Heckling Flax

Miscellaneous Definitions   Fabric Definitions   About Linen Fiber

Heckling (or "hackling") is the last of three steps in dressing flax, or preparing the fibers to be spun. It splits and straightens the flax fibers, as well as removes the fibrous core and impurities.  Flax is pulled through heckling combs, which parts the locked fibers and makes them straight, clean, and ready to spin.  After heckling and spinning, flax is ready to be woven into linen.

Dressing is the broad term referring to removing the fibers from the straw and cleaning it enough to be spun. Dressing consists of three steps: breaking, scutching and heckling. After breaking, some of the straw is scraped from the fibers in the scutching process, then the fiber is pulled through various sized heckling combs, or hackles.  Different sized heckling combs are used, progressing from coarser combs with only a few prongs or nails per inch, to finer combs. Generally three heckling combs are used; however, many more can be used. The finer the final heckling comb, the finer the yarn spun from that flax can be.

The shorter fibers that remain in the heckling comb after the flax has been combed are called tow.  If the heckle is fine enough, the tow can be carded like wool and spun, otherwise it can be spun like the other flax fibers. Tow produces a coarser yarn than the fibers pulled through the heckles because it will still have some straw in it. While this yarn is not suitable for fine linens, it can be used for bagging, rough sheets, cords or ropes.

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