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Facts on Flax

WHAT IS DEW-RETTED FLAX?

dew retted flaxThe Joybilee Farm in British Columbia is a great source for naturally dyed fibers if you hand weave at home.  They are also a wealth of knowledge from fiber facts to DIY growing, harvesting and dying.  I happily found their site while trying to find a decent article on the dew-retting process of flax.  As you should know, flax is the plant from which Linen is woven.  The Linen we choose for our blankets and throws is dew-retted, and Rob and Chris of Jubilee Farm had a great post on the process.  Links to their site and blog are below, as well as some helpful definitions.  Thanks Rob and Chris!

“October 10, 2009 – Some of my readers have asked for directions on dew retting flax. I asked Randy Cowan of Biolin Research and Crop Fibers Canada in Saskatchewan if he would write a short article for us on the procedure.

“Here's what Randy said:

“‘When harvesting flax straw for fiber production, the flax straw is pulled out of the ground, including the roots, and laid on the ground in a thin even layer with the stems aligned. Consistent stem diameter and a thin layer will ensure even retting. When the stems are retted on one side the straw must be turned over to ret on the other side.  After a heavy rain, turn the flax to ensure an even ret and to stop rotting on the ground side.

‘Dew retting is simple exposure of the straw to the weather for 2–3 weeks… until the dew and rains have removed the waxes and resins, making the fiber loose from the stalk. In the dew retting process, the pectin and lignin are dissolved by the interaction of molds, warm air and moisture. The stems will turn a silvery grey color when retting is completed.

‘To tell if the stems are retted dry a few stems. Grab the straw and break a section, retting is complete if the fiber does not stick to the woody core. Once the straw has been fully retted, dry the stems before decorticating.’"

Joybilee Farm Website: www.fiberarts.ca (You can find order and contact information on their site, as well as links to their blog and other fiber-based sites.)

Retting—v. to moisten or soak in order to soften and separate the fibers by partial rotting

Pectin—n. any of a group of carbohydrate substances found in the cell walls of plants; removing pectin will soften the fiber

Lignin—n. an organic substance that, with cellulose, forms the chief part of woody tissue; in flax, this is part of the outer shell

Decorticating—v. removing the bark, husk or outer covering

By Brahms Mount

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