Hannah of Kentucky - James Otis

Preparing Nettle-Bark Flax

Although we had as yet no loom on which to weave cloth, father had made for mother a spinning wheel, promising that during the next year a loom should be set up, and she and I spent many an hour rippling, cleanŽing, and even braking and swingling, what we called flax.

Of course we had no real flax then in Kentucky. Save for here and there a small patch which had been planted by the men before we women folks came, none of the land was under cultivation.

Did you ever see the wild nettle growing, and notice the silky fiber that runs through the leaves? If so, you will know where mother got material for weaving into cloth. Whether it was her own notion, or some friendly person had told her that this could be done, I know not; but it is certain that during five or six days all of us, including father, gathered wild nettles, preparing the rind or bark exactly as you would flax, save that we did little rippling, by which I mean combing out the fibers over nails that are set in a board to make a comb. Instead, we set the leaves in the creek, after having driven stakes around to hold them in place and having piled up layer after layer of the green nettles, the whole being weighted with saplings and heavy rocks so that it would not float away. When the mass had rotted, we could take it out and easily get rid of the decayed portion.

[Illustration] from Hannah of Kentucky by James Otis

After this the fibers were tied in bundles. Then came the braking, when it was put between two tree trunks which had been hewed into little edges to fit one between the other like the cogs of a wheel; the upper trunk was brought down heavily upon the lower in such a manner that the weedy part of the fiber would be broken and bruised so that it could be swingled with a block and knife, until everything save the silky veins was scraped or shaved off.

Then we made the clean fibers up into bundles, which would have been called "strikes" in the case of real flax, and these were swingled again until every tiny thread was thoroughly cleaned, after which came the hackling, when the fiber was dampened and drawn through sharp pegs that had been set close together in a board until a square of perhaps four or five inches had been formed of these .small points. The hackling determines the fineness of the thread, since it separates each large fiber into very many small ones.


Front Matter

At Boonesborough
Beginning of the Story
Boone on the Yadkin
Boone Moves his Family
Ready for the Journey
What we Wore
Driving Cattle and Sheep
Camping at Nightfall
The Long Halt
Jimmy Boone Goes to Clinch
Murder of Jimmy Boone
A Time of Mourning
The Faint-hearted Return
A New Home
Making Moccasins
Tanning Leather
Governor Dunmore
Our Home on the Clinch
Household Duties
Attacked by a Wildcat
Fighting the Wildcat
Boone and Father Return
The Wilderness Road
Building the Forts
Gathering Salt
Our Home in the Fort
Ready for Cooking
Furnishing the House
The Hominy Block
The Supply of Water
Sports Inside the Fort
Wrestling and Running
Religion of the Indians
Indian Babies
Colonel Callaway Arives
News from Eastern Colonies
Venturing Outside the Fort
Dividing the Land
Who Owned Kentucky?
Ready to Build a Home
Billy's Hard Lot
Preparing Flax
Spinning and Soap Making
Broom Making
More Indian Murders
Indian "Signs"
Woodcraft and Hunting
Pelts Used as Money
Petition of the Settlers
Making Sugar
Building Fences
Capture of the Girls
My Willful Thoughts
Finding the Trail
The Pursuit
The Story Told by Jemima
Elizabeth's Heroism
Rescuing the Girls
Alarm Among the Settlers
Indians on the Warpath
The First Wedding
The Wedding Festivities
The Brides Home
The Housewarming
Attacks by the Indians
Besieged by the Savages
In the Midst of the Fight
The Assault by the Indians
Failure of the Assault
Watchfulness of the Indians
The Sortie
My Father Wounded
Our Wounded