Skip to content

Dear Ann,

So. I’m still thinking constantly about linen. Yesterday, running errands on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a swelter-dome that was not relieved even by intermittent rain, I wore a Euroflax pullover that I made in 2005 or so. Not a pill on it. Almost as cool as not wearing a sweater, but providing the necessary coverage for the Upper Arms.  I will leave it one day as a legacy for any big-boned granddaughters or grandnieces to fight over.

One question that has occurred: how is linen yarn made? I have a good sense of the process from Clara Parkes’s invaluable Knitter’s Book of Yarn. But I wanted to see it, so off I went to YouTube. Hurray for YouTube!  Here are a few of the videos on linen.

Colm Has Two Syllables

I love Colm! Colm Clarke of County Donegal teaches all we need to know about growing a patch of flax in the back yard and processing it, old-school, into linen fiber. Rhetting! Hackling! Scutching! Other fun words! Hashtag #teamColm.

Producing Linen on a Larger Scale

This video, from fabric maker Kravet Inc., is more industrial, but also very beautiful and informative. I’m adding to my bucket list a visit to a flax field in Europe. Who knew that flax had to be pulled up by the roots, not cut? (Well, Colm knew it. I did not.) The machines are so . . . specific.

And up top, a very short video from Christine McLeod in Scotland,  showing how to spin flax with a distaff. Finally I know what “wet-spun” means.

YouTube offers many other videos on this subject. I think they are decidedly under-viewed. It’s fascinating stuff.

It all makes me wonder whether somewhere back there in my family tree, there was not a branch of scutchers and spinners.

Happy Sunday!



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • I, too, have a Euroflax sweater of the same age, and it still looks like the day I made it. I wore it this year to the local sheep and wool festival and was stopped by two different people who wanted to ask about it. But unlike you, I just want to have the finished work, I hate the knitting of linen now that my hands are old and creaky, and this year I decided to help myself resist temptation (and prevent more carpal tunnel) and distributed my stash amongst the members of my knitting group. Fortunately the five linen sweaters on my shelf will last for the rest of my life!

  • Love you’re digging into flax. I’ve been collecting flax/linen yarn but haven’t started a project yet. Maybe this summer.

  • At the risk of asking the dumbest question of the day, is the flax seed he spread the same flax seed everyone seems to be adding to smoothies and baked goods these days?! I love linen in all its forms. It never occurred to me that I might be eating it as well.

    • As I understand it, they are 2 varieties of the same plant. The seed flax branches a lot, therefore more flowers and seeds, while the fiber flax grows with less branching, therefore longer fibers for spinning. But the seeds would still be edible, just fewer.

    • It sure looks like the same thing!

  • I just had the pleasure of driving through Normandy, where the flax is in full bloom. It is incredibly stunning and worth finding a way to do one day.

  • Soon…..last night at a very weird and fun theater experience, I debuted my first linen hand knit, a Dangling Conversation in the sea colors from MDK. I love he way it looks, but gotta say that it was still a little stiff and itchy, even after two days of soaking. Should I beat it with rocks? Send it through the washer? How do I soften this baby up?

    • Washer then dryer–instant softening effect.

      • Kay, do you know if this washer/dryer thing can this be done to a hank of yarn to soften it before knitting? Thanks!

        • I’ve heard that some people do that but haven’t felt like I needed to do it myself. Too much fussing for me.

  • Dang. Maybe Nebraska can become The Scutching State. Come on, corn farmers! Mama wants a little home grown yarn.

  • I’m a handspinner, and I think I’ll stick with wool. . .

  • Good lord, 13 minutes with the charming Colm has left me with a newfound respect for my linen yarn. Imagine back in the day, when the only way to get a skein of linen yarn was to do what Colm did with his small patch of flax. Talk about laborious! I wonder how much yarn his patch generated. A skein? A sweater’s worth?

    And who figured out turning flax into linen in the first place? Somebody had a serious bout of inspiration to go from plant to fiber.

    • I gathered that this was a heritage site, demonstrating linen processing. So people can go visit. Maybe meet Colm! This was wonderful, if a bit hard to follow the accent. Irish linen is famous for its long fibers, on account of the damp climate, and we saw that so well. As he waved the fibers about they did look like flaxen hair!

