Flax Breaker and Hetchel

What is flax breaker and hetchel? Flax is a tall stalky plant with blue flowers; one of the first cultivated by man well before the birth of Christ, used for making cloth and various medicines. Colonists brought the seeds with them, introducing the plant to North American soil.

Over time, until the 1940’s when cotton made flax nearly extinct, flaxseed oil was used for paints, livestock and poultry feed.

To make flax useful for cloth, specifically linen, it went through a series of procedures after being cultivated and dried. The two artifacts pictured are the flax breaker (1800) and hatchel (1750) or comb, were used after the water preparation treatment called retting. The flax breaker was used by pulling up the upper portion, placing the flax stems across the base and shutting the breaker to force the stalks to bend into the shape of a “W.” This action forces the pithy core from the stalk away from the outer fibers.

After scutching (scraping the hanging stalks to remove the short unusable pieces), the hetchel or comb is used. The flax fibers are pulled through the hatchel, as hair through a comb. When all of the long useable fibers are ready, they are wound onto a pole and ready for the spinning process.

You can learn more by searching “Flax” on the Internet and visiting the many links for the history of flax and its uses.