Event report: Flax processing workshop

Last week, some members of the Garrison along with some members of the Company of Chivalry went to Flaxland in the Cotswolds for a day workshop about flax processing.

Watching a demonstration of flax spinning.

Having stopped off at Tetbury for a little wander around their interesting historic market hall and church (and having bought some rather delicious-looking meringues), we went to Flaxland to start the course. We were greeted by our hosts and plied with hot drinks and interesting tidbits of information about flax – a pattern that was to follow for the rest of the day! We also were given a large cardboard cage distaff head as well as goodie-bags containing a hank of commercially prepared flax strick, a ribbon (for our distaff) and an excellent information booklet. Lovely!

Four of our five intrepid members with their distaffs.

Once suitably refreshed, we made a quick journey up to one of the farm’s flax fields where, despite the lateness of the year, we were able to see both seed-flax (shorter) and linen-flax (taller) varieties growing in the field as well as some flax being dew-retted and even some second-growth flax in various stages of development. There, our hosts, Simon and Ann, gave us plenty of information about the process of growing and retting flax and about their trials and tribulations setting up a flax farm.

Dew retting flax plants.

We then returned to the house before going to the flax processing barn. Here, we got to practice spinning linen thread from pre-dressed distaffs before being taught how to dress our cardboard cage distaffs using the contents of our goodie-bags. We then practiced spinning with the distaffs we’d dressed until lunchtime.

A Garrison member breaking flax.

After a delicious repast of soup, home-made flaxseed bread and samosas, we were back to the barn to learn about flax processing. Simon and Ann once again proved themselves excellent teachers as they first demonstrated how to ripple, break, scutch and heckle flax both using the traditional ‘hand machines’ as well as using their own small combi-tool, which would be very useful for processing at home. We then spent the rest of the afternoon experimenting with the various tools and producing our own line flax to take home, with unlimited supplies of retted flax at our disposal. For those who got bored of flax processing, there was also the option to learn how to spin rope using a rope walk.

A Garrison member scutching flax.

Once we were finally done, we retired once more to the house where we were given plenty of hot drinks and biscuits, as well as a fascinating selection of reference books to peruse.

All in all, it was a most excellent day, packed full with information and with copious opportunities not only to see how to do things but also to try them out ourselves. Simon and Ann were excellent tutors and hosts and we came home with plenty of new ideas and plans. You can expect to see some flax spinning in our living history encampment next year!


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