Extracting Flax Fibers
The Linen Craft
We started our Linen Craft series with the planting of flax. Then we had a look at growing and blooming. In the previous posts we discussed the retting, pulling and harvesting processes. At this point, the flax lies bundled into large bales on the fields. The retted plants are now ready for processing. Our next step is to separate the fiber from the stem. For this, farmers transport the bales of flax to a specialized scutching and hackling firm.
In this process, the fiber is extracted by breaking the woody stalk of the plant into pieces called shives, without harming the flax fiber. This used to be a labor-intensive process done by hand. Today, everything is done with scutchers, machines that break the stalk and separate the shives mechanically.
First, we load the bales onto the scutching machine. After opening, the flax is rolled out and spread across the line.
Next, the machine pulls it through large rollers, which break the stalk into shives but preserves the fiber.
In the final step, the flax reaches the drums. Here, large rotating blades beat the remaining shives from the fiber, also removing shorter fibers (scutching tow). Upon completion, a scutcher checks the long fibers for quality, removing everything that doesn’t meet the high Belgian Linen standards.
The scutching tows are perfect for coarser yarns or serve as raw material for e.g. paper or composite production. The shives are ideal for manufacturing chipboards or for animal bedding. There is literally no waste as each part of the plant has its purpose.
The next step removes the remaining shives and sorts out shorter fibers again. We do this by a method called hackling, a mechanized combing process. Thousands of pins comb the flax until only the purest fiber remains.
We distinguish two new materials coming out of the machine: hackle tows and flax line. The former serves as raw material for coarser yarns, whereas the latter forms the base material for the finest linen yarns.
The scutching and hackling process demonstrates how resourceful the flax plant truly is. At this stage, we obtain various raw materials, each suitable for applications in a wide array of industries. Moreover, this process is entirely mechanical, no chemicals or additives are used. A natural production process, where nothing gets wasted. How’s that for sustainability?
The result: pure flax fiber
The Linen Craft illustrates the passion and dedication of linen artisans. Browse through the making of our linen, from fiber to fabric, with detailed images. A luxurious hardcover in three languages: English, French and Dutch.