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Posts Tagged ‘flax brake’

1. brake and scutching board with flax - BLOG

Flax Brake and Scutching Board

Being able to grow your own flax fiber to spin and weave into linen clothes is a wonderful experience. The growing is the easy part. Once flax straw is retted it can be stored indefinitely until you are ready for the fiber. When that time comes, you need to have some equipment that may not be readily available until you make it yourself. You will need a flax brake and a scutching board.

The fiber you are after is located between the skin and the inner core of the flax stems. A brake is the tool that you will use to break up those outer and inner layers, freeing the flax fiber. I have seen the tool name spelled as both “brake” and “break”. In The Big Book of Flax, Christian and Johannes Zinzendorf mention that the noun and verb are spelled differently for some reason unbeknownst to them. Flax brake is also the term used in Linda Heinrich’s book Linen, so that is the spelling that I will go with.

2. flax brakes-Cindy and Becky - BLOG

Flax Brakes

If you just want to see if you can do it, probably any method of pounding the flax will break up those layers and result in releasing the fiber. However, if you are going to produce enough fiber to work with, you will want to be as efficient as possible. When I was learning about flax I was fortunate that my friend Becky loaned me her brake. Now I have my own and you can see them both in this photo. Becky’s is obviously smaller. She has used it in demonstrations with children and says she puts it on bricks to raise it to use herself. You see mine here when it was brand new—before I applied an oil finish. My talented husband made it from plans we purchased from Woolgatherers. Those plans were made from the design of an antique brake. The only change we made was to make ours several inches taller. It is put together with pegs and can come apart into four pieces—the top, two legs, and the bar between them.

My brake is made of oak left from a previous building project. It was rough-cut and my husband used his planer to smooth the pieces. To make the holes precise so the dowels fit well, he used a Forstner bit in his drill press. The wooden knives were formed on the table saw. This brake is a terrific tool to use. Becky’s brake is lighter and easier to tote around in a car when she takes it places for demonstrations. The legs on hers are screwed on and, as far as I know, she doesn’t take them off.

3. flax brake top--portable - BLOG

Tabletop Flax Brake

For portability, you can’t beat the brakes we used at the Flax to Linen class with Cassie Dickson at the John C. Campbell Folk School. They are easier to build, lightweight, and take up little space. Cassie brought this tabletop brake to the workshop at my place.

4. flax brake bottom--portable - BLOG

Notice the rounded edges on the bottom of the tabletop brake.

It works well and is great to take for demos, but I would like it to have a way to clamp it to the table for serious work. It is certainly easier to make than the larger ones. In order for it to work, you need to be sure and round the bottom ends on the inside pieces, as you can see in the photo.

5. flax brake portable--open - BLOG

Simple Tabletop Brake

Another simple brake that was available at the Folk School class is this one. You could use clamps on the pieces that stick out on the sides. Not all brakes have two wooden knives that go into slots to break the flax.

6. flax brake-jan - BLOG

Antique Flax Brake

Some brakes are singles, like the antique brake in the photo. The wooden knives that come together to do the breaking are beveled on the larger free-standing brakes, but not on the tabletop models. The brake you make will depend on the tools you have available and your expertise in using them. Decide what features you want and go from there.

scutching board and knife

Scutching Board and Knife

The next step is scutching. The broken inner and outer pieces clinging to your flax fiber after breaking is called boon. The process of separating it from the flax fiber is called scutching. Boon can be whisked away by rubbing it off against a hard surface, often using a scutching board and wooden knife. My scutching board was made from a wide pine board that still had bark on the edges. Our source of such wood is our daughter and son-in-law’s sawmill. The scutching knife was cut from a 2×4. Both pieces were based on plans from Woolgatherers. We changed the top of the scutching board to make it easier to build and I am quite happy with it. I like the fact that my scutching knife can be stored by hanging it from the scutching board.

tabletop scutching boards

Tabletop Scutching Boards

At the Folk School we used the tabletop scutching boards that you see here. They are easy to take for demos. You don’t have to go to elaborate means to make a scutching board. When I first processed flax at home I used a scrap piece of plywood for the board and a piece of wood trim for a scutching knife. Actually, you could probably just whack it against a tree to release the boon.

Not all the boon will come off with scutching. Further cleaning will be done with hackles, but that is a story for another day. My next post in two weeks will be about hackles. homeplace earth logo

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Flax brake in use during workshop.

