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Ruth of Boston by  James Otis


 

 

PREPARING FLAX

I despair of trying to tell any one who has never seen flax prepared, how much and how many different kinds of labor are necessary, before it can be woven into the beautiful linen of which our mothers are so proud.

First it must be rippled. The ripple comb is made of stout teeth, either wood or iron, set on a puncheon, [124] and the stalks of flax are pulled through it to break off the seeds, which fall into a cloth that has been spread to catch them, so they may be sown for the next year's harvest.

Of course this kind of work is always done in the fi eld, and the stalks are then tied in bundles, which are called "bates and stacked up something after the shape of a tent, being high in the middle and broadened out at the bottom.

After the flax has been exposed to the weather long enough to be perfectly dry, then water must be sprinkled over it to rot the leaves and such portions of the stalks as are not used.

Then comes that part of the work which only strong men can perform, called breaking the flax, to get from the center of the stalks the hard, wood-like "bun," which is of no value. This is done [125] with a machine made of wood, as if you were to set three or four broad knives on a bench, at a certain distance apart, with as many more on a lever to come from above, fitting; closely between the lower blades. The upper part of the machine is pulled down with force upon the flax, so that every portion of it is broken.


[Illustration]

After this comes the scutching, or swingling, which is done by chopping with dull knives on a block of wood to take out the small pieces of bark which may still be sticking to the fiber.

Now that which remains is made up into bundles, and pounded again to clear it yet more thoroughly of what is of no value, after which it is hackled, and the fineness of the flax depends upon the number of times it has been hackled, which means, pulling it through a quantity of iron teeth driven into a board.


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