Flax Study Group Part 3

Flax Study Group Part 3

Flax Study Group Part 3

(sorry this is a Long Post if you make it through to the end there are videos! make sure to check out the one on flax dressing its really horrible looking stuff but works exceedingly well)

After a break for the guild Sale and Exhibition we resumed the Flax project on Saturday, November 16th at 10am. It included a potluck lunch.

A quick review of what went before:

– April 4, 2019 Waiting for the soil to thaw and dry

– May 5th  Prepare the ground and plant the seeds; germination expected in 10-14 days.

– May 13th Sprouts are seen

– June 08 2019 – Weeding party

– June 28 2019 – The first flowers have appeared

– July 7 2019 flax flowering is slowing down,  seed pods developing

– July 9th added extra support ropes to keep flax from collapsing during impending torrential rain storm

– July 13 flax survived storm – wind and heavy rain

– July 18 Seed pods are showing signs of turning yellow

– July 27, 2019 at 10 am First Harvesting  (1/4 of the crop has been left to be harvested in 2 parts later)

– July 29 Bernadette tries rippling, not yet ready.

– August 10 2019 Rippling and Winnowing the flax then beginning of the retting

– August 15 the remaining crop is ready to harvest for the seed

– August 17 2019 continuing threshing and winnowing. Retted flax laid out to dry

Which brings us up to November 16th at 10am. We converged at Cathy Louise’s Coverall barn where the flax was waiting for us.

11 kiddie pool of first harvest, retted flax

We kept the flax in the three sections of harvesting. The first harvest in the kiddy pool, second harvest on one end of the metal troughs (it’s the darker colour) and the last harvested, saved for the seed, which is the lighter colour and at the other end of the trough.

22 the later harvests darker, below, harvested before the lighter on the top of the picture

Starting with the largest amount, we began the breaking. (Let the Violence begin!). The Brake breaks up the outer fiber to start to access the long linen fibers within. We eventually figured out this was a very important step. Cole who has processed many local bass fibers (dog strangling vine particularly) had the most experience with the equipment. He had built his own brake, we had the loan of an antique and Gord had found a good rugged one for sale.


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3-6 Using the Brake

After the fiber had been cruelly beaten by the brake its fate turned dire as it was firmly thwacked by a skutching sword. The best one seemed to be the Lilac branch that had been split and slightly shaped. It was a bit more flexible than the kitchen implements Cathy Louise had tried or the wooden swords similar to my Viking sword beater. Cole had brought a massive timber and a board with a hand-protecting hole cut in it. Both worked more ergonomically than the boards we had started with.

7-8 Skutching Knife made from Lilac

9-11 Skutching tool  formerly a kitchen impliment

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12 -16 our various skuching boards, note the handy safety hand hole to keep your finger safe.

The next step was the Hackles. This is the sharp part!! By this point, you really do need to have your tetanus shots up to date.

1717 setting out the hackles

We set up a coarse, medium and fine set. We had been lent both old and newer Hackles, all were very sharp and really should be used with gloves. I found them highly photogenic.

1818 i got a few really cool shots of these viscous implements of plant torture

We ran the flax through the teeth to separate the line (the long really good fiber) from the tow (the shorter pieces that are not as sought after but still will spin and weave up nicely)

192019-20 drawing the flax through to hackles removes more of the shorter fibers and leaves the high quality line linen. you can see the tow stuck in the hackles and on the table.

We worked from the course to the medium to the fine. Producing small amounts of line flax.

21222324 21-24 Hackles and a growing pile of Tow

As you can see there was a lot of tow for as little bit of flax. We suspect that we will get a better yield with greater attention to breaking and possibly slightly longer retting. This is our first time and we suspect the growing season was not prime for flax so we hope for a better harvest next year. The Line flax we got from the process was very nice; most of it seemed quite fine from the first batch.


25-26 inspecting the flax and checking out the cows

While we were torturing plant life on one end of the coverall our neighbours were having an extended lunch or maybe it was second or third lunch. Like cats, cows seem to feel that there butt ends are one of their best features. I had trouble getting a shot that wasn’t mostly butt shots. (I had promised the study group not to take them but not all the cows would cooperate.)  Thinking of lunch it was time for ours so off we went back to the house to enjoy it and get a bit warmer.

Lunch break Pot Luck:


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27 – 35 Lunch

After lunch, Cathy Louise showed us her CPW (Canadian Production Wheel) she has an amazing spot to sit and spin in her loft.

Then it was back to work

36 – 40  thump thump thwak thump thwak thwak

At the end of the day we had 2 bags of floor findings from the Brakes and the same amount from the Skutching and possibly a bit more from the hackle leavings. We kept them separate to work on as part of the final days processing.

This was the amount of line linen we produced.

41424344 41-44 our days work, a little bit of good line linen and lots of tow

Final day of flax processing

45 45 the coverall barn that we were sharing with the cows and some annoyed birds

Saturday November 23 at 9:30 am, one week later and we were back at the coverall.

46-47  Alison had brought her course drum carder to try on the flax

4848   First batt off the drum carder looked promising.

49-50     Bernadette arrived with the dew-retted flax she had done. It was a darker colour. She also had big English combs in her bag to try out with the flax.

51 -53 4 pitch English combs by Alvin Ramer

Unfortunately the combs were not as successful as we had hoped ( it shredded both the long and shorter fibers) so we continued with the drum carder.

54 -55   Here is the difference in colour between the two types of retting (field and trough)

56-57  We finished possessing the last of the flax and put most of the tow through the drum carder once before we cleaned up for lunch.

5858 Cole made a quick bit of rope out of some of the coarsest waste. He used the strange wooden tool on the table to make the rope.

Lunch Break Pot Luck!


59-62 Lunch!

