In the spring of 2017, my parents and I planted 3 plots of flax with three varieties of seeds in the hopes of processing it in to linen.
After broadcasting the seeds (not planting one by one, but throwing them in a circular motion away from the body), we waited and watered the flax plants.
According to our reference material, we were to harvest the plants when they are mostly green, but starting to turn brown at the bottom of the plants. At this point, we are ready to pull. As opposed to cutting the plants, we pull the flax plants out of the ground by the root. This allows us to maintain the longest piece of fibre. When spinning or weaving with linen, the long fibres (called "long line linen") are the nicest and produce the best end result. There will inevitably be shorter fibres. These short fibres (called "tow linen") are used in more rougher applications - like making rope.
After we pulled the flax, we dried it. This is important because it hinders mould growth in the following steps. Once the plants were dry, we removed the seeds (called "rippling"). We might have pulled our flax a bit early as we aren't sure the seeds are viable for planting next year - but it's a learning process!
Next comes retting. This is a process involves rotting the outside stalk of the plant off the inside fibres. This can be done one of two ways. Wet retting means submerging the plants in water. Feild retting means laying the plants in a thin layer on a freshly cut patch of field. In this method, you flip the flax over every week or so to ensure there is even retting. Wet retting took us approximately 5 days and field retting took us approximately 3 weeks.
Another phase of drying before we move on to the next phase.
Breaking the plants is done to help the stalks come off the inside fibre. This is done in small bundles. Next comes scutching. This is another breaking method with a bit more specific intention of where the breaking occurs. We then use the hackles. These looks like torture devices on a small scale. Maybe a bed of nails? We run the fibre threw the hackles, starting with the least dense and moving on to more dense hackles. At the end of this step, we are ready to spin some fibre!
So far I've only spun a small amount of the fibre. There are a lot of steps before you can even get to this point!