Welcome back to The Joy of Flax, an insightful journey through the beautiful Belgian countryside where we take a deeper look at the time-honored tradition of turning flax to fabric.
While our previous columns covered the planting and harvesting seasons of this incredibly versatile plant, today we will explore the final transformative steps from raw, natural fiber into soft, lustrous linen.
Ready for Retting
When we last left our stalks of flax, they were patiently drying in the summer sun. Only after the flax has dried completely and its seeds have been removed is it ready to be retted.
Retting is the process of releasing the delicate flax fibers from their stalks by dissolving the natural pectins that bind the plant together, usually with water, dew, or even snow. Dissolving this pectin is crucial to freeing the fibers without damaging them.
This process causes the flax to grow darker in color, eventually allowing the fibers to easily detach themselves from the stem.
The flax is then gently rolled into bundles and stood upright to be dried one last time. When dry, properly retted flax can be safely stored for decades until their natural fibers are finally ready to be processed.
Breaking and Scutching and Hackling, Oh My!
Once the flax fibers are adequately loosened, the woody stalk must be broken into smaller pieces, called shives, so it separates from the flax without damaging the fiber.
Handfuls of flax are pulled through large rollers, or fed into the wooden blades of a breaking machine, where the broken shives fall away, leaving the long, flexible fibers intact.
Any remaining shives are promptly removed by scraping along the length of the flax in a process called scutching. Traditionally performed by hand, this once labor-intensive technique is now accomplished through the use of a scutching machine.
The final step, called hackling, involves a mechanized combing process in which the fibers are pulled through thousands of tiny metal pins, ensuring only the purest and finest fibers are extracted.
These fibers are then spun into yarns from which our linen is woven. The same soft and durable linen we proudly use today in our stylish collection of authentic Belgian Linen throws and pillows.