The various operations through which the crop passes from this point till flax ready for the market is produced are - (i) Pulling, (2) Rippling, (3) Retting, (4) Drying, (5) Rolling, (6) Scutching.
Retting or rotting is an operation of the greatest importance, and one in connexion with which in recent years numerous experiments have been made, and many projects and processes put forth, with the view of remedying the defects of the primitive system or altogether supplanting it.
From the earliest times two leading processes of retting have been practised, termed respectively water-retting and dew-retting; and as no method has yet been introduced which satisfactorily supersedes these operations, they will first be described.
If allowed to remain under water too long, the fibre is weakened by what is termed " over-retting," a condition which increases the amount of codilla in the scutching process; whilst " under-retting " leaves part of the gummy or resinous matter in the material, which hinders the subsequent process of manufacture.
Dew-retting is the process by which all the Archangel flax and a large portion of that sent out from St Petersburg are prepared.
Archangel flax is, however, peculiarly soft and silky in structure, although in all probability water-retting would result in a fibre as good or even better in quality.
The theory of retting, according to the investigations of J.
To a large extent retting continues to be conducted in the primitive fashions above described, although numerous and persistent attempts have been made to improve upon it, or to avoid the process altogether.
The uniform result of all experiments has only been to demonstrate the scientific soundness of the ordinary process of water-retting, and all the proposed improvements of recent times seek to obviate the tediousness, difficulties and uncertainties of the process as carried on in the open air.
He proposed to separate the fibre by purely mechanical means without any retting whatever; but after the Irish Linen Board had expended many thousands of pounds and much time in making experiments and in erecting his machinery, his entire scheme ended in complete failure.
The only modification of water-retting which has hitherto endured the test of prolonged experiment, and taken a firm position as a distinct improvement, is the warm-water retting patented in England in 1846 by an American, Robert B.
A process of retting by steam was introduced by W.
In connexion with improvements in retting, Mr Michael Andrews, secretary of the Belfast Flax Supply Association, made some suggestions and experiments which deserve close attention.
In brief, Mr Andrews' method consists in introducing water at the proper temperature into the retting vat, and maintaining that temperature by keeping the air of the chamber at a proper degree of heat.
" It may be remarked," says Mr Andrews, " that the superiority claimed for this method of retting flax over what is known as the `hot-water steeping' is uniformity of temperature; in fact the experiments have demonstrated that an absolute control can be exercised over the means adopted to produce the artificial climate in which the vats containing the flax are situated."
Several other attempts have been made with a view of obtaining a quick and practical method of retting flax.
That the system of retting (Loppens and Deswarte's patent) is at least equal to the Lys, as to quality and yield of fibre produced."
It is thereafter once more tied up, placed in the crates, and sunk in the river to complete the retting process; but this double steeping is not invariably practised.
The fibre is separated from the stalks by a process of retting similar to that for flax and hemp. In certain districts of Bengal it is the practice to stack the crop for a few days previous to retting in order to allow the leaves to dry and to drop off the stalks.
It is also thought that the drying of the plants before retting facilitates the separation of the fibre.
Any simple operation which improves the colour of the fibre or shortens the operation of retting is worthy of consideration.
The benefits to be derived from the above process, however, cannot be great, for the bundles are usually taken direct to the pools and streams. The period necessary for the completion of the retting process varies according to the temperature and to the properties of the water, and may occupy from two days to a month.
The following description of the retting of jute is taken from Royle's Fibrous Plants of India:- " The proper point being attained, the native operator, standing up to his middle in water, takes as many of the sticks in his hands as he can grasp, and removing a small portion of the bark from the ends next the roots, and grasping them together, he strips off the whole with a little management from end to end, without breaking either stem or fibre.
The time of sowing, the quantity of seed per acre (about three bushels) and the method of gathering and retting are very similar to those of flax; but, as a rule, it is a hardier plant than flax, does not possess the same pliability, is much coarser and more brittle, and does not require the same amount of attention during the first few weeks of its growth.
Machinery was invented for disintegrating the leaves and freeing the fibre, and at the same time experiments were made with the view of obtaining it by water-retting, and by means of alkaline solutions and other chemical agencies.