Stahlstown Flax Scutching Festival teaches about linens
For Marge Burke, going to the annual Stahlstown Flax Scutching Festival each year is a chance to see her book, “Fields of Blue,” come to life.
The book, which focuses on the eight-step process of making linens, was created as a tool to teach children their history.
“I always get excited to come out and see that they’re selling it. … I think the history, all of our history, is important,” the 69-year-old Greensburg resident said. “I think we learn about who we are and who we were and where we can go and what the future is for us.”
And during the 112th festival that ran Saturday and Sunday at Monticue’s Grove in Stahlstown, several people came out to take a step back in time and learn about the process, listen to bands and browse souvenirs.
Dressed in period clothing, about six people stood in a stand filled with wheels and spikes that would eventually turn flax plants into thin fibers, a process that has been used for more than 250 years in the Ligonier Valley.
At its basic level, flax scutching requires harvesting flax; retting it, or spreading it thinly over a field to absorb dew, rain and the sun; drying it by placing it on top of a kiln; breaking the stals to loosen the fibers; scutching, or scraping away a woody pith; heckling the fibers through rows of iron spikes; spinning the fibers and then finally weaving it into linens.
“We are the only festival that shows it to this extent … and a lot of people have no idea,” participant Hadleigh Nair said. “You tell them this is linen and they’re like, ‘Oh, I had no idea what linen was even made out of.’ ”
And so it was for festivalgoers Penny Richter and Jim Bowman, both of Mt. Pleasant.
“I had no clue all this clothing was made out of weeds, basically,” Bowman, 51, said with a laugh. “So, that’s kind of cool. But I guess cotton is weeds, too, so it was pretty cool to see that.”
Richter, 50, added that she hopes the younger generation finds the event as interesting and educational as she did.
Others, like Lisa Gossman, 51, of McKeesport and Joan Astrab, 76, of Elizabeth Township agreed.
“The people are very friendly and outgoing, and we encourage everyone to come out,” Astrab said. “We learned a lot, just how you can take the wool and actually spin it with a spinning wheel … Seeing how it actually works so that was great.”
Started in 1907 by Elmer N. Miller, the event was a way to bring together old friends and acquaintances, and as an attraction, Miller decided to make flax scutching the center of the event, according to the festival’s website.
Today, the festival is not only a learning experience for many who attend, but it is a family event for those who help to put on the show.
“I come here, it’s almost like a reunion every year to share with these wonderful people,” said Grant Milliorn, who runs Kickwheel Pottery and Sculpture. “And especially also sharing it with the children and having them make their first piece of clay and telling them that they’re now a clay artist.”
Milliorn has been attending the festival for more than 30 years.
For Nair, 27, of Ligonier, flax scutching has been in her life since she was 3 months old, with her grandfather being the former president of the event and her mom participating for years.
“I quite honestly don’t know what I would do without it because it’s been with me since I was a tiny little baby,” she said. “I can’t even imagine not being here.”
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .