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Finishing the Flax  2020 Flax study group

Finishing the Flax  2020 Flax study group

I promise we are almost done, but I suspect you wanted to see the culmination shots from this year’s harvest!

This year we had planted two rows of flax, which did not look too excessive until we started to harvest it. Even with the flax being shorter this year, we still doubled the number of stocks we were dealing with. So, it took 3 Saturdays to finish the processing of the line this time. We did not finish all the tow into batts, there is a small bag of hackle waste left. This year we kept the best feeling drum carder waste to try combing the tow into top.

We were chilly but from Cathy Louise’s research, we needed dry, low humidity conditions for the final part of the process. Other than Remembrance Day on the 11th, which often rains, it is usually dry and cold in November here. Thus, we waited to work on it.  Sure enough, day 3 was about 4 degrees Celsius, which was quite nice in the sun but quickly lost its illusion of warmth when the sun hid out behind clouds.

Day 3  the plan – get the last of the Line through the hackles and finish tow from the hackle waste with drum carders.  We had Ann’s drum carder with the blue metal base from last week and Glenn had pulled out my two. One is chain driven; the other is belt driven. One is a bit coarser than the other but both are in the medium range.

 1 all 3 drum carders to finish the tow

To work on the line we had a coarse, medium and fine set of homemade hackles using nails. They had a hardwood base that had been predrilled before the nails were added. We also had an antique one that was between the medium and fine ones. The old one had blacksmith-made nails that tapered and had tin on the base.

 2 all the hackles

3-6  The New Hackles

    

7-11 the old hackles

While we worked, we compared last year’s line to this year’s. The colour is different and this years is finer (last years is in the plastic bag).

   

12- 19 working on the line and tow

The team worked hard until lunch arrived (more pizza). Glenn joined us after stopping at the farmers market to pick up butter tarts from Ann, it was very busy so he was running late and just in time for pizza.

 20  in the foreground; Cheese and mushroom pizza, mid-ground; flax going from the course to the medium hackles and in the background; the hackle waste to go to the drum carder.

The Cow supervisors were enjoying the weather and just generally looking cute decoratively draping themselves around the field beside the coverall barn.

 21 the Supervisors taking a break

Back to work finishing the last bit of line and deciding to leave the last of the hackle waste.

  

22-24 the last of the line

It was time to clean up the drum carders then gather and weigh the culmination of our summer’s work. Henry had brought the air compressor over to help clean the drum carders. It was a brilliant idea.  I do not think my carders have ever been so clean.

   

25- 27 Cleaning the Drum carders

Now it was time for the bagging and weighing. Cathy Louse had brought a scale and I had one of my wool washing buckets which we used to contain the fibre on the scale.  As Cathy Louse weighed it, Glenn wrote it down on the bag and Ruthann kept notes on the totals.

  

28-30  doing the math

We divided the line into 8 sections of 33 grams, bagged and labelled it.

31-34 Line bagged and ready to go

When the line was divided, we moved on to the batts of tow.

   

35-37 bagging the batts of tow

That left a bag of waste from the hackles that could be drum carded later and two bags of the waste from the drum carder. This we had set aside to try combing it since the test sample looked like it had potential.

Now for the Totals you have been waiting for!

Ruthanne said we got 271 grams of line, 556 of carded tow, 130 grams of uncarded tow and 573 grams of carder waste that we can try to comb and see what we get.

Cathy Louise and Henry calculated that we got 1530g of useable fibre from 400 square feet. Henry did the math and figured if we had done a full acre we would have had 29.52 Kg of line per acre and Carded tow 76.5Kg per acre.  If we tried an acre we would have to add Sundays as well as Saturdays or we would be working at it all winter! We would likely improve with all the practice but it’s still a lot of work!

We had a larger team than the final processing day. Some wanted to experience what it was like to process flax trying some or all of the steps. some were interested in the fibre to try spinning while others were not. It was a wonderful experience to be able to participate in.  It was especially welcome to look forward to seeing friends during the fibre work parties, especially during covid!  Thank you again to Cathy Louise and Henry for giving up a section of their Market garden, doing the ground prep and planting and the aromatic section of retting that we missed.  Thank you also to all the other members of the Flax Study Group 2020.

 38 the team for the final processing, Glenn taking the picture this time!

Year 2 Flax Study Group, The Violent bit’s at the end!

Year 2 Flax Study Group, The Violent bit’s at the end!

A review of year 2 so far

This year the flax study group planted the seed we had harvested from last year. We had enough to double our planting and had 2 rows planted this year. We had 2 covid-modified weeding parties at 4 to 6 inches of growth but without the wonderful cake to celebrate successful weeding!

 1-2

The first part of the summer was very dry and hot so the flax was ready earlier than anticipated. We left the harvested bundles of Flax resting against the garden fence to dry.

