Flax and linen

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Flax and linen

Post: #260323 PlainQB
Sat May 12, 2012 3:47 pm

Hello,

I've read that with a couple of square metres of flax you can harvest enough fibre to make a garment.

- does anyone grow flax?
- how do you gro flax?
- how do you process fthe plant to make fibres for spinning?

Thank you

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Niele da Kine
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Re: Flax and linen

Post: #264628 Niele da Kine
Sat Jul 28, 2012 9:40 am

A friend of mine is working on growing flax although there seems to be two plants of the same name that look hugely different. He has one which is reddish brown and has huge spear like leaves. The whole thing is a meter tall or more. I planted some flax seeds from some edible flax type seeds and the plant was a much different small vine type plant with small leaves. So, I'd guess you'd need to find out which is the right flax for the fibre type and not the eating type, if those even are the two types.

After you get the flax grown you have to "ret" and "scutch" it. Retting seems to be leaving it laying about in a vat of water for a bit until the wetter plant parts sort of rot a bit and then mush those off the fiber parts. I'm not exactly sure what "scutching" is, but at least it has an interesting name.

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Re: Flax and linen

Post: #264656 chickenchargrill
Sun Jul 29, 2012 9:43 am

Scutching is once you've dried your flax after retting. It's pretty much beating the flax, you hold it against a vertical board with one hand and beat with a wooden bat with the other. All the waste falls to the floor and you're left with your fibres ready to comb then spin your flax.

I've only had a go with a little bit of the flax we used to grow. We just planted seeds one year and quite liked the stuff, it's easy to grow. We planted around mid-spring, it only takes a couple of months to grow. But if you do go for processing by hand, it can take up to 3 months to process depending on the weather and whether you go for dew or water retting (latter can get very smelly).

Apparently it can exhaust the soil though, so you'll need to rotate. Having said that, last time I went past my old house, it was still growing happily in the same place it was first planted 15 years ago.

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Re: Flax and linen

Post: #264657 chickenchargrill
Sun Jul 29, 2012 9:50 am

Niele - It sounds like your friend planted New Zealand flax. That's still great for fibres, though better suited to basket weaving and such.

If you're after linen, the linseed variety is best.

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Re: Flax and linen

Post: #264659 GeorgeSalt
Sun Jul 29, 2012 12:46 pm

There's an old film of flax production at:
http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/934

Yesterday we cycled past the remains of the flax research establishment that's featured..
Curently collecting recipes for The Little Book of Liqueurs..

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Re: Flax and linen

Post: #264669 Niele da Kine
Sun Jul 29, 2012 9:14 pm

So the small leaved vine sort of flax plant is the one for cloth? The one which grew from edible flax seeds? Oh dear, my friend isn't going to be very pleased about that, he's been crowing about how his flax plant is more proper than my flax plant. He does like basket weaving, though so he will still be able to use it.

After the plant is grown, what does one do with it next? When is it harvested? Let the plant grow to it's adult size and then let it dry or soak it in water for awhile before letting it dry? I think the little bit of flax that had been planted earlier died off when that corner of the garden wasn't watered while we were on vacation. Perhaps something can be done with dried flax vine.

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Re: Flax and linen

Post: #264683 chickenchargrill
Mon Jul 30, 2012 8:18 am

Depends how fine you want your linen. The sooner you pick after flowering the finer the cloth will be, although most wait until the flower wilts and the seed pod grows. If you pick when the seed pod is turning brown after that, you can harvest the seeds after the first drying. I think I found a site that had the same instructions as my book. Will see if I can find it again...

Yes, the linseed is the one you need for linen. The New Zealand Flax was named after the Flax as you could use it. But it's only good for baskets, nets, sacks and such.
Last edited by chickenchargrill on Mon Jul 30, 2012 8:27 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Flax and linen

Post: #264684 chickenchargrill
Mon Jul 30, 2012 8:25 am

Here it is... https://sites.google.com/site/ancientcwmbran/project-groups/medieval-farming/growing-flax-making-linen

Once you're ready to harvest the flax, pull it up with the roots and knock off all the soil. Then it needs to be dried - in this site they suggest tying into a bundle and leaving outside to dry. I spread them out on the path when I did it though. Then I just transferred it to the lawn for dew retting. However, it was ideal conditions for it, you might find if it's too dry you have to store the flax til spring if you want to try dew retting. Otherwise, if you have the room for water retting, by room I mean far enough from the house so you're not having to put up with the smell, that's the easiest way.


The site is more detailed in its instructions.

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Re: Flax and linen

Post: #264757 Niele da Kine
Tue Jul 31, 2012 2:45 am

Thanks Chickenchargrill,

That's a useful site. Linen is a LOT of work! Isn't it part of "linsey woolly", though? Sort of half wool, half linen?

Would cotton be easier than linen? That has seeds to pull out of the fiber, but no "scutching" or "retting". Finer clothes seem to be made of linen than cotton, though.


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