Traditional flax production for linen

Traditional implements for linen production on display in Booth Pinezhsky Museum.

Prior to industrialisation even small farmers grew flax to produce linen for their own needs from home grown flax. In the UK and other Northern Europe countries linen was the only widely available alternative to wool until cotton became available. The flax used for linen production usually comes from slightly different varieties of the species of Linum usitatissimum than linseed or flax for human consumption. It is also harvested differently.

Tools for making flax, processed flax stalks and linen
Tools for making flax, processed flax stalks and linen

Flax and traditional linen production: ancient Russian instruments and the materials they were used on in the traditional production of linen from flax plants and their fibre.(Booth Pinezhsky Museum). 1-beater, 2-fiber after scutching Llano, Llano 3-fiber tow after the first 4-Llano after the second fiber tow, tow 5, 6 -Taylor (canvas threads from Llano), 7 – row (from hemp canvas threads), 8, 9 – Brushes for Sanchez flax and hemp, 10-comb for cleaning flax and hemp, 12, abusive pattern. Photo 3 November 2006. Photo by Schekinov Alexey Victorovich November 3 2006

The simple equipment was typically homemade and everything from growing to harvesting, scutching to spinning and weaving was carried out by the family.

Flax fibres before processing into linen. In the foreground a broken stem shows the fine linen fibres beginning to separate out.
Flax fibres before processing into linen. In the foreground a broken stem shows the fine linen fibres beginning to separate out.

Traditional flax growing and linen production is written about and illustrated in “How a Shirt Grew in the Field”, a children’s book, originally in Russian.

 

Tincloth, Tin cloth, Oilskin

Royal-Navy-wearing-oil-skins
1914-1918, UK woman wearing oilskin
1914-1918, UK woman wearing oilskin

Linseed for waterproof fabrics

Linseed oil has a long history in making waterproof fabrics often including tincloth and oil-skin.  Tincloth is a extra hard-wearing close woven fabric coated with a blend of linseed oil and beeswax. It is extremely waterproof and hard and was worn by miners of the Alaskan gold rush. More recently oilcloth was extensively used for weather resistant, waterproof clothing in WW1 and WW2.

Tincloth recipe:

Tincloth is made by mixing equal parts boiled linseed oil (you can use a raw oil but it will take longer to dry) and beeswax, heating it gently until it melts and combines. You can add a little turpentine to make it thinner and easier to apply. It is then used to coat the canvas by painting it on or dipping it, then the fabric is hung up to dry, preferably with direct sunlight.

Linsey woolsey, lincey or linsey

Flax drying for linen fibre

Linen warp and woollen weft threads

Linsey-woolsey (also called linsey and lincey) is a fabric made with linen warp and woolen weft threads. It was made between 16th to 19th centuries in England and America.  The wool gave the warmth to the fabric. It was popular with the poor. Primarily it was used for clothing including women’s dresses, various undergarments and bed hangings.

Bible forbids Wool and linen mix

Interestingly the Bible forbids this sort of fabric. Deuteronomy 22, Sundry laws, 11: “You shall not wear a material mixed of wool and linen together.”

The origins and history of linseed and flax

Field of linseed towards gate

The origins of the linseed and flax

Field of linseed in flower
Field of linseed in flower

Linum usitatissimum is just one species of the Linum family. Some are annuals others perennial.  The original ancestor of our domesticated flax and linseed  Linum biienne, was a little wild plant widely spread across Eurasia. It had delicate wiry stems and dainty blue flowers. Way back in history our ancestors  would have found linseed amazingly useful Continue reading

New Zealand Flax

New Zealand Flax, Phormium tenax

Phormium tennax:  New Zealand Flax 

Phormium tenax, New Zealand Flax
New Zealand Flax

New Zealand flax is completely unrelated to common flax and linseed. The fibre of it was used by the Maoris for weaving into coarse fabric, ropes, flooring and baskets but doesn’t have the fine quality of linen.

Outside New Zealand Phormium tennax  is grown as a garden plant. It is a perennial plant. The original species is huge growing up to ten feet but there are also many small cultivars and hybrids. Continue reading

Linseed: flax and its other names

Field of ripe linseed and seedheads

Linum usitatissimum

Linseed, traditional bronze linseeds
Linseed, traditional bronze linseeds

Linseed was one of the first plants cultivated by man probably around 10,000 years ago and has been widely grown throughout the temperate zones. Consequently if has developed a lot of different names.

Its scientific name is Linum usitatissimum, meaning “the most useful linum” referring to its uses from food, medicine, beauty products, Continue reading

How a shirt grew in the field

Book how a shirt of linen grew in the field

Children’s book

by K. D Ushinskiai, adapted by Marguerita Rudolph and illustrated by Yaroslavava

I was introduced to this lovely book by a fellow stall holder at Borough Market; it was his favourite book as a child and he brought it in to show me. I loved it too and recommend it to anyone who reads to their children.

boy in field scan Continue reading

Growmore leaflet, Ministry Fish & Ag, 1945: “Linseed as a Home-Grown Crop”

A field of ripe linseed
Growmore Linseed. WW2 Leaflet from Ministry Fisheries and Agriculture
Growmore Linseed. WW2 Leaflet Ministry Fisheries and Agriculture

‘Growmore’ Leaflet No.13

Published by The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hotel Lindum, St. Annes-on-Sea, Lancashire, 1945

This leaflet was published during World War 2 when growing linseed became important again as a food for cattle that were to produce the meat to feed the nation during wartime shortages. Continue reading

Linseed & flax on cigarette & chocolate cards

Cigarette card: harvesting flax

Flax and linseed traditionally important crops

Lin, linseed or flax from a French chocolate card
Lin, linseed or flax from a French chocolate card

Due to the importance of the linseed and flax as crops they were popular subjects for 20th century chocolate and cigarette cards throughout Europe. The pictures shown are from French chocolate bars and cigarettes.  It reflects importance of linseed and flax as crops in the first half of the century. The flowers of both crops are the same, both were grown from Linum usitatissium but harvested  at different stages of maturity. Continue reading