 3-5

Then the weather turned and it rained and rained and rained. (I should not have been trying to wash those fleeces in the side yard! See the blog post about sentient weather.) The flax started its retting while it tried to dry. Once it had finally dried enough, we were back out (August 29th) to extract seed from stock. The seeds this year are MUCH smaller than last years, and lighter in weight. The seed pods were definitely ready to pick but the dry weather was hard on the plants (shorter in stature and smaller seeds). We used a number of seed extraction methods.  The double rakes were great and the pillowcases and rolling pins were effective too. Unfortunately, winnowing (using the wind to seperate chaff from seed) was not working, not much wind and the seed was as light as the chaff) we had the best success with Henrys Sieves from the grain silos. (Brilliant idea Henry!!)

6-13

Next the Flax, now de-seeded, went to the spa. (large trough of water with therapeutic cinderblocks to hold it under!) With the retting complete, we were ready to move on to the violent part of the process; Brakes, Skutching and the lovely Hackles! We set a date in November that we hoped most of us would be available to meet again at Cathy Louises’ coverall barn (the part the cows don’t live in! They are very cute cows but I don’t want to have to share the flax with them)

 14 supervisors

Now that we are all caught up again, let’s get to the best part of Flax processing; the vicious violent bits!

11/07/2020 Covid canceled our Guild sale but that leaves the Saturday free to start in on the flax. We met at the coverall barn on a fabulously wonderful un-fall-like day. It was so nice we worked in front of the barn, enjoying mild weather, the sun and no rain!

  15-16

Step 1 Braking;

The first step was braking the flax stocks to loosen and start the removal of the outer stock covering (the boon) from the long inner fibres which will become the linen. Bernadette, Ann and Cathy Louise experimented with hand braking before sending it to the brake but that was not as helpful as we had hoped.  If you did not have access to a flax brake this may be an option for you but it would take a lot of working the stocks to loosen the boon.

 17-18

Glenn and Gord were our main brakers this year. Glenn’s knee has been bothering him (postal work has not been diminished by Covid) so he quickly gave up on standing and has perfected the seated braking position.

 19-20

We had a couple of flax videos posted on our OVWSG flax study group Facebook page they were unfortunately in German (about Hackling) and in Russian about braking. From the video, Glenn modified his technique on the second Saturday to add scraping movements to the end of the braking. This seemed to make the next step a little easier.

  21-22

The technique seems to be to hold the root end, start at the tip (where the seeds were) and brake towards the roots flipping which side of the bundle is facing up. This first pass was done vigorously. Then work from the tip towards roots a little at a time still flipping the bundle but scraping gently each section as it is finished. Then flip and work the roots, which often broke off.

  23 the fibre is handed off to the next step

Step 2 Skutching;

As we got going, we had two primary brakers and 2-3 skutchers and the rest of us were on Hackle duty or taking photos. Skutching is a percussive movement hitting or flicking the stocks to loosen and remove as much of the outer layer as possible. The Skutching team were finding that splitting the bundle (by gently tugging on the ends) then reorienting the stocks parallel and continuing to skutch was effective.

  24-29

   30 fibre is sent to the next step

There was an intermittent breeze that kept depositing fibre into the shrubberies. (Sort of like pre-Christmas tinsel) I am sure the birds were sorry we didn’t do this part in the spring.

 31-33 Early Christmas tincil

Step 3 Hackles!!

The next step is my favourite part, the Hackles. They’re like a very sharp multi-pitch Viking comb that is clamped to the table. The flax is dragged through the top of the sharp pointy bloodletting teeth, removing even more of the boon. I watched the German video about Hackles, it was highly informative even with my only random words of German. He definitely was adamant about the angle, I think? I tried to mimic his diagonal pull through with change of direction on exiting the hackles. I also tried the flipping one side up then the other for each pass. This left the flax quite clean.

   34-36

   37-43

The hackling starts through the coarsest teeth then moves to finer and finer. Each step removes more boon. I was able to take out a few stubborn bits by flicking at them with a fingernail. We also were drafting off the hackles as the tow built up in it. The remnants still trapped in the comb, we bagged to process with the drum carder next week.

 44 some of the line

Just so you don’t think we were horribly overworked, we did break for Pizza

  45-46

We did quite well today but only got about half way through the harvest, well we did double the planting we did this year! So far, the flax is short but very fine. We bagged the tow for next week and made little stricks of the line. We did do a lot of work but it doesn’t show from the pile remaining!

   47-50

Some of the flax has a distinct hue of green.  The rest looks very familiar.

   51-52

11/14/2020  Day 2, similar in process to day 1 but with less sun or good temperatures.

