This Saturday, September 17 and Sunday, September 18 is the 109th Stahlstown Flax Scutching Festival. If you’re a native to the Stahlstown area you’ve probably already been there and know all about flax scutching and the community and camaraderie behind this annual local festival. But for the vast majority of people, “flax scutching is an entirely foreign concept. In this blog post I am going to try to break down flax, flax scutching, and why the Stahlstown Flax Scutching Festival is worth a visit—even if you’re not a farmer.
Ever heard someone being described as having "flaxen hair"? If you read a lot, you've probably seen it in a 19th or early 20th century literature. But what does it mean?
The adjective apparently comes from yellow flax seeds, which are yellowish-gray in color. However, if you’ve ever seen flax in person, it does look like blonde human hair. Case in point--a "flaxen haired" woman scutching flax, anyone?
But that doesn’t help explain what flax is, or why there’s a 100 year old festival in Stahlstown, PA, dedicated to flax and flax scutching.
Flax is a plant that can be made into linseed oil, flaxseed oil, or linen. In fact, linen made from flax was very common until cloth made from cotton became more affordable in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Flax scutching is the preparation of these fibers before they’re spun into cloth. Flax scutching is a process that is thousands of years old, and involves removing the impurities of the flax plant (the straw and woody stem of the plant) to reveal the fibers beneath, which can then be spun into cloth. The scutching of flax can be done with a handheld knife or with a machine.
But the annual Flax Scutching Festival is more than just making linen from the fiber of the flax plant. The history behind the festival’s creation had less to do with making cloth and more to do with community, as this excerpt from their website shows:
In 1907 Elmer N. Miller, who was Justice of the Peace in Stahlstown at that time, conceived the idea of the yearly gathering of old friends and acquaintances, and as an added attraction, the age old scutching of flax and the making of linen cloth was made the center of the celebration. This festival became a yearly event… and has been observed as an annual get-together since that time…It has grown in popularity since 1907 but still the age-old customs and dress are used to retain the quaintness of the occasion and events are scheduled to resemble the olden days so that as much as is possible of the antiquity is captured.
So what can you expect at this year’s Flax Scutching Festival?
- Demonstrations of the complete process of making linen from the flax plant.
- Homemade food (I’ve heard their buckwheat pancakes are a-MAZING)
- Handmade crafts
- Antique farm equipment
- Live music
- Children’s Area
- Civil War encampment
- Covered wagon train encampment
- Staged Indian raid between Native Americans and settlers, representing the hazards of the era
The Stahlstown Flax Scutching Festival is truly a fall festival, filled with community, great food, and, of course, celebrating the fruits of the harvest—in this case, in the form of flax.
Don’t miss it!
Admission:$4 for adultsFREE for children under 12 years of age