Category Archives: rippling flax

#fail – Flax doesn’t like to be frozen

I think the title says it all — flax fibres don’t like to be frozen. Or if it wasn’t the freezing that weakened them, it was the amount of time they spent in the water. And the freezing didn’t help either.

Here’s what properly wet-retted flax fibres look like. They have a lovely colour and they are long, strong and lustrous. The piece on the bottom is nearly a metre long. I have 27 stricks of this wet-retted flax. This was from stuff that I planted early in the year. It had time to grow, bloom, get harvested, dry out, get rippled, wet-retted and then had time to fully dry before all the rains came.

This is the dew-retted and then wet-retted flax experiment. The flax fibres, while released, are weak and short. They’ve broken up.

I have a small kiddy pool full of this — and to make matters worse, it smells like a dead swamp rat. Really. I threw it in the water because it was smelly and wanted to urge on the retting process. But then the cold snap came and it was frozen solid for about ten days. It smells so bad I don’t want to touch it.

It’s tricky to photograph something in the water, but here it is. I have one more mini-field’s worth of flax out on the north lawn retting. Like this batch, it didn’t get harvested until after the rains came, so it never dried and got rippled. But it has been on the lawn. And while it had indeed rained and snowed, it was never under water for any length of time. I just checked it out and it the flax fibres are releasing.

The rain is supposed to stop sometime today and then I’ll scoop it up and put it on a drying wrack on the porch to start the drying process. Fingers crossed I’ll have something to play with when it’s all done.


1. Buy good seeds and buy the linen variety, Linum usitatissiumum “Evelin”.
2. Plant your flax as early as you can. You can plant it when you plant your lettuce, peas, spinach and potatoes. You want it to grow and be done during the hot summer so it has time to dry, get rippled, retted and dry again.
3. If your flax falls over due to rain or wind, set it upright as soon as you can. If it stays tilted, it will have bend in it which makes it difficult to work with.

I am sure I will learn more as I go onto the next stage of breaking, scutching and hackling to get the fibres ready for spinning.

Rippling the Flax

We’ve had a stunning summer for the most part. Lots of sun and just the right amount of heat. In the last couple of weeks though, we’ve had a bit of rain here and there. Good for the corn and the hay, but not for flax that you’re drying.

The harvested flax from the bed #1 and #2 were mostly dried and I finished it off by keeping it under cover. I was getting pretty tired of moving the stuff around, onto the lawn when the sun was out, back on the porch for overnight or if a rain cloud came by. When it was finally dried I decided it was time to ripple it. Rippling flax is the process you us to remove the seed pods.

Last year when I did this I was so excited and learning as I went along. This time, I knew what I was in for. It’s a dusty, dry job and very messy with all the seed pods flying everywhere. So I did my best to minimize that. I swept the back porch carefully.Then I put a white sheet over the work area, the railing and let it hang onto the floor. The plan was to catch as many seed pods as possible.

Then I set up the rippling contraption that I bought in the spring from a local antique/junk shop. Right next to it I set up the Russian paddle comb that I used last year for rippling. I wasn’t sure how the green thing would perform and I knew the paddle comb worked.

Here I am about half way through the process. This is the dried flax with the seed pods and dried leaves still on them. The variety of flax that I grew this year is the true Linum usitatissiumum linen variety. It’s nearly twice as long as the flax seed variety that I grew last year. Not only is it twice as long, the stalks are larger and tougher.

Here’s a small bundle of it going through the rippling tool. This one worked well for the first passes and then I used the Russian paddle comb to finish up. Used together I was able to clean up all the seed pods and dried leaves.

After a bundle was cleaned up, I tossed it to the side and then grabbed another bundle. Here’s what a cleaned up couple of bundles looks like.

And here’s the whole lot of it from bed #1 and #2, rippled and waiting to be retted. Retting is the process of rotting the outer layer of pectin to release the linen fibres from the straw. I can dew ret which is to let the morning dew and rains melt it away. Or I can wet ret it by putting it a shallow pool of water and try to replicate an eddy next to a slow moving stream. I prefer the lighter colour you get from wet retting so I’m going to toss this into a kiddie pool. Right now it’s carefully wrapped up and under cover of the shed.

I have two more beds to harvest, will probably do that over the weekend as we are expecting sun and heat. That will give the flax a good start on drying. Then another rippling marathon and then. . . . . what on earth am I going to do with all this flax?

