Sunday, September 16, 2012
Flax to Linen
The flax had been sitting in bins full of water since last weekend. We've had unseasonably warm weather, so the water got quite warm through the day. It cooled down at night, but even so, the flax spent a great deal of time in warm standing water. I tried to replicate the action of a side eddy, by stirring it up a couple of times a day. I also removed some water and added new (rain) water every other day.
Here's what it looked like. There was definitely bacterial action of some kind as there was generally a foam on it, and near the end of the retting process, was a scum. It smelled awful -- compared to some of the stuff, ie. crap they put on the hay field behind us, this wasn't that bad. But it certainly wasn't something you wanted to spend much time with.
In the picture below, you can see it in the smaller bin. It's murky and smelly. Using my bare hand, I moved the fibres around the water. My arm then smelled like hell. I suppose I could have used a stick, but I wanted to touch the fibres to see what they felt like as they were going through this process. They were flexible and firm, and a wee bit slimy.
Below is the smaller bin with the retting water drained. It just looks like stalks of straw. Where's the linen?
[Please remember: I don't know what I am doing. I have never done this before. I am just going on a leap of faith, lots of enthusiasm and information from the internet. I am not entirely sure about each stage of the process and when I should move from one stage to the next. That's why I am babying the flax and being ultra observant.]
Once I replaced the murky retting water with fresh water I noticed something I hadn't before. See those fine fibres moving away from the stalk? That's linen!
In a flurry of excitement I finally understood how linen comes to be. Linen is the fine bast fibres that run between two major parts of the flax plant. The soft outer core (that I just got rid of through the retting process) and the harder inner core, the stalk of straw that holds it upright.
I checked the flax in the other two larger bins, and yes, the same thing was taking place. The outer core had rotted or retted away and the linen was released. It is still somewhat attached to the inner core. That's what the next couple of stages are all about.
So I removed the flax from the water, wrung it out, and yes, when I wrung it out it smelled like a linen shirt. Well, not exactly, but now I understand where the distinct smell that linen has comes from. Fortunately I had replaced the retting water with new stuff before I made the decision that it had retted enough.
I set it against the fence to dry. Here's what it looks like today. It's a lovely colour -- flaxen gold.
It's not quite dry enough for the next stage, but I can now see the linen. When I rough up the tips and shake the straw out of it, what is left are soft, fine fibres of linen.
I still have a long way to go before I have fibre to spin. But for the first time I can see it. I get it!!