Category Archives: Russian Paddle comb

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.