Tradition Restarted: Scutching Flax at Mallon Farm

Scutching is the process of taking off all the outer parts of the flax plant to leave the long fibres. This happens once the harvested flax has been retted, dried and broken. It would have been a long, dusty, labour intensive process to do by hand and over the years there have been a variety of machines developed for the job; from simple wooden paddles for hand scutching to water driven scutching turbines. These were extremely dangerous and many injuries resulted from people having to come into contact with fast moving turbine blades. After this, in the 1940's a new type of scutching turbine was developed by Mackies. It was extremely efficient and less dangerous than its water driven predecessors.

Just over a year ago we were lucky enough to buy a 1940's Mackies scutching machine, in pieces, and we have spent much of this last year building a mill to house it at the farm. This beautiful machine had been in operation in a mill in the area up until the 1970's and had passed the years since then stored in a barn. It has been the biggest jigsaw puzzle we have ever done but we were relieved to discover that whoever had taken it apart at some point, had helpfully numbered most of the pieces. Restoring the machine has been a painstaking labour of love but every time we get another part functioning, it's a very satisfying sight! We hope that when it is up and running, it will be capable of processing an acre of flax in less than a day.

The window frames and floor of the scutching mill were made from 100 year old pine boards that were originally used in another mill nearby. It is lovely to see these elements of the Irish linen industry that once thrived in this area getting a new lease of life in our mill.


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