggy cover. They had received it from a relative who was dying and who knew the cover would be well taken care of.

A piece of textile with stripes
The horse buggy cover

The cover was woven from handspun flax from the relative’s in-law’s ancestors. I don’t have a picture of the whole cover, but picture this: A woven blanket the size to fit a two-seat horse buggy for the riders to sit on and perhaps also be covered by in cold weather, like a blanket.

The cover is very densely woven in twill. It is constructed as a pillowcase, so that it can be filled with wool for the winter. The yarn is very fine and evenly spun.

Close-up of a striped textile
Evenly spun and densely woven hand processed flax

When we looked at the inside of the cover, we saw the difference in colour. The outside of the cover had been significantly bleached while the inside had kept its blue colour.

A textile
Looking at the inside reveals the unbleached dye.

The mysteries

How much flax?

So many questions arise when I look at this textile.  Say the cover is at least about 150×200 cm, perhaps even more. And double it for the pillowcase construction. How much flax would you need to grow to weave something this size?

How many farms or harvests?

Did the people who made this cover have enough land of their own to sow all this flax? Were there more farms involved to grow the flax? Or did one family save flax for several year’s growth to process enough flax for the weave?

Who was the spinner?

Who were the people who spun and wove this cover? Was it only one spinner and weaver or were there more people involved?

When was it made?

I have no information of when the cover was made, and we looked for some clues to the time period it could have been made. We looked at the seams and they seemed to be machine sewn, so the cover was probably made in the 20th century.

For what occasion was it made

Was this the regular horse buggy cover that people in general made for themselves for everyday use or was it a fancy cover, or perhaps a community horse buggy cover used for special community occasions?

A little help from a friend

I talked to my friend Maria Neijman of Historical textiles and asked her if she could tell me anything more about the cover based on these photograph. She told me that the weaving technique seems to be warp-faced broken twill to make the cloth dense and durable. I asked if she could tell me anything about the dying. She said that the dark blue yarn in the stripes probably was dyed with indigo. The background colour was more difficult. She said that since the dye had bleached so badly, it may have been dyed with aniline, a synthetic dye.

Some questions answered and many still unanswered. But at the same time it is nice to leave the blanket with its mysteries. Just being able to look at it and feel all the labour and love put into it makes my spinning heart skip a beat.

°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°

This was the last post in my flax series. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on 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.
  • 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. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. 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 posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Flax retting

Flax retting on the ground

While I have been processing the retted flax from the 2017 harvest, I continue to handle the the 2018 harvest. In this post I invite you to a very unconventional rippling, windy winnowing and a real retting adventure!

This is part five in a blog series about flax. The previous posts are about flax processing in general, the 2018 harvest in my experimental flax patchspinning flax on a spindle and flax processing. Last year I wrote about the first harvests in my experimental flax patch and my first attempt at spinning flax on a wheel.

Rippling

After the flax has dried completely I need to ripple it before I can ret it. This means that I remove the seed capsules from the stalks. The seeds will make a total tangle of the flax if they remain on the stalks and I need the seeds for next year’s cultivation.

Usually, you would use a ripple for rippling flax. A ripple looks like a giant comb. You pull the strick of dried flax through the tines and the seed capsules fall off the stalks at the other end. Easy peasy. If you happen to have a ripple. Which I don’t. I did see one at a flea market in Austria, though. I have never seen a flax ripple that big! The shop was closed, so I could only see it from the outside.

A rusty flax ripple in a shop window
Giant Austrian flax ripple

So, instead of a flax ripple, I do the MacGyvery thing and use a pillow case and a rolling pin! I put one strick at a time in the pillow case, put the pillow case on a table and start rolling on the pillow case with the rolling pin. The seed capsules break and stay in the pillow case and I can remove the strick of flax seedless.

A person rolling with a rolling pin over two bundles of flax in a pillowcase
Rippling without a ripple. Photo by Isak Waltin

This is where the neighbours walk past asking polite and curious questions.

Retting

When the flax is deseeded it is time to ret it. The retting process separates the flax fibers from the cellulose core with the help of humidity and mould. You can use running water, dew or snow – water retting, dew retting or snow retting. These methods take different amounts of time and result in different colours in the finished flax.