It was much colder today, still no fluffy solid rain or serious cloud dandruff, yet (Yeah!!) so we moved into the coverall to work. The hacklers were by the barn door, while it provided great light there was a cool breeze. We continued to work on the braking and finished it off, leaving one bundle to compare with last years. We continued working on the skutching and hackling and added making batts with the tow.

  53-61

Our tow team today was Deborah and Cathy Louise.

       62-66

Deborah and Cathy Louise worked together to make batts of the tow.  We tried one pass but decided to try a second pass which was markedly improved.  They tried a third pass, but it was deemed very similar to the second pass. We found the waste from the drum carder to be very soft and have kept it.   We tried hand combing it with small 2 pitch hand combs with a good test result. We will collect the carding waste and comb it later.  Using the drum carder caused a lot of the chaff/boon to drop out underneath it.

    67-68 first and second pass

    69-70 Second and third pass

  71-72 Drum carder waste combed

We compared last year’s plant after retting to this year and saw a difference in height and this year’s plants are much finer in the stock. They were planted about 2 weeks earlier, but also harvested earlier than last year. We did not harvest too soon since the plants had flowered and were producing seeds so it was the correct time to harvest. It was extremely dry this summer until we harvested then it rained, a lot!

   73-75

We got most of the skutching finished today too.

 76

We bagged up the batts of tow we created today. We will be weighing the amounts of line and tow we have created likely next week.

 77

We will be back to work for our last day of processing this year next Saturday. There is a bit more to hackle then all the tow to process. When we are done, we will weigh out the tow and line and see what our yield was this year. Although the flax was definitely reduced in height the fineness of the fiber is spectacular, even the tow is soft and quite nice. I am looking forward to getting one of the flax wheels upstairs and put to work spinning part of this year’s harvest.

   78- 79

The spot we had the flax growing this summer is turned for winter and garlic has been planted there. It has been an amazing experience working with the flax team. Next year is a bit up in the air, we will hope to be changing planting locations or we may wind up taking a summer off.

 

Flax Study Group 2020 –Seed removal PART 2

Flax Study Group 2020 –Seed removal PART 2

When we last left off, we had just started rolling the seed heads Cole had removed with his bladed implement and the rakes when Henry returned from his quest. He had gone off to seek grated screens  so we could sieve out the chaff and sand and leave less wast with the seed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

51-53 the sieving begins, There were a lot of screen options and it took a moment to work out the right order.

 

 

 

54-55 The seed fell further than the chaff, the sand fell further than the seed. It was a brilliant idea!

 

 

56-58 Cole tried the rolling method without the pillowcase and then added the squished bits to the sieves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

59-60 The fine sieve got  rid of a lot of the sand

 

61-67 The sieves removed a lot of chaff and sand! What a brilliant idea!

 

 

 

68 Some of the chaff had tiny stones that would not fit through the sieve.

 

 

 

 

  69 We labeled the bags as sieved and unsaved.

70-71 we had a couple of cow supervisors checking our work. We continued to keep an eye on the cleaners in case they went for the bags with chaff and seeds (with a team effort I am sure they would have carried the bags away!!)

 

72-75 Henry moved the flax back to the wagon, we pulled a few bundles for Bernadette to try field retting.  The rest of the flax will be off to the trough to rett. We made sure to take all the bags of seed and chaff with us. (Those cleaners look vary through)

We called it a day and headed home via a couple more stops.

One was at Ann’s to pick up butter tarts and cookies we had pre ordered and see the bulging box of wool bomb from World of Wool!!

 76 best not to open it we will never get it back in the box.

77 Surprise!! You have lambs!! In August!

 

 

 

78 Turkeys!!(Ann’s lawn ornaments stair at you then all talk at once!)

 

 

79 some of her Boys, look at those lovely colour coats!!!! (i hope they get a trim before there off to where ever boy lambs go so you don’t have august lambs.)

 

A last word on the flax

While I get back to felting, Henry and Cathy Louise will give the flax a spa day, two or three submerged in the trough. I am unsure of the name of this particular spa treatment. It dose not seem to be covered in my hydrotherapy notes from school, since we never submerged patents in hydrotherapy using a layer of cinder-blocks to keep them under. Where would you get therapeutic cinder-blocks?

Have fun and happy felting, i will let you know when the flax has emerged from the “spa” and is ready for some heavy tapotement!

 

Flax Study Group 2020 –Seed removal Part 1 (from the stocks)

Flax Study Group 2020 –Seed removal Part 1 (from the stocks)

This is the part I missed last year, so was particularly interested in photographing and participating this year.

When we last left off we had had a very hot dry summer, the flax had matured more quickly than anticipated and we harvested early. We considered a second planting but there were a number of health issues in the group this summer so we decided against it. The flax was picked, bundled and stacked along the fence. Once dry, it would be moved inside to await the decapitation. We decided on a date Aug 29th when most of us could attend.