After lunch, we measured and divided the flax seeds. We kept part for next year’s planting from the late harvested plants. We each got a portion to either plant at home or make flax dressing from. (This is used instead of water when spinning the flax or to size a warp for weaving. Bernadette made some it was truly an interesting viscosity but worked extremely well for spinning.


6565  We then weighed and divided the line flax.

66-67 the line is ready to be divided

We looked at the difference between the two methods of retting and tried to determine if the second and third sections harvested were much coarser than the first.

6868  We kept aside samples for comparison later.

Then it was back to the coverall for a quick peek at the cows and to give the tow a second pass through the drum carder.


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-73 We divided up the tow, did a final clean up and headed for home.


75 75  (Glenn took this just to prove I was actually there since I wasn’t in any of the pictures!)

I took  a number of videos while we were processing the flax and Bernadette’s experimentation with flax dressing. If you would like to see all the videos please consider joining the OVWSG Flax Project Private Group on face book https://www.facebook.com/groups/642029912915854/?fref=nf

Cole using the Brake:

Cole Skutching

The Hackles

Drum carder with the Tow


this is the culmination of this part of the Flax study group.   Bernadette has boiled 2 tbs of the flax seed to make a flax dressing which is used to size warps that are being difficult and to add in spinning flax.

11-25-19 flax dressing – Bernadette with wool and flax spinning using Flax dressing.



I hope you have enjoyed the Flax study group as much as i did participating (well i did more photography and not as much hands on but it was still a blast and i hope to be able to participate in next years study group).  if this appeals to you too you mite want to join next years study group or maybe start your own.

PS it takes a lot longer to upload a video than it dose a picture so its much later than i expected it to be and i think i best head off to bed now.

15 thoughts on “Flax Study Group Part 3

  1. Thank you for sharing this interesting process. I never realized how much work goes into separating the flax fibers.

  2. your welcome Jill! i now can appreciate why linen is so expensive. but its a wonderful cloth to sew with. i hoped the videos would give you more of the feeling of being there. if you get a chance to try working with flax or linen i would defiantly suggest you try it. thanks for making all the way to the end of the process! next will be more spinning then deciding what to do with the little sample of yarn.

    1. it was a lot of work but the fiber looks vary good so i think its worth it. watching Bernadette play with the Flax dressing was disterbing and facinating.

  3. Wow, that was a ton of work to get such a small output of the finished flax. That doesn’t even count the spinning, weaving etc. to make it into linen. So yes, you can see why high quality linen is so expensive. Who knew? Thanks Jan!

    1. Thanks for reading all the way to the end! the yeld of line was small compaired to the tow. i think we can improve our yeald by improving our Brake and a bit our skuttching teckneeks. i think year 2 will have a higher yeald of fiber from the plants. i am pleased Cathy Louise has decided to put two rows in next spring. i think we will be adding one more group weeding day as well. (we noticed there were some sneeky weeds that had snuk in among the flax plants when we harvested them.)

    1. i suspect field retting and winter retting came first. i was facinated by one of the long stocked flowers in my front yard. one sping it had long fibers emeging from the crumbling stalks. im not shure it would have been as nice as flax but maybe there is a market for star flower fiber? but if your wating for some fiber i only have one plant and about 6 stalks this fall so you will be chilly while you wate for cloth from it. i am vary impressed by the injinuity displayed in the flax process. now if we want to contiue the improbobility of discovering something lets try diying it with natural indigo (that is as close to real magic as i think we get! put it in geenish yellow water and pulll out cloth that changes to blue as you stair at it!)

  4. It’s now easy to understand why pure linen is so expensive – and how did anyone work out how to do this in the first place anyway!
    Fascinating series of posts Jan and superb photos and videos that brought the process to life.

    1. I am glad you enjoyed the study group and the videos. its a good think we are a curious bunch of people or we would not come up with grate ideas like lets through this grass in a pond and then take it out and torture it the twist it a lot with stuff that looks like frog slime and then we will weave and ware it! yes it seem a bit improbable but im vary glad that it was invented. going from noticing winter retting to pond retting mite be something that is possible but if you look at the steps that go into making Indigo Dye work now that is just Magic as you watch cloth pulled out of the dye bath change to blue as it is exposed to air. defiantly Magic!
      Felting is a bit like magic too. tufts of fiber that was shed or cut from a sheep, add a bit of soap and water or stab it a few times with a barbed needle and Poof you have something that is so radically different from the fluff that you started with.

    1. thanks i think it would have been much easier with a hole village working together! and Just think of the potluck lunch brakes!!!

  5. Wow what a long intensive, hard & tedious work this must have been in the past. You have brought it all to reality with your great photos & videos. You are obviously part of a very dedicated group to have all stuck it out to the end with such a small yield. Well done all of you. I will certainly have even more respect for fine quality linen from now on.

    When Bernadette was spinning the wool I didn’t see her dipping her fingers in the flax dressing like she did with the flax fibre….so had she coated the wool fibres with it before spinning?

    1. Thanks Antje, yes Bernadette’s hand holding the wool had the flax dressing on it. its really disgusting looking in the jar but its vary clear when she has it on her fingers. she said she was vary impressed with how her hands didnt feel dry after spinning as they usually do when using water. also that her hands didnt feel sticky during the spinning. she said it felt more like thick water.

      flax dressing can be used when weaving to tame a fuzzy difficult warp by smoothing or sticking the haylow of the yarn down. i wish i had known about it for one particularly difficult warp.

      it was a educational and interesting project and i think our yield will improve with our ability to use the equipment effectively and efficiently. i was vary glad to be able to share it with you. if you havent already, i hopefully you will have an opportunity to try it too. (espeshaly the part with playing with flax dressing!)

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