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.

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

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

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

Linseed or Flax: what’s the difference?

Both linseed and flax are varieties of Linum usitatissimum

Linseed or flax? They are the same!

But there are some interesting differences!!

Linum usitatissimum

Linum usitatissimum, the plant that gives us both linseed and flax
colour drawing of Linum usitatissimum, the plant that gives us both linseed and flax

The cultivated plant is Linum usitatissimum. “Linseed” and “Flax” when produced as a food or supplement are both exactly the same thing (sometimes!). However the history of the plant, its uses and the marketing of the different names as healthfood in different countries have given rise to much confusion. Continue reading