Flax into Linen.
The textile industry in Blairgowrie began with the production of linen; jute was not processed until the middle of the 19th century.
This Mill was used for the treatment of linen yarn, which was soaked in water and beaten by wooden beaters to enable the fibres to bind together more easily. Little is known of this mill and nothing remains of it today. It probably got its name from the sound of the water ‘splashing’ as the yarn was soaked and beaten with paddles.
The linen, made in the first instance from flax cultivated and prepared locally, mostly at home, was spun first by ordinary spinning wheel and then the cloth hand loomed.
The industrialisation of production began in the late 18th century, early 19th century when the first mills were built, using flax imported into Dundee from the Baltic countries. Most of the cloth woven was ‘Osnaberg’ named after a German town, a coarse, plain linen, although finer cloth was also made.
Sources: Peter Dawson, Meg Luckins
Linen is one of the oldest textiles in the world.
Mummies from the pyramids of Egypt were wrapped in linen and the fabric was especially popular in the Middle Ages. It remains to this day a highly valued natural product, cool and fresh to wear in hot seasons with a fibre that is very absorbent.
Up until the late 20thc, the procedures for processing the fibres was very labour intensive and required skilled workers.
Once cultivated, to get the most from the fibre, textile flax was not cut, but pulled from the ground to preserve the long, full length of the fibres which run the entire length of the plant (80/120cm). After this the flax was allowed to dry, the seeds were removed – called rippling - and it was then retted.
Retting is where the deseeded crop of flax straw is subjected to a controlled chemical or biological treatment to make the fibre bundles easier to separate from the woody part of the stem. Flax can be water-retted, dew-retted or chemically-retted. Water-retting is where the flax plants, after pulling, are tied up in sheaves and put in special dams or ponds for one to two weeks. This method can cause pollution. Today this method is seldom used in Europe, and water retting is more usually carried out in controlled conditions in tanks.
Water retting pools can still be seen in the ruins of the some of the old ‘Fermtouns’ (a small rural settlement) elsewhere in the Ecomuseum area.
With dew-retting the flax straw is spread on the ground after pulling and left in the fields for 2 to 8 weeks, depending on the weather. This is the most common method in Western Europe, and is less expensive than water-retting in tanks.
After retting the fibres undergo scutching and hacking. This is a mechanical operation which, by breaking and beating the flax straw, separates the textile fibres in the stem of the plant from the woody matter which is then used for the manufacture of chipboard. No part of the flax plant is wasted. Fibres are then hackled (combed) to separate long line and short tow fibres. Line fibres then go through a process where they are drafted and doubled, until a rove (a slightly twisted sliver of flax fibre) has been formed. They then undergo the wet spinning process. Line fibres produce fine, strong yarn. Short tow fibres are dry spun and a heavy, coarse yarn results, ideal for use as furnishing fabrics, heavier apparel and knitwear.
The yarn is now ready to be spun, but during this process it is soaked in warm water, which softens the naturally gummy substances contained in the yarn and permits the individual fibrils within each fibre to slide in relation to each other, thus producing a very fine and regular yarn. This is called "wet spinning".
There are a number of by products from linen manufacture, most commonly, the oil - linseed oil – is used for linoleum, soap, fuel and cattle feed.