Our oldest cultivated fiber is flax.  It takes some actual physical  ability to work the  flax straw through various steps to prepare it for spinning.  Once spun we call it linen.  The linen thread can be used for stitching - as cordwainers did when making shoes - or plied together to make a fiber strong enough to weave into cloth.  This process fascinated me as a child when I saw flax being "dressed" at a living history farm in Pennsylvania.  I have collected antique flax tools and taught myself how to "dress" the flax to prepare it for spinning.  I enjoy demonstrating this at festivals and  for children who love to watch the flax straw turn into long fibers that look like hair.

After 25 years of demonstrating flax dressing and processing I have decided to end doing demos. Blackberry Farm in Aurora, Illinois has recently acquired my flax tools and will use them in demonstrations at the farm.
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Notes from the prairie

Steps to Prepare flax for spinning:  
Begin by rippling handfuls of flax straw to remove the seeds which you will save to plant the next year - for this you use a rippling comb which slides through the top of the flax removing the small seed balls.

Next you rett your flax - soaking it in water for 10-12 days in the hot sun to loosen the fibers inside the straw from the woody outer husk.  This is usually done in a stream or swampy area and sometimes using morning dew.

After drying the flax you would grasp small bundles and use a flax brake - to begin breaking down the outer straw husk.

Then you use a scutching knife and board to further strip away the outer straw covering

In the last step you will draw the bundle of flax through a hackle (hetchel or hatchel) to remove any remaining straw and the shorter fibers or tow, this step also helps to straighten the fibers so you can then dress them on a distaff (an Anglo-saxon word meaning "flax stick") and now your clean dressed fibers are ready to spin.

Once spun we call flax - linen.  Now it can be plied together to make it heavy enough to weave into cloth. 

         Flax and antique flax tools