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