    • I’ve always wondered that myself. Flax plant to linen fiber has to be one of the least obvious transformations there is, back in ancient times anyway.

      • My theory is that nature scutched some old dried up flax and the fiber came out, kind of like milkweed pods? And somebody thought it looked like wool and spun it like wool and it worked.

        • Agree!

  • Nothing like those anglo saxon words, is there? Retting, so close to rotting, and hackling, you know there is some violence involved.
    Glad to see the linen love, sometimes I feel like a voice in the wilderness. No, it is not as soft to knit as cashmere but it’s so cool in the summertime, lasts so long, and machine washable! And dryable! Furthermore, it benefits from easy care. Linen. You gotta love it.

  • Swatching just last night for the long linen vest I’ve wanted to make for ages. And washing linen sheets this morning. Oh, how I love linen!

  • Marvelous, thank you for sharing this. How wonderful and beautiful is the flax!

  • You forgot to show us a pic of your sweater! Please may we see it? I’ve been lusting after the one in Drop Dead Easy Knits, thanks to MDK!

    I do hope this is the year I knit myself a summer top….. If only I didn’t need to cover those upper arms! And if I were young & looked like the models, I’d definitely knit the tank from Knitting Nature. Your daughter would rock that!

  • My favorite part of the Kravet video was from about 3:05 to 3:50. I love it when yarn look edible. And props to Colm for Step 2, which is “the plants grow for three months.” I’m going to edit some of my project lists! 🙂

  • I had the pleasure of visiting a linen factory and a linen museum durin a Northern Ireland Knitting tour. Utterly fascinating, as were the videos. Much respect for the workers and the steps! It does make you wonder though….. who was the person who originally thought, ‘just soak it for a few weeks then beat it with a stick for awhile…’.

  • I think linen twine is as old as any cordage- stone age for sure. If you are looking to process some vegetable stems for cordage in the stone age, you knew that certain plants in certain places (flax, for instance, growing where it gets wet in the fall after it has ‘laid down’ , give up their fibers easily (relative) and make a smoother cordage. When the stuff didn’t grow where it rotted in a regular fashion, they took over that part of the process, and made it happen to suit their schedule. Can’t emphasize the importance of cordage to all our ancestors. Can’t fasten a spearhead on a shaft without cordage, can’t sew up skins, can’t tie things together, can’t make a net.

  • “Film” also has two syllables. Fantastic video!

  • Despite my Irish heritage, the gentleman was hard to understand. My grandfather always said “filum” instead of film, even though he was born in America!
    Like everyone else, I’m wondering who ever had the idea to make cordage out of flax? I suppose it was a very gradual process. Who figured out how to turn grain into bread, and who first thought it might be a good idea to boil and eat a lobster? Fascinating to watch the ancient process while a modern vehicle is parked in the background. I thought “rhetting” had something to do with sheep intestines? Or urine? No? Also, it’s useful to remember where the term towhead comes from. I wonder how much spinnable/knittable fiber the Irish gentleman gets from his tiny backyard patch?

  • You might enjoy the Flaxscutching Festival held every Sept in Stahlstown, PA. You get to see the whole process and some other colonial crafts as well.
    The pancakes served with PA maple syrup are delicious.
    Here is the website:

    • Thanks for that link! Do you know if any vendors offer processed flax line for spinning?

  • Wonderful stuff! I’m going to bookmark this page just for Scottish and Irish accents!

  • Fascinating – I learn so much from you ladies of MDK!

  • Well, colour me tow-headed! I live in New Zealand, and our native flax is an entirely different plant altogether! I had never realised, and probably never would have without seeing these videos.

  • oh my giddy aunt! how did anyone ever look at a flax plant and decide to do all that to it?

  • Watching these videos was fascinating! What a difference in technique. Flax is absolutely beautiful. I have one linen sweater that I made, the fiber was a gift from a friend. I treasure it even more now

  • Regarding Colm’s video, (1) it’s lucky we didn’t have television back then or we’d never have linen. That’s a heap of a lot of work there! And (2) it looks like it doesn’t rain in Ireland in September during the drying process. Wonder if global warming would mess with that. Thanks for these really great videos! I love my Linen Top.

Come Shop With Us

My Cart0
There are no products in the cart!
Continue shopping