The retting process

The retting process is the first stage in the transformation of flax straw, and begins when the linen is ripe, when it is plucked and laid in windrows.

This transformation corresponds to the dissociation of the fibrous parts by decomposition. This is achieved by removing the pectin, the substance that binds the fibers of the woody part together.

The retting process uses enough water to remove the sap and resins that bind the fibers together, but not so much that the fibers remain intact.

The scales-beaters follow the work of the harvesters. They take up the windrows to recover the seeds. These seeds can then be sown the following year, or harvested for oil production.

Retting is a very important operation and affects the quality of the flax. Different techniques are used depending on the geographical situation. Belgium and France traditionally carried out this operation in rivers, but bacterial decomposition gave the water a brown color and an unpleasant odor. This has been banned by the European Union in order to preserve rivers.

There are two types of retting: “soil” retting and “land” retting. The first was reputed to give whiter canvases. Soil retting is the technique most commonly used today. After extracting the linen, the fibers are spread out on the ground for a few weeks. But this operation is still subject to weather conditions. When the straws are dry enough, the farmer rolls them up.