This post won’t take long – unlike writing a novel or processing flax for making linen.
I write mysteries and dabble in fiber and textile stuff, and I’m sometimes amazed by the parallels between the two – especially when it comes to processing flax and producing a murder mystery. Both, for instance, are labor intensive and take months or years. They also involve wicked implements ideal for villains looking for their next weapons.
Here are the steps for processing flax, briefly described, and what I see as the corresponding steps in writing. Some of the parallels are obvious and need no explanation.
|photo of blooming flax courtesy of Pixabay|
Sowing the seeds – Necessary for flax and stories.
Growing – See above parallel.
Pulling – To harvest, pull the whole flax plant up by its roots to maximize the length of the fibers. / To write, pull all the ideas for your novel together and start typing.
Drying – Gather the plants into bundles that you can get your hands around. Stack them in stooks or hang them to dry. / Getting your hands around . . . a neck? Hanging? Some of these flax steps sound just plain violent; your writing doesn’t have to be but take notes for your villains.
Rippling – Removing the seed capsules; can be done with a spiked implement called a ripple. It looks like a giant, very sharp comb. Or put the dried flax stalks in a pillowcase and roll over them with a rolling pin to remove the seeds. / Spikes, bags over heads, and lethal rolling pins. More wickedness.
Retting – Think ‘rotting;’ a process for separating the outer cover of the flax stalks from the cellulose core; requires moisture and mold; can be done by submerging the flax in a kiddie pool, a pond, weighing the flax down in a creek, or laying it out in the snow. Takes weeks or months. / Writing a novel takes even longer than retting, a time during which writers might think their brains or novels or both have gone rotten. On the bright side, there are good suggestions here for body disposal.
Drying (again) – Retted, dried flax stalks can be kept for decades before further processing. / So can the manuscript in your bottom drawer.
Breaking and Scutching – After retting and drying, the stalks are beaten with a big wooden contraption about the size of a shaving horse, then further smashed, to remove the fibers from the outer cover and inner core, with another wooden tool called a scutching knife or scutching sword. / So many ideas for mayhem.
|photo by Alan Broyles for the Johnson City Press|
showing the author with hackles in 1989
Hackling – Hackles (also called heckles or hatchels) are boards with spikes attached (see photo above). The previously retted, broken and scutched flax is repeatedly pulled through the spikes, thus separating the fibers, straightening them, and leaving them clean, fine, and ready to spin. / Again with the spikes, but also back to writing craft; separating ideas, reading and re-reading your work to make the story clear, straightforward, and fine. (Has a villain ever used a hackle in one of my books? Yes indeed. Read Plagued by Quilt to find out who, when, and why.)
Spinning and Weaving – People have been spinning and weaving linen and stories for thousands upon thousands of years. Isn’t it grand?
What stories are you spinning and weaving these days?