While we do have a creek nearby, I have never tried water retting. The creek is usually dry after the snow has melted and I can’t really count on it for flax purposes. I know some people use an inflatable kiddie pool, but I haven’t tried that yet. Snow can be very unstable too, so my best shot is dew retting.

As many of you may know, the summer here in Sweden has been exceptionally dry, so I was prepared to help the dew along with my watering pot. It rained the first nights after I had laid out the flax, though, and there has been lots of morning dew.

I spread the flax in a thin layer in rows. I make sure the roots are in the same direction in every row.

The neighbours are still curious and polite at this stage.

Turning and checking

Now I need to watch the retting carefully. Dew retting can take anything from 15 to over 30 days, depending on the rain and dew. I turn the flax once a week and check the process.

After one week I can see that the retting process has started, you can see that it has got dark spots. There is no sign of the fibers separating from the core.

A hand holding a flax straw. Flax on the ground in the background
Day 8 of retting. The retting process has started. You can see the dark spots on the straw. The flax fibers have not separated from the cellulose core.

Another week later the flax is darker but there is still no sign of the fiber separating.

A hand holding a flax straw. Flax on the ground in the background
Day 14 of retting. The retting process continues and the flax is still darker. However, the flax fibers have still not separated from the cellulose core.

On day 19 something has started to happen! After wiggling the stalk in different directions, the fibers actually separate from the cellulose core! It is still too early to break the retting, but I have to check every day now.

A hand holding a flax straw. Flax in the background.
Day 19 of retting. The flax is still darker and the fibers are starting to separate from the cellulose core.

Finally, on day 21, the retting is finished. Just as on day 19, the fibers separate from the cellulose core, but with significantly more ease. As soon as I wiggle the straw, the fibers separate fro the cellulose and I can pull the fibers off in their entire length.

A hand holding a flax straw, flax in the background.
On day 21 the retting is finished. The fibers separate easily and in their entire length from the cellulose core.

I roll up the flax in bundles and dry them standing up in a conical shape.

A bundle of flax standing in a conical shape on the ground
The retted flax needs to dry before I store it.

When the flax has dried it will keep for decades. Rodents stay away from it, since it has retted. I will keep mine indoors over the winter and process it outdoors next summer.

Winnowing

While the flax has been retting, the seeds that were saved in the pillowcase have dried in a bowl in the window. There is a mixture of seed, capsules and vegetable fragments from the stalks. I want to keep the seeds. Had I been a chicken owner, the girls would have got the winnowed capsules for breakfast.

I wait for a windy day to winnow them. I pour the seeds between two bowls in the wind.

Hands pouring seeds from one bowl to another.
Winnowing the flax seeds. Photo by Nora Waltin

The light seed capsules blow away in the wind while the seeds fall down into the lower bowl. I pour back and forth until most of the capsule parts are gone. This particular day, the wind had a very hard time deciding which way to blow. I danced around, trying to find the direction of the wind and ending up with most of the stuff in my hair and on my clothes.

I am very disappointed in my neighbours who weren’t even around to be curious and polite.

Hands holding bowls, pouring seeds from one bowl to another.
The wind takes the dried and light capsules to new adventures. The heavy seeds fall securely into the lower bowl. Photo by Nora Waltin

I end up with a promise of a successful flax season 2019.

A bowl of flax seeds.
Winnowed flax seeds

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on several social media:

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Flax processing

A struck of processed flax

Last weekend I attended the Wool and flax days at Skansen open-air museum in Stockholm. Dressed in all wool and linen, I brought my own retted flax from the 2017 harvest. My plan was to process my own flax with their tools and guidance. My friend Anna was kind enough to shoot the whole thing.

This is part four in a blog series about flax. The previous posts are about flax processing in general, the 2018 harvest in my experimental flax patch and spinning flax on a spindle. Last year I wrote about the first harvests in my experimental flax patch and my first attempt at spinning flax on a wheel.

Skansen open-air museum

Skansen is the oldest open-air museum in the world. Old houses and buildings from all over Sweden have been brought to Skansen for display. Skansen employees are dressed in period costumes and tell the visitors all about the buildings, tools and ways of living.

