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Posts Tagged ‘scutching board’

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-straw-spun-thread-on-spindle-a2-2016-blog

Homegrown flax straw, line flax, and linen thread spun from the line flax.

Growing flax in your garden and making it into linen is a great experience. Linen is the name for flax fiber once it is made into thread. It is hard to believe that what you harvest in the summer, something that looks less vibrant than the straw that results from growing wheat and rye, can produce fiber that can be made into fabric. Knowledge and the right tools is all it takes, in addition to planting the flax seeds at the correct time.

The variety of flax you will be planting for linen (Linum usitatissimum) is different than flax for culinary use (Linum perenne). Also, the planting is different. For linen you will need to plant the seeds closer together to get a very thick stand. The goal is to have straight stalks with no branching. A variety of fiber flax that I have found readily available is Marilyn. The Heirloom Seed Project at the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum in Lancaster, Pennsylvania sells Marilyn flax seed, as does the Hermitage in Pitman, Pennsylvania. Richters in Canada is also a source of flax seed. One pound of flax seed will plant about 300-400 square feet. You might find it for sale in some places by the packet for smaller areas.

Don’t delay in ordering your seeds because the time to plant is in early spring. Last year I planted on March 8 here in Virginia in Zone 7. Using the information in Linda Heinrich’s book, Linen: From Flax Seed to Woven Cloth, as my guide, I waited until the soil had warmed to at least 43-46° F. (6-8° C.). Soil that is too cold will slow germination. Since I was planting in beds in my vegetable garden, I had the required open and sunny space. One guideline as a time to plant is to count back 100 days from when hot weather (80° F., 27° C.) sets in. Here in Virginia it can get hot early, so I went with the soil temperature guideline.

flax-flowering-blog

flax flowers

Harvest time is 90-100 days from planting, or 30 days after the crop is in full flower. I watched for that and marked my calendar for harvest in 30 days. There will be some earlier blooms and some later ones, but watch for the major flush of blooms. I harvested most of my flax on June 22. I let one bed go about two weeks later to let the seeds mature, harvesting that bed on July 8. I thought I would be sacrificing the quality of the fiber if I waited for the seeds to mature, but so far, it looks good. I have processed it into line flax for spinning, but haven’t spun it yet. Time will tell.

I prepare in the fall for my early spring flax planting. The area needs to be moderately fertile. In the fall, instead of planting a cover crop, I cover the intended flax beds with leaves from the oak and maple trees in our yard, since I can never be too sure what the weather will be in early spring and I want the beds ready early. If I could depend on having the cover crop winterkill, I would plant for that. However, sometimes our winters are too mild for a sure winterkill, which has happened this year. I pull off the leaves a week or two before planting to let the soil warm and, when the time is right, put in the seeds.

flax-growing-in-rows-in-the-gardenblog

Flax growing in rows in a 4′ wide garden bed.

Everything I have read about flax cautions about keeping up with the weeding, but I found that was not a problem. The flax was well established by the time weeds appeared. The leaf mulch over the winter might have helped with that. Planting can be done in rows spaced close together (3-4 in., 7.5-10.5 cm.) or broadcast. Planting in rows will help you identify what is flax and what is weeds, making weeding easier. When it is time to harvest, you will be pulling it up, roots and all, rather than cutting it. The fiber extends all the way into the roots and you want every bit.

flax-equipment-blog-brake-hackles-scutching

Flax brake, scutching board and scutching knife, and three hackles. The middle hackle is an antique. We made the other two.

Growing flax is the easy part. Once it is harvested, it will need to be retted, which can be accomplished by soaking it in water or laying it out in the grass to let the dew take care of it for a couple weeks. After that, you will need equipment, which may not be readily available, to process it into line flax to spin. Of course, then you need to spin it, then weave or knit it. Don’t worry, I will be telling you about retting and processing in future posts. We have made a flax brake, scutching board and knife, and hackles to do the processing. The spinning can be done on a handspindle or a spinning wheel.

If you would like to work with flax and you do not intend to grow your own, you can purchase unretted flax from the Heirloom Seed Project at the Landis Valley Museum. That’s how I got started. Places that sell spinning and weaving equipment may have line flax for spinning. The class I took at the John C. Campbell Folk School in 2015 helped jumpstart my flax education.

Get your seeds in the ground this spring and watch for them to flower in 60-70 days, then mark your calendar for harvest 30 days after that. I’ll be posting again before harvest time to guide you along. This will be fun!homeplace earth

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