Historic Tools of North Castle

Hackle (with flax)

This tool at Smith’s Tavern is a hackle and includes some flax.

After combing with T246, the next step in the process is retting or rotting.  This involves adding moisture to the bundles either dew-retting or water-retting.  The former has the bundles spread on a grassy lawn to absorb nightly dew; the latter by submerging bundles in a pond, slow-moving stream or large tank/tub.  

The retted flax should be then dry and be crispy for the next steps of breaking and scutching.  In breaking, the woody core of the flax steam is broken into crumbs called shives or boon.  A flax-brake is used to do this chore, which looks like a large wooden jackknife with a pair of blade-like boards hinged on a grooved base.  After breaking, the flax is further cleaned by scutching or swingling.  Each bundle is held against a sturdy wooden block and scraped with a dull wooden blade or wooden mallet (see Item # 82-9-4) to strike off any remaining bits of chaff and straw.  

The final step of processing flax is hackling or hetcheling, the fibers to comb away any short bits (called tow) and split and smooth the long strands (called line).  Hackles are tools with rows of very sharp pins set into a wooden block and mounted on a stand.  Hackling takes a light touch, working first the tips of the bundle over the tips of the pins then drawing more and more of the bundle through deeper and deeper.  When thoroughly combed, the line linen will be very smooth and fine, long and uniform.


Reference:   A Weaver’s Garden:  Growing Plants for Natural Dyes and Fibers, by Rita Buchanan, pages 26-27.

Catalog Items:

Item T233

Location:Floor, Panel 3
Length: 60 cm
Width: 15 cm
Height: 15 cm
Weight: 4539 g