Last month Clotho’s Handspinners, the handspinning group I am part of, sponsored a Flax to Linen Workshop. My husband, Walt, and I hosted it at our place and it was wonderful! Cassie Dickson, our instructor from North Carolina, has been working with flax for many years and teaches the Flax to Linen class at the John C. Campbell Folk School each year. I met her when I took that class in 2015. Although the pictures you usually see in this blog are ones that I took, thank Stephanie Conner, our daughter-in-law, for these wonderful photos. She volunteered to be our photographer for the workshop.

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Show and Tell evening program.

Cassie and her husband Charlie arrived on June 9 and that evening everyone came for a 2 hour orientation and show-and-tell. Cassie gave a Powerpoint presentation and explained the many things she had brought for us to see. She had so much good information to share. The next day everyone would learn the mechanics of turning flax into linen, but this was different.

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Flax to Linen instructor Cassie Dickson.

The weather was beautiful on Saturday, June 10, for the workshop. Understandably, this part took place outside. Trees provided shade, as did our house, and we put up a canopy for more. The hours for the workshop were 9am to 4pm. Everyone showed up with their spinning wheels, ready to learn. Cassie explained each step of the process of turning flax into linen. Then everyone was free to use the equipment we had set up and have at it for themselves, with help from Cassie, of course. (Once you separate the fiber from the flax straw it is still called flax until it is spun, then it is linen.)

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Flax samples grown and retted by  Cassie.

Cassie had samples for everyone of flax that she had grown herself and retted differently. This way the participants could have experience working with flax that was over retted, under retted, and retted just right. She also had some line flax that had been purchased for everyone to spin. Line flax is what you would end up with after processing. She showed how to prepare a distaff with line flax and had even brought distaffs for each person to use. They were self-supporting posts with tissue paper wrapped around the top. The flax was tied over the paper and you pulled it from there.

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Hackles of various sizes were available to use.

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Breaking and scutching with tabletop tools

Cassie brought some equipment with her and we added to it. Besides the distaffs, she had a set of hackles, two tabletop flax brakes, and a tabletop scutching board. I provided my brake (top photo), scutching board, and hackles. We also had the use of two more flax brakes provided by Clothos members Jan and Becky, who are already knowledgeable about flax and wanted to support the workshop. In addition, Jan loaned her hackles. We had plenty of equipment to keep the group busy.

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After processing their flax, spinners found shady places to use their wheels.

When they weren’t breaking, scutching, and hackling, the participants were spinning using their own spinning wheels. When I took the class at the Folk School, although already knowing how to use a spinning wheel was recommended, not everyone did. Since this was a group of spinners, that was not a problem here. There are some differences spinning flax over other fibers and that is what they were learning. One of the differences was that it is best to use water when spinning flax, so everyone had a small bowl of water nearby to dip their fingers into.

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Flax growing in the foreground in the garden.

Everyone brought their own lunch and I provided water and iced tea. After lunch, before we started back to work, I led a tour of my garden.  I had flax growing that was one week away from harvest. There was also cotton to see, plus my food crops, cover crops, and compost piles. When we first started to plan this workshop last winter I knew that my place would be the best location to have it. We could fit everyone in our house and backyard and there would be flax growing in the garden.

 

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Instructor Cassie Dickson (right) offering spinning tips to Susan Palmer.

If you are thinking of bringing an instructor in from afar for a workshop of any kind, you need to plan carefully. We needed to cover Cassie’s travel, food, lodging, and her workshop fee. Also, there was a $45 materials fee for each participant. If travel is by car, reimbursement usually corresponds to the standard IRS mileage deduction for business, which is 53.5 cents per mile for 2017—make sure to count roundtrip miles. So, the further away your instructor is, the more the workshop will cost. If we would have needed to rent a space for the workshop or provide hotel accommodations, that would have increased the cost. Wherever you have it, you need to supply a large enough space, parking, clean bathrooms, etc. Instead, I hosted Cassie and her husband at my home as friends and loved having everyone here for the workshop. Our barnyard provided parking space. The twelve people who signed on for the workshop each paid $140.

 

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Clotho’s Handspinners’ Flax to Linen Workshop, June 2017

It was a great time! Yes, it was a lot of work getting ready to have the workshop here, but that meant projects around the house that we had been putting off got done. The only time the four of us (Cassie, Charlie, Walt, and I) had to sit and enjoy talking together was during dinner before the evening program and breakfast the next morning.  It was a busy time, but now more Clothos members know the ins and outs of working with flax, so I have more people to play with. It was a great way to start the summer!homeplace earth

 

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