Flax to Linen: Hackling

| 8/10/2017 10:17:00 AM

0-hackles and hands2 - BLOG

Growing flax and turning it into linen for clothes requires growing a variety suitable for fiber to spin. You plant it in early spring and harvest it about 100 days later, Next it is retted, broken, and scutched. There is no hurry to go from harvest to retting and from retting to breaking, however, breaking, scutching, and hackling generally happen at the same time. Hackling is done with a tool (hackle) that is full of sharp tines. After it is broken and scutched, the flax is drawn through hackles to clean it, resulting in a long ponytail of flax fiber ready to spin.

Unless you are lucky enough to find one at an antique mall, you will most likely have to make your own hackles. I have purchased two antique flax hackles—one was $60 and the other was $40. Wigmaking requires the use of hackles and you might find a new one made for that purpose. Although not as much fun as using an antique flax hackle, you can make a new one out of a board and nails. You will find the specifications of my homemade flax hackles at Homeplace Earth.

Some hackles are on a long board with, what looks like, hand holds at each end. One of those holes is actually for your foot to go through, holding it to the ground. You use the hole at the other end to hold the hackle upright, parallel to your body. I prefer to have hackles that are clamped to a table. Since this is an outdoor activity, the picnic table is usually the recipient of the hackles. I use c-clamps to hold them in place.

Hackles are sharp, so take care when using them or else you will draw blood. It is wise to keep up-to-date on your tetanus shot. To protect yourself when they are not in use, you can make covers for your hackles. My husband made a wonderful wooden cover that fits over the first hackle I bought. For the two I made, I have fashioned a cover for each from cardboard boxes. I haven’t taken the time to make a cover yet for the second antique hackle that I acquired in May.

You will find flax hackles with varied spacing of the tines. One guideline to use for spacing the tines on a hackle is to put them 1” apart for a coarse hackle, ½” apart for a medium hackle, and ¼” apart for a fine hackle.  If you only have one hackle, make it a medium with half inch spacing. In her book, Home Life in Colonial Days, written in 1898, Alice Morse Earle says that the fineness of fiber after hackling depended on the number of hackles used, their fineness, and the person doing the hackling. She writes that after the first coarse hackle, six other hackles were used, in varying degrees of fineness. If you have three hackles, coarse, medium, and fine, you will be doing well.

sonia walker
8/10/2017 9:01:31 PM

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