Museum News

From Flax to Linen

Flax bed

Did you know flax was traditionally grown in the weald and downland area to produce linen, that would have been used for clothing and in the home.

 At the Weald & Downland Living Museum we grow our own flax, usually in the yard behind Tindalls, where we normally carry out our flax preparation demonstrations. This year we have used the bedding area at the Gateway Garden to grow our Flax, so it could be seen from the Museum entrance.

Behind Tindalls Cottage we have three beds which we use in rotation, this is to ensure that one is normally left fallow for a year from the end of the farming season the previous year. We then turn over the soil and fertilise it using manure and wood ash. From late February/March time, we then de-turf the beds and rake them through to prepare them for sowing.

The sowing takes place in Spring once the frosts have finished. It is very important to cast the seeds evenly so that the crop grows properly. It is also important to sow the seeds when there is no breeze for the best results. The task of sowing was so critical that in some areas they would employ specific people for this task.

At the Museum, we use heritage varieties of flax seeds such as Riga Child to produce the long stems needed for textile production. To plant the seeds we broadcast them by hand and then stamp them into the ground, the seeds need to be covered but are shallow planted.Flax

The flax is harvested approximately 100 days later once the flowers stop forming each day, this is when the stems are at their strongest. The crop is gently pulled out of the ground as the roots are very close to the surface. The flax is then tied up into bundles known as stooks to allow the chlorophyll to die off and the stems to turn yellow. The dried stooks are then soaked with water for several months until the inner plith starts to loosen against the outside stem fibres. The crop is then dried once more ready to be used and processed into linen. 

There are three steps in this next stage which sees the flax broken down and then scutched using a scutching board before being pulled through a heckling comb which makes the flax straight, clean and ready to spin. The spinning will take place at the Museum in September.