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16 October 2014
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Flax: a crop for 2004

The blue of the flax flower has disappeared from the Northern Ireland countryside, but Tullylagan Vintage Owners Assoc is growing flax near Cookstown.

Fred Faulkner (right) explains the workings of a  fiddle  to John Gregg

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YOUR RESPONSES

Thomas Newell - July 2004
I helped my granny to put the outer shell mixed with sack on the back of the open fire, it stayed lit all night, we called it scows.

Janet Treanor secretary Co. Armagh Vintage Vehicle Club Ltd
- July 2004
Congratulations to Tullylagan Vintage Owners Association on their Flax growing. Last year, 2003, some of the members of Co, Armagh Vintage Vehicle Club Ltd, namely the Corbett Brothers from Dromara Co. Down grew a couple of acres of flax and a flax pulling evening was held later in the year with the proceeds going to charity. This effort came about because the Corbett Brothers had spent many years restoring a flax pulling machine, nine I think, and this was used to demonstrate machine work along side the age old art of pulling the flax by hand. As a result of this endeavour the process has been repeated this year and the flax pulling demonstration is to be held on Wednesday 25th August 2004, at 7pm, on the land owned by Mr Alec Corbett Katesbridges Road, Dromara Co, Down. Entrance fee: £2, all donations will go to local charity. In connection with this age old crop and the relating skills we at Co, Armagh Vintage Vehicle club Ltd are featuring the Threshing Mill, all vintage & rare harvesting equipment and also demonstration of flax pulling equipment at our annual vintage rally to be held in Gosford Forest Park, Markethill on Saturday 7th August 2004. I would invite anyone with threshing mills, harvesting equipment or flax pulling equipment to get in touch and indeed come along on the day.

Miss K.E.Hamilton - June 2004
Granda took fields (set to him, or let in today's lingo) to supplement the meagre income so essential for rearing his brood! The lint dams were ALWAYS set well away from any living soul as they were offensive by nature. Flax after flowering was harvested and then smolded in the dams. After that it was left out in the "whites", which were the fields surrounding the dam, to dry. There are MANY fields still to this day in Ireland which carry the scars of flaxing.
SCUTCHING
The flax had a tough exterior coating, the green casing, which had to be stripped away to get at the good stuff inside; in order to do this, scutching machines were employed. These rather crude instruments had rows of blades,which were VERY sharp, passing back and forth in a cutting action. As this was going on the scutcher held a small bundle of flax stems in his hands, much like a bale of grass or string. He then 'thrashed' the bundle into the blades and pulled them through again (which as they moved back and forth stripped away the outer shell). On many occasions the scutcher 'misjudged' these blades and 'donated' 1 or 2 fingers in the process. Putting your hands together, one in front of the other and sliding your fingers to and fro will give a simple idea of the action of the blades.
In the bible we read of God stripping away as 'tow' - (Isaiah ch1v31 or ch43v17) - or taking from us the rubbish that has built up around us - this 'tow' is the scraps of outer shell on the flax that serves no purpose and is indeed rubbish more often burned in the corner of the whites. (However, in poorer homes, it was sometimes gathered to stuff the mattresses that were sagging but the stink...boy oh boy!).
After the drying and bleaching in the whites, and the hard work of the scutching, the worker then had the raw fibres of what, after threading and spinning, would become a very fine woven cloth.
Did you also know that the weaver who makes the cloth only sees the back side of the fabric as he is working? Not until he puts that last thread in place does he see the results of his labours.

The smell of the lint dams, the sound of the scutching machines, the sight of the flax left out on the fields to dry - share your memories of the linen process here on the site. Does anyone have any pictures or photographs? - Editor

Miss K.E.Hamilton - May 2004
My granda took fields to grow flax when he was younger towards the Black lough near Cloughmills. He was a scutcher, one of the few that didnae lose his fingers at the job. The whitfield or whitening/or/drying fields were all around the area with the lint dams also nearby, a favourite haunt with us as wanes to have a picnic in the summer months. Although I live in Cardiff now, I grow flax every year in tubs, baskets and wild in my gardens, in fact anywhere there is a patch of bare soil... but the seeds I use are a more golden colour, American I think, and delicious shook over the cereal in the morning. Still a wee pale blue flower though.


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