Growing the Flax Plant and Harvesting for Tow

Discussion in 'Shooting Accessories' started by FlinterNick, May 24, 2019.

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  1. May 24, 2019 #1

    FlinterNick

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    found a good video on harvesting flax for tow

     
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  2. May 24, 2019 #2

    Artificer

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    Wow, that was NEAT!!!! Have to sheepishly admit I had never seen a flax plant before.

    Ok, so from planting to harvesting is from April through September. So that's why Early American Settlers got their new clothes in the late fall/winter.

    It also explains why the early settlers in Kentucky used Buffalo Wool and Nettles fiber their first year, while they waited to be able to get a crop of flax in.

    I wonder how the Early Settlers "rhetted" or kept the flax submerged in water for five days? Maybe in a small pond? Maybe in holes dug into the ground in clay or lined with clay?

    Gus
     
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  3. May 25, 2019 #3

    FlinterNick

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    Very easy Gus !

    You would just plant the seeds directly in soil and lightly rake them in, water and keep the soil moist, a light covering of peat moss helps too. Direct sun is best.

    Its a hearty perennial in most climate zones so it comes back in the late winter and early spring, I have it along my fence about 30 yards, I use it like barbed wire, the small animals hate it, keeps them out of the vegetal garden, and it produces a nice floral of indigo blue.

    I have more tow then I know what to do with.

    For harvesting, you’d simply soak it until its quasi brittle (not cracker brittle) and then dry out. Smash it out with a rock for a few days and allow it dry (kinda like Indian Corn Flour grinding).

    Eventually it will look like Tow, just pull it apart like cotton candy.
     
  4. May 25, 2019 #4

    PluggedNickel

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    Cool!
     
  5. May 25, 2019 #5

    jackley

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    Thanks for sharing this video! Very interesting. I've never seen that done before. Neat!! Not that I'm ever going to do it. But if I have to. Now I can.
     
  6. May 25, 2019 #6

    Jeff Kaufmann

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    Thank you for sharing! Now I just need to keep the wife from seeing it, she has three different spinning wheels and would no doubt want me to plant an acre to make into fiber!
     
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  7. May 25, 2019 #7

    Artificer

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    By harvesting, do you mean what he called "Rhetting?" I'm afraid I don't understand how soaking/Rhetting gets the stalks more brittle?

    Gus
     
  8. May 25, 2019 #8

    FlinterNick

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    By harvest I mean working down large crops of flax, for retting. Retting is the process of soaking the flax to break it down from its woody outer layers to the fibrous inner layers, which is used for linens, and other materials like tow and hemp like twine. The soaking makes the outer woody part of the stem ferment (or rot) into a brittle state.
     
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  9. May 25, 2019 #9

    FlinterNick

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    Its as great garden plant to add, you don't need much for making tow. In some parts of the country its considered a weed that grows on roadsides, kinda like blue chicory.
     
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  10. May 25, 2019 #10

    Eric Krewson

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    I have heard that retting flax has a smell that you won't soon forget, pretty rank.
     
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  11. May 25, 2019 #11

    Nyckname

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    I posted that on an S.C.A. group a while back under the subject line "DIY Linen".
     
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  12. May 25, 2019 #12

    FlinterNick

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    It’s a compost stench, like the bottom of a lawn cutting barrel.
     
  13. May 25, 2019 #13

    Cruzatte

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    As I was watching, I thought of the basic genius of the human race; to have discovered such a plant growing wild, then figure out what could be done with it, and how to do it, and cultivate it amazes me. Thanks for posting this informative video.
     
  14. May 25, 2019 #14

    Nyckname

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    I keep trying to imagine the proto-human who tossed a piece of meat to the wolf that approached the fire, instead of chasing it off, giving us dogs.
     
  15. May 25, 2019 #15

    dgracia

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    I was doing a reenactment at the Smithfield plantation in Virginia one year and was invited to come spend the night at the Mary Draper Ingles House on the New River. They have reconstructed the house on the property and have built those weird period fences (like big X's with boards through and above them); have a herd of both period cattle (tall cattle) and the sheep from the era (actually came from Roanoke Island where they last of those were) and had a patch of ground where they grew flax.

    Evidently the flax they grow there is the historical strain that was used in the 1750's. They just grow a small patch of it and are very careful to get the seeds from it before they hand process it into linen. To do that, they spread out a linen ground cover and use a board with nails on it like you saw in the video where they tore off the tow from the interior linen fibers. I'm guessing they gather the seed before they soak the linen or you would expect the seeds to either sprout or rot.

    They would take that nail-board, and keeping it over the linen ground cover, would beat the seed end of the flax over the board and then pull it up. That would knock the seeds into their ground cover. Then they would gather those up and use them the following Spring to plant a new crop. Since this is not a strain that is easily accessible anywhere, they were very careful to get every single seed they could out of it. Word was that there was usually just enough seeds to grow the same patch of flax next year.

    I'm still a bit confused about it though because it looked like it had already been dried out when they were beating it on that board and the seeds would have been dead by then. They would do that to a handful of flax at a time and it took them quite a while to collect all the seeds.

    Twisted_1in66 :thumb:
    Dan
     
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  16. May 26, 2019 #16

    Nyckname

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    Ever buy packaged seeds? They're dry.

    Fun fact: Selling packaged seeds was started by the Shakers.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaker_Seed_Company
     
  17. May 26, 2019 #17

    Artificer

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    Thanks for the further info.

    Do you know how they kept it under water for the five or so days needed before retting it in early times? That's why I asked about a small pond or maybe a clay or clay lined trough in the ground?

    Gus
     
  18. May 26, 2019 #18

    zimmerstutzen

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    One flax process I saw, was a 4 or 5 foot trough made of wood with a flat bottom, sloped down hill. The upper end was almost 40 inches off the ground. A larger piece of wood, almost a timber nearly as wide and as long as the inside of the trough, was hinged on a pin at the top so that when lowered into the trough, it fairly matched the bottom. The dried flax was laid in the trough a few stalks at a time and then the timber was raised and dropped onto flax multiple times. smashing the flax stalks and separating the covering from the fibrous strands. When the stalks were sufficiently pounded, the strands were retrieved and the flaky covering particles would slide down and exit the trough. I have seen this twice at living history museums in central PA. whether it is the historically correct way, I have no idea. A great number of the Mennonite settlers to this area were linen weavers in the old country. They had moved around so much because of persecution, they rarely owned land. They were permitted to stay in some areas, if they would pay a tax for the privilege to be Mennonite. Linen weaving was something that could be done without owning land.
     
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  19. May 26, 2019 #19

    nkbj

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    You mean like "here, eat this instead of me"?:)
     
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  20. May 27, 2019 #20

    FlinterNick

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    From what I’ve read they used many things like old wine barrels, horse troths etc. In colonial Williamsburg the grow Crimson Flax which is larger than blue flax and has a red flower, they would cut them and float them on top of a pond similar to how cranberries are harvested. I tie mine together tightly and place it in a large bucket that can’t drain, I let it soak for about a week, watch out for the back draft when you take it out, the smell is the worst.
     
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