I spent an hour of the beautiful August afternoon at Älvrosgården, a farm from the beginning of the 19th century. For this event flax processing tools had been brought out on the yard to show how a strick of dry and dull flax stems can be turned into gold.

Tools for processing flax were often a bridal gift. A married woman needed to be able to process the family’s flax to make clothing and domestic textiles. You can often see names and wedding dates on old distaffs, hackles and scutching knives.

I showed the staff my modest flax harvest and asked if I could process it with their tools. They were delighted and very kind and showed me the ropes.

Breaking

The flax fiber is placed on the outside of a cellulose core. To separate the flax from the core you need to break the core. This is done in the flax break. In this stage you see how the cellulose cores crumble to bits while the long flax fibers stay intact. The Swedish word for this stage is bråka. Quite similar to the English word.

A person breaking flax
I’m breaking the flax to break the cellulose core that is surrounded by the flax fibers. Photo by Anna Herting

Pulling

This is a tool I have never seen or heard of before. It is called a “draga”, which is an old word for something that pulls. Which makes sense – you pull the broken flax through the “puller” to remove the coarsest bits of cellulose. Quite effective! Has any of you seen this type of tool before?

A person pulling flax through a puller
I’m pulling the flax through the “puller” as a step between breaking and scutching. Photo by Anna Herting

Scutching

The next step is the scutching, Skäktning in Swedish. You use a wooden tool similar to a knife to remove the bits and pieces of broken cellulose from the flax fibers. The more bits you are able to remove, the better prepared the flax will be for the final step.

A person scutching flax
I’m scutching the flax to remove the small pieces of cellulose that were broken in the breaking step. Photo by Anna Herting

Hackling

Hackling the flax is usually done in several steps. In this case, two steps. You pull the scutched flax through vicious tines to remove short and brittle fibers and the last pieces of cellulose. In this step you also arrange the fibers parallel. After having hackled a while I learned how to lift the strick of flax over the hackles instead of swinging it. When swinging, the flax turns in the air and doesn’t lie straight over the tines.

A person hackling flax
First hackling step. Flax samples on the table with different retting methods. Photo by Anna Herting

On the table you can see samples of flax that has been retted with different methods – dew retting, water retting and snow retting.

A person hackling flax
Second hackling step. Photo by Anna Herting

The first step of the hackling process is through a rough hackle and the second step through a finer hackle. This stage is performed at your own risk. I managed to go through it with only one pierced finger. These are the only flax processing tools I actually have at home.

Close-up of a person hackling flax.
I ended up with only one hackling wound! Photo by Anna Herting

The coarser bits that end up in the hackles, the tow, is saved and spun into a coarser yarn or used as insulation in the buildings. The pieces of cellulose core that is scattered on the ground are treats for the chickens. So while this is a time and labour demanding process, nothing goes to waste.

Admiring

The flax turned into such a beautiful bundle of gold. I am still amazed at what I have managed to make, from just a handful of flax seeds. I got new seeds for this season from Ann-Marie, a retired flax farmer and spinner. This flax is actually spinable! And I just found out that Ann-Marie is selling out the last of her seeds and she is sending me some for next season!

My beautiful strick of flax from the 2017 harvest in my experimental flax patch.

The fibers are long, lustrous and plentiful. And I must have done something right with the retting too. I am happy as a clam about my beautiful flax.

Four strikes of processed flax
Results from my experimental flax so far. From the left: 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

You can see the difference to the earlier years. The 2014 harvest was the thickness of a rat’s tail. 2015 was at least three rat’s tails!  In 2016 I failed with the retting, you can still see lots of pieces of cellulose. Finally, the newly processed flax from the 2017 harvest is long, beautiful and silky. And just outside our house, the 2018 harvest is retting on the lawn.

I’ll be back next year

I passed my flax processing exam. The Skansen staff was so kind and helpful and welcomed me back to process my next harvest. A big thank you to the Skansen staff at Älvrosgården for their kindness and guidance, to Anna for shooting and to Ann-Marie for the seeds.

Happy spinning!


You can follow me on 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.
  • 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. The content I create is totally free from advertisement. 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 posts and videos. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!