Station: [10] Flax Processing

While l weave fine linen for thee, love,

Linen for thee, fine linen for thee, love,

Sure will it grow fine linen for thee, love?

Oh, yes, everything always sounds so nice and romantic in a song. But flax is contrary, I can tell you, and tough, and before you can weave it into linen, you have to process it good and hard. You mustn’t be timid about it, either. It’s a tough plant, but that’s something it has in common with Steinhude folk. It all starts with the harvest. 

I have to pull the plant out of the soil with my bare hands, roots and all. But the fibre we need for spinning is in the stems, and they don't give it up so easily. First, you have to let them decay. That’s called “retting”, and it happens in the retting pit. The woody stems split open, and afterwards, we work them over with all kinds of tools. We break them and beat them, which separates the woody parts from the stems. After all, no one wants to spend the night in bed and end up picking splinters out of their skin in the morning. And finally, you draw the fibres through a big metal comb called a hackle, again and again. And they become finer and finer, until only beautiful long fibres remain, and that’s what you spin into yarn. 

I don't think there’s one woman in Steinhude without blisters on her fingers from spinning yarn day in, day out.  

Excuse me, Martha, instead of going on about your blisters, how about giving me a hand unloading the peat? I’m making no headway at all. 

Well then, work faster. That’ll be the day, when I let myself be bossed around by you, Hans. Typical man. And it's the same with the flax. We women sit spinning, all day and every day, and who measures the yarn? The man, of course. He sits at the reel, winds the flax and settles accounts with the weavers.  

I'm telling you, something has got to change, but whether I’ll live to see it--?

Photo: © Fischer- und Webermuseum