Adventures with flax to linen continued.

Flax to Linen & everything in between: workshop

Announcing one of the many workshops being offered at Fibreswest 2013. Register before March 8th if you want to attend any of the workshops. Here’s a special one that I am featuring:

FlaxWomanFlax to Linen & everything in between
Kim McKenna and Diana Twiss. Friday, March 22nd, 2013, 9am-1pm. $45. Class held at Shannon Hall, at the Cloverdale Fairgrounds.

Join Kim and Diana and explore the wonders of flax; how to turn flax straw into beautiful soft linen yarns. Most  people with access to a garden can grow their own flax. In this workshop you will learn the practical skills of growing, processing and extracting line and tow linen from flax. You will also help to keep the art of flax spinning alive by making your very own distaff in order to prepare the flax for spinning. Finally, you will get hands-on experience and tips for spinning flax into linen. Participants will leave the workshop with a fully dressed distaff and distaff support structure. Distaffs will be dressed with 20 grams of dew-retted flax.

Supplies: spinning wheel in excellent working order. See free Spinning Wheel Maintenance download at Claddaghfibrearts. Screwdriver with Robertson head. All other materials will be supplied. All levels welcome, absolute beginning spinners may not be able to spin, but will certainly be able to dress a distaff and benefit from the rest of the workshop. Material fee of $30.00 payable to instructors.

For more information about this workshops, how to register and other information related to this fibre festival please visit FibresWest 2013.

I hope to see you there. 

Flax to Linen Slide Show for the LWSG

On Tuesday, November  20th, I am doing the educational program for the Langley Weavers and Spinners Guild.  I am doing a slide show of the process of growing, drying, rippling, scutching, combing and spinning flax to linen.  It was easiest to have all the photos together here on my blog and then click on them one after another.  

Rippling the Flax

Yesterday was to be the last sunny day for a while, so I decided it was time to ripple the flax.  The flax had been laying in direct sunlight for the entire week, getting turned every day, so it was golden brown and nice and dry. While it was time to do the rippling, I didn’t exactly have the tool I needed, or so I thought.

My early research into the process of making linen has lead me to the belief that even though I don’t have the exact tools needed to do this, I can most certainly improvise.  And that is exactly what I did for the rippling process.

I have a single Russian Paddle comb that I picked up at guild swap and shop a few years ago.  I never knew what I would do with it, but I am drawn to old tools, especially ones related to the fibre arts. I was cleaning it up when it occurred to me that it may be just the kind of tool I needed to do rippling.

Rippling is the process of removing the seed pods and other debris from the flax stalks.  The sharp and sturdy tines help you comb through the handfuls of flax.  So I set myself up on the backporch and clamped the paddle comb to the table.  The tines in the paddle comb are wider apart than the ones in the rippling tools I read about, so I had my fingers crossed when I made the first few passes. 

Here’s the photo essay of the process. Below is the Russian Paddle comb clamped to the table.

Here it is face on.  It’s a rather intimidating piece of equipment.  Those tines are sharp and solid.  I had pay close attention to what I was doing; no sipping wine and chatting on the phone.

Here’s a bundle of flax ready to be rippled.  I grabbed about a third of this bundle and combed it through the paddle comb. The paddle comb worked just fine.  It did a perfect job!

And here’s a bundle that has just been rippled.  See how all the pods are gone?  You may not be able to see it in the image above, but there is also a great amount of wee leaves from the flax.  They also get removed in the rippling process.

And here’s what’s left in the comb. Seed pods, shorter stalks, dried leaves and other vegetation.

The backporch, aka the Rippling Studio.  It makes a right mess, but it’s a dry mess to easy to tidy up. 

Bundles of post-rippled flax.  When you see them like this, you can start to imagine how this may turn into a pliable fibre.

This photo and the one following it are what is left after rippling.  Lots of debris.  I gathered it all up, removed the stalks, and tried my best to separate out the seed pods.  They need to dry a bit more before they give up their seeds. 

The flax is now in three plastic bins getting “wet retted”.  That is the process of melting away the pectin and other stuff that binds the fibre to the core.  Melting away is a bit of a euphemism for rotting for the process relies on mould, bacteria, moisture.  Yum. 

I am to let them stand in water and every day or two, swirl it around, change the water a bit and in the process try to replicate a side eddy in a slow moving creek.  Apparently it smells to high heaven.  I’ll let you know.