My friend Monty (check out her blog of interesting crafts here) shared some Youtube videos with me – flax processing in rural Italy in 1963, which have very recently been uploaded to Youtube by the Digital Heritage Service. A series of six videos shows the processing of the flax from harvesting through to spinning, and cleaning the threads. It’s an excellent resource, even with no sound, it’s fascinating to see the equipment used for processing on a large scale.
I’ll put the links up here for my own reference, and any who find this interesting.
The flax is harvested by a group of women, complete with yummy gnocchi soup for lunch, before the bundles of flax are put onto stooks set into the ground for drying.
They ripple the flax in a barn, and then spread the plants onto the field – evidently they use dew retting!
There is a giant smoking box that the flax lies over for a while – I assume that’s to make sure that it’s very dry (you shouldn’t break flax on a humid day, I’ve read, to have a cleaner break, hurhur). It also looks as though they use the brakes to do some light scutching as well. It’s a joy watching the playful interactions between the workers (presumably a family group), doing things like tucking flowers into the men’s hats, and playfully pushing them off the brake they were sitting on.
Big stones are used to weigh down the hackle boards, and sticks are used to pick up the freshly hackled fibres. I think it must be the tow fibres that happens to, as some fibres are smoothed and twisted (that must be the line).
Here we see two old ladies spinning (and two old men smoking!). One lady is spinning the smoothly twisted line fibres, while another is spinning the big pile of tow fibres. Tow fibres do make a much rougher thread!!
It then shows the other lady dressing the distaff with line fibres in preparation for spinning.
The final video shows processes that I know little about, not being a spinner or weaver yet, but I think he’s using the tow yarn. Then a young woman sets a bunch of the product of that previous step into a big bath, heated by a fire underneath, and sprinkles what looks like ash over each layer, before setting large sticks upright through the layers (I’m not sure what purpose they serve) and fills it with water, before lighting the fire underneath the bath. She and a young man pull the noticeably darker skeins out of the bath, and they are taken away to be rinsed in a cold stream (lots of snow on the ground – but the nice young man brings a kettle of steaming water for her to warm her hands in!). More rinses follow (large wooden tub, hot water) before the skeins are set on a rack to be dried in the sun.
Then follows an interesting process – a man and a woman take each skein and rub them over each other. An older gentleman then sets up another spinning process, onto their final bobbin!
It’s all very fascinating!