A flax field near Panevezys, Lithuania. Such beautiful light with the grey clouds and sun breaking through. To get the full experience, you can watch our video of the fields blowing in the wind.
Above is a close-up of the flax plant, in bloom with its delicate waxy blue flowers, and a botanical print detailing the various parts. The stalk of the plant is retted and turned into linen fiber, as you will see. The pods produce the flax seeds, which are full of nutrients, or can be used to replant.
Dew-retting breaks down the stalks and loosens the fibers, a process which is still done in the fields, with little added water and no chemicals.
Then the plant is thoroughly dried before it can be broken, combed and spun into linen yarn.
Here you see two traditional methods of breaking stalks, which releases the fibers from the stem and separates them.
Scutching is the second step (pictured in the left-hand frame of the video), where the broken flax stems are scraped with a knife to remove the straw and other impurities.
Then comes the “heckling” – a process of pulling the stalks through a series of combs to clean and soften the fibres.
We made a video of Daiva and her daughter giving it a try. Take a look!
With enough elbow grease the fibers will eventually turn from this… to this…
It is easy to see where the expression “flaxen hair” comes from.
Finally the flax is spun into yarns and then woven or knitted into fabric. Here, a traditional loom is weaving the old way, by hand.
Of course, looms are larger and mechanised today, but the elemental simplicity of this process captivates my imagination. This is how my own grandmother’s family obtained their linens, just as countless rural households had been doing for centuries.
Am I getting a loom of my own any time soon? I don’t think so! Spinning sounds attractive though...
The reward of all that hard work is well worth it. Pure linen, enjoyed for millennia, celebrated for its texture and airiness. But then again, if you've read this far, you probably already know!
This is a re-post, Daiva from Rough Linen recently took a trip there to witness the traditional process of turning the flax stems into soft, luscious linen.