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Making the fibre

After harvesting and rippling flaxseed, the flax straw is subjected to a biological treatment (retting) to break down the binding between the fibrous and woody portions of the plant. For this purpose flax is unbundled and spread on the ground (dew retting) or wetted in special tanks. A bacterial fermentation decomposes the pectins that cement together the bast fibre and the woody portion. Depending on the mode of treatment (there are also chemical and physical-chemical modes of treatment), it takes from two to three weeks to complete the process of separating fibres from the wood.

The resultant straw called stock is dried in special machines and then mechanically treated to separate long and short fibres. This process consists of three stages.

Firstly, the straw stems are spread into a continuous uniform layer and turned at a certain angle to achieve their parallel alignment.

Secondly, they undergo a scutching process when the straw stems are first crushed and broken in breaking machines to fragment and separate the woody central portion of the flax stem. The wood breaks up while the fibre bends and remains intact. The stem wood so separated is called shives. The resultant straw coming from the breaking machine is called crude fibre.

The final and most important operation of obtaining the long fibre is carried out by scutching machines where the crude fibre is held tightly near one end while the free end is subjected to a beating and scraping action. This completes the scutching process whereby the long fibre is separated from the woody portion. The long fibre is then quality-graded and pressed into bales.

The shorter fibre, called tow flax, and shives are used for making boards and panels.