Most of my printing in done on linen sourced from Europe but the other day I came across a vintage linen tea towel woven in Ireland which gave a photographic history on the growing and harvesting of flax in that country - in particular Ulster.
The process of growing, harvesting and turning flax into linen was long and complex. Flax was sown in spring and ready for harvest about a hundred days. The mature flax was not cut but pulled, roots and all so that no part of the stem was wasted and the fibres were as long as possible. The stems were then put into ponds or dams and left to rot and soften for 8 to 14 days (called retting).
(photo courtesy of lurganancestry.com)
This resulted in the breaking up of the flax fibre and generated a noxious smell. The flax was then drained on the banks and then laid out in the fields for 6 to 12 days to allow the wind and sun to dry it. After stacking it was sent to the flax mill for "scutching" which removed the skin and core leaving only the fibres for spinning and weaving. Not the most pleasant job by the look of it!