Well, that was the plan, between harvest and getting dry enough to put in the barn there was a distinct change in the weather. All the rain we would have liked earlier arrived now that we had harvested. Thus, the flax took longer to dry than expected and it looks to have started to do a bit of field retting.

1-2 the dried flax

3 3 Aug 29th, 2020 everything is wet but it’s not raining at the moment.

The day arrived for our torture of the Flax and it was overcast and looked like rain. We gathered in the coverall barn while the cows nibbled the stocks of the picked cornfield.

4 4 the cows were only mildly interested at this point

While I waited for the flax to be moved from one barn to the coverall, I admired the corn protection devices. There were a number of beech balls with eyes bobbing away and a cool black kite that went up and down in the breeze. It was fascinating, I think I need one for my garden if it works on chipmunks I might get a few strawberries!!

 

5-6 garden guards

Gord used his pickup to transport the harvest. Even with the stocks being shorter this year, there is a lot of flax! I had nice white new tarps in the car and we spread them out to place the flax on as we slowly worked our way through the pile.

7 7 flax arrival

There was a bucket of seed heads that had fallen off in the other barn which were also collected and brought to the coverall.

88 floor sweepings from storage

We had a number of experiments with seed extraction devices this year.  Last year the pillowcase and rolling pin method was most effective. This year we had that, a fish thwapper and a blank for a baseball bat to crush the seed pods releasing the seeds. We had a funnel to try a different form of winnowing and  Cole had brought a nasty implement with blades. He also re-tried the double rack used also like a hackle that had been suggested but had not been effective last year. This year the rakes were secured together with elastic and Velcro.

The funnel was interesting, it was used to swirl the crushed seed pods and chaff. We expected the seed to fall to the bottom and the chaff to migrate towards the top. While we could see a bit of this happening, we suspected that the seed this year is not as heavy or large as last year’s, so it is not as effective as we had hoped. This may work out very well next year so we will try it again.

9-12 the funnel separator

1313 this years seed are small and light (not just in colour)

The next implement was the fish thwapper.  Its basically like a rolling pin without the handles for hitting fish with. The unsuspecting flax was stuffed headfirst into the pillowcase (a small amount worked better than a large amount). When the flax was well incased in the pillowcase we brought out our weapons of choice, with either the thwapper, bat blank or rolling pins we rolled or beat the now blinded and unsuspecting flax till it was decapitated.

 14-19 rolling and hitting method

All this violence left us with the decapitated stocks, crushed seed heads and a few very tiny light cloured seeds. Most of us were using this method. You can check out Gord’s roller, which is a blank to make a baseball bat!

 20 21 more rolling

2222 Gord was flax-covid-coordinated with his mask matching his pillowcase!

The tarp at the back of the picture has the flax that has not been decapitated yet. The near tarp with the pile closest to the front of the picture is the fibre we had worked on.

2323 making progress

We are still under halfway there but already had a large number of flax stocks, chaff and hopefully some tiny seeds in amongst the chaff.

24 24 Chaff and seed collection

As I said earlier Cole brought a homemade implement to torture the flax with, it had blades set at an angle and he was drawing the flax through. It was working to separate the seed heads but it was taking some of the stock ends with it. It was also vary sharp and a bit scary (even for me).

25-28 blade implement

Next, he tried the two mettle tine racks Velcroed and elasticed together. This had not been effective last year but I had not been there with my handy elastic and Velcro tie downs!

29 29 This method seemed to be less harmful to both the flax and Cole.

30-32 the two rake method

Seedhead removal was very quick compared to the pillowcase method. There was still some stalk damage but not as much as the blades.  if you had to do a full field of flax this would be appealing.

Partway through the morning, I noticed the clean-up crew that Cathy Louise had on call.  One was working the aria under the wheelbarrow and another pair were covering the area where Gord had backed up to unload his pick-up.

 

 33-36 Barn cleaners

We continued working while keeping an eye on the clean-up crew in case they got over-enthusiastic and went for the flax.

37-38 chaff and seed

You can see bits of seeds in with the chaff. There will be a lot of work for the winnowing basket but with the seed so light and small, it too may disappear in the breeze

39 39 We have about 1/3 -ish left to decapitate.

40 40 The finished pile is growing too!

41-44 rolling thwapping and raking continued

4545 We can see a bit of seed

4646 artsy shot

Through the day, we had herd intermittent rain on the roof but this was getting to be waves of heavy downpours. Looking out the cow end of the coverall we could see the rain pelting down.

4747 More Rain!!!

4848 We finally reached the end of the pile!!

All that was left to do was crush the seed heads Cole had been separating. For that, we used the shovel to add the seed head to the pillowcases. Now back to rolling and thumping

4950 49-50

Just as we started the rolling  Henry returned from his quest. I think we should leave that for next week! you will have to wait to see what a brilliant idea he had!

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