Thursday, 8 August 2013

The ideal AA experiment: It's stinky and muddy! Retting flax.

Our weaving and dyeing friend, Eryl, has been growing flax this year and yesterday we started processing the plant to make linen.  She has cultivated c10m square of flax this Summer. Here are the plants. The have been pulled up (root included) not cut and dried for 2 weeks.
The seed heads and my foot.

This is the 'hackle' or 'heckle' a comb like tool which removed the seed heads from the stalks.

This being the Summer holidays I had my little helper, Ginny, with me. She kindly agreed to help in the 'hackling'.

You draw the stalks through the 'hackle' and the seedheads fall off.

The seed heads are then collected together in a bag (old pillowcase) and either crushed between the fingers or...

bashed (Ginny's preferred technique!). This releases the seeds which can be kept for next year. Winnowing would separate the shells from the seeds, but there was no wind yesterday so we have keep them for a windy day.

Next you need an easily bribed person with a scythe (a sausage bap worked on Dave!).

I have been really impressed by the scythe. It clears overgrown areas much quicker than a strimmer and more neatly. Dave is clearing the ground ready for our retting pit.

To extract the fibres from the plant you traditionally rett the stalks. Basically leave the stalks in wet or damp conditions and let the bacteria break down the stalk leaving a foul smell and fibres. We de-turfed and dug a small pit.

To make the pit so that it holds water, we puddled it. Simply pour water into the pit and stomp up and down on it. This compresses the soil.

Continue to pour water into the pit and stomp. This makes lovely mud and saturates the surrounding soil.

Don't forget to compress the sides as well.

You know when its ready when the water starts to fill the pit.

In goes the flax!

Now you just wait for a couple of weeks, check the water is still there and let the bugs do their bit.

We are also trying dew retting. Simply leaving the stalks on grass and let the dew moisten the stalks. This will take longer to break down the stalks. We also laid out some nettles on the grass to see how they break down. I will post the results. Eryl is doing a dyeing with natural dye workshop at the allotments behind the hospital in Llandudno on Sunday PM. Pop along if you can its fascinating!

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