Station: [17] Flax Processing

F: Until around a hundred years ago, a loom was an essential item in many local farmhouses. Home weaving was an important extra source of income for the farmers. But before you could start weaving cloth, the flax had to be processed. Let’s make no bones about it: flax is really tricky to work with. And turning the blue flowering plant into yarn takes a great many steps.

M: If you look around, you can see how many tools are needed to process flax. But let’s start at the beginning – with the harvest. To obtain the longest possible fibres, the flax was pulled up by the roots. Then the seed heads could be stripped, a process called rippling. That was carried out on a ripple, or a rippling bench, with several coarse combs. 

F: Next, the flax was soaked, usually in special pits, where it was left for a week or even longer. This process is called retting. It is critical, because during the retting process, the sought-after fibres become detached from the woody core. After drying, they can then be broken and scutched. These two steps break down the woody parts and strip them out.  

M: The next step was heckling. That involved pulling the flax fibres through a selection of iron-toothed heckling combs. That removed any short fibres while also combing the long fibres into a smooth hank. Each heckling comb was finer than the last. And in case you were wondering: the worst of the work was now done!

F: Next, the fibres were spun into yarn on a spinning wheel. Twist was added to the fibres to produce yarn with the required strength. It’s work that takes a fair amount of practice and skill. As part of the spinning process, the yarn was wound on to spools, from which it was transferred to reels and then bleached. And finally, it was time to dress the loom.

Fotos: © Heimatmuseum Lette