- Harvesting involves pulling the whole plant from out of the ground and not cutting it as the roots contain some of the finest fibers.
- Retting is a two-week process where the harvested plants are taken and thinly spread out over a field so they can absorb the dew, rain and the heat of the sun, all of which rots the pith and loosens the fibers. The process is frequently referred to as "dew retting"
- Drying is the next step n the process where the retted plants are now placed on top of a frame that is referred to as a "kiln" and put over a low fire until they become as dry as tinder.
- Breaking this part of the process involved the dried plant stalks being beat by a "breaker" which has opposing wooden blades hinged at one end. The breaker breaks the woody fiber and loosens the finer threads.
- Scutching comes next in the process and this is when the fibers are held against a vertical board and they are then scraped with a "scutching paddle" which causes the woody pulp to fall off and leave behind long, glossy fibers.
- Heckling comes next, no not the verbal kind! This kind of heckling involves the long, glossy fibers being pulled through rows of iron spikes. It involves working from courser or larger and wider spaced teeth down to finer or smaller and closer spaced teeth in order to remove any remaining pulp along with the shorter and courser strands of fiber.
- Spinning is the next step in the process where the fine fiber is spun on a spinning wheel into linen thread which is then wound onto a spool or bobbin.
- Weaving this is the final step in the process and involves taking the bobbin or spool of thread and place it in a shuttle which is threaded back and forth through a linen loom in order to make the linen cloth.
It sure does give you a real appreciation for all of the work involved in the making of linen fabric. I know we will never look at a piece of linen without thinking about all of the steps that it took to make it.
There is a Flax Scutching Festival in Stahlstown, PA that demonstrates the practices that have been used for more than 200 years in the Ligonier Valley. The Stahlstown Festival is held the second Saturday and Sunday each September so if you are in the area at that time of year you might like to stop and investigate this fascinating process in person!