Ready set Ret!

With this year’s flax up and growing, I can now focus on processing last years harvest.  First I need to remove all the leaves flowers and seed pods from the stems of the flax plants. For this I will use a plastic hair pick. After laying down a sheet to catch all the seeds, I gently brush the flax stocks threw the pick until all the leaves and seeds are removed. Brush it until its bald.  DSCN4097DSCN4104

now that I have this hand full of dried flax ready to go it’s time to ret!

The flax fibers are covered in a “plant glue” that while the plant was alive, helped bring nutrients to leaves and flowers as well as help hold the plants structure. In order to loosen this “plant glue”, the flax needs to be soaked in water so that mold can break up the glue and free the bast fibers.

Flax farmers have two methods to ret Flax. The first is called dew retting. For dew retting the flax is left out in the field so that the moisture from the ground will collect on the dried plants and encourage the mold. the plants are also flipped and rotated every couple of days. Dew retting takes two to three weeks to break down the glue. a Faster method to ret flax fibers is to soak the stocks in a pond. The Water retting method takes about five days to a week to break up the plant glue.  the farmer submerges the flax under the water using weights. Just like the dew retting, the flax needs to be flipped and rotated to get even coverage.  when retting my flax I decided to use the water retting method.

I recently found a pond liner in the alley way near my house. After checking that there weren’t any leaks or cracks I set it into the ground by my back porch. I filled it with water and wahla flax retting pond!DSCN4108

To make sure my flax stayed together while soaking, I used some cotton string I had lying around to tie the stocks together like so.  then I found a nice big river rock for my weight and dropped it on top. “down she goes!”


I waited and rotated the flax until about six days had come and gone. I pulled it out of the pond and left it in the sun to dry. here is the result.


I can definitely feel a difference between the pre retted stock and post retted stock. It is no longer green and has a soft tender feel to it. I can even peel some of the outer layers off with my fingers.

With the retting done I now need to break the flax to free the fibers from the old “plant glue”.