Brächete and autumn market in Zäziwil

September 30, 2017 — No comments

Brächete and autumn market in Zäziwil

In the village of Zäziwil – a hilly part of Canton Berne – the world’s oldest known textile fibre – flax – is grown and processed into fine linen fabric in the way it has been for centuries during the yearly flax-to-linen festival called Brächete.

Visitors can see how this amazing fibre is produced from seed to cloth and try their hand on the authentic equipment under the guidance of local farmers in traditional dress.

Brächete is the highlight of the general Zäziwil autumn festival taking place on the last Wednesday in September, featuring delicious foods and many of the spectacular crafts of the region.

‘Holy’ Emmental cheese, bread fresh from the wood-oven, and delicious ‘Berliner’ sweets filled with home-made jam right before your eyes are just a few of the delicacies you can sample at the market.

For lunch, you can choose from a variety of country sausages with a side of mushroom risotto, cooked over an open fire while you chat with the locals at one of the many outdoor tables in the sunny laneways.

In the adjacent hall, flax is spun on 150 year old wooden spinning wheels into linen thread which is then transformed by handwork into amazing lacework of the finest kind. Be astounded when you watch how the beautiful raven-black headgear with two fluttering long bands of the traditional Bernese ladies’ dress is fitted with lace made from horse hair! The festive dress is completed by adorning it with hand made filigran silver jewelry in patterns that have been the same for hundreds of years.

Breaking flax into linen (Brächete)

Before the import of cotton to Switzerland in the late 1940ies, most farmers cultivated and processed flax on their land for centuries into linen cloth, towels and other uses. This is how its done:

Rippling

Tied into bundles on the fields when having grown to a length of 60 centimeters to prevent them from falling over, the ripe flax stalks are pulled out with the roots when reaching close to a metre in height. Hung under a roof to dry out the seed capsules, the stalks are then pulled through a wooden comb to strip off the pods.

Retting

For six weeks, the flax is thinly spread and exposed to the elements on recently cut grassland. During the retting, the plant glue decomposes and the wooden parts of the stalk are starting to separating from the inner fibre.

Drying

To completely dry it, the flax is roasted over a fire pit with strictly controlled temperature to maximum 60 degrees Celsius.

Breaking (Brächete)

In order to completely separate the wooden stalks from the flexible fibre, the flax is ‘broken’ over a chair by milling it manually through rilled rollers.

Hackling

Small bundles of flax are then carefully pulled through the heckler to remove the last remaining pieces of wood.

The long, smooth, shiny fibres emerge which are then tied to the rock of the spinning wheel and spun into fine linen yarn from which cloths, towels and other items are skillfully produced.

The next Brächete and autumn festival in Zäziwil takes place on September 28, 2018 and is well worth a visit if you’re in the Berne area around that time. The skill and authenticity of regional crafts, food and the love and dedication with which these age old customs are maintained will impress you.

Please share your memory or experience if you know this custom and leave a comment below.  

About Silvia and Swiss Wanderlust

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Switzerland travel enthusiast. Cat lover, bicyclist and classical music fan. I prefer walking over running and enjoy a good Swiss card game of Jass among friends.  More about Silvia and Swiss Wanderlust »

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Photos: Silvia Schoch except where noted

Brächete

Above photo: Gemeinde Zäziwil

Brächete

Above photo: Gemeinde Zäziwil

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