Flax To Linen, Retting, Scutching, Hackling

The farm is gone, the memory of the farm remains. Moo Dog Knits Magazine.A memorable sight years and years ago was a field of flax in bloom across a plantation-style farm on the outskirts of a city in Virginia. The fields were full of bright blue flowers, historically grown to then create linen. The farm has since gone under a sprawling mall and commercial development. The memory remains.
Process chart for linen as seen at a farmers market event. Moo Dog Knits Magazine.
Someday I hope to see acres of flax in flower again. Wondering about the process to create linen from these plants sparked a lively conversation with the folks gathered at the Storrowton Village booth during the 2011 Fiber Festival of New England.
Lynn from Storrowton Village knit these pure alpaca socks for her husband. Fiber tools and wheels were on display at the Fiber Festival of New England, where Storrowton Village had a booth.
It’s work to transform plant material into filaments.
Turning flax into linen takes work. This is a hackle. Some call it a heckle - and it is used to comb short fibers out. Moo Dog Knits Magazine.
The process – which is on tap for a future report – calls for “retting” – loosening the fiber from a plant stalk with water, time and bacteria – basically, a controlled rotting process. “Scutching” involves crushing woody parts. Heckling combs (or hackles) weed out unwanted bits to achieve the end result – long, soft flax fiber to spin, ply, weave or knit. Linen as fabric has a soft sheen and is cool and soft to touch.
Seeds to grow your own flax. Moo Dog Knits Magazine.On a recent field trip to Comstock, Ferre & Co. in Connecticut, now part of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds of Missouri, happening on a packet of flax seed seemed pure magic. The small envelope contained enormous potential for a growing a field of flowers and fiber.

A footnote: The fibers when newly processed look “blonde” – the origin of the word “flaxen.”
Flax display from the Fiber Nook at The Big E. Moo Dog Knits Magazine.