Flax, Hemp, Nettle
exhibition in Musaion - Ethnographical Exhibition of the National MuseumLocation: Ethnographic Museum of the National Museum, Kinsky Folly, Kinského zahrada 98, Praha 5
The exhibition „Flax, hemp, nettle” is focused upon the use and application of these plants as raw materials for the manufacture of textiles. For several thousands of years the manual processing of these plants represented an important part of the life of countryside people. The wildly growing nettle has been used since the middle ages as an important substitute plant, for the last time during and after the second world war. The growing and processing of flax and hemp were primarily the activities of women. This necessary and lengthy work took them a large part of the year and it was also part of the statutory labor of the retainers. The tedious and monotonous work was accompanied by a number of folk customs about which the exhibition informs the visitors. The collective „spinning parties“ provided an opportunity not only for gatherings of country folk and for exchange of folk poetry and rhetoric, but they also changed into loose amusement. For this reason they were repeatedly and unsuccessfully forbidden by the lords. The exhibition presents the tools used for the processing of flax, hemp and nettle as well the textile products. In the hands of folk creators the plant fibers were changed not only into useful objects such as bags, straw mattresses, bedding and parts of the clothing, but also laces and a number of artifacts decorated with embroidery. Yarn and linen served not only the satisfaction of the needs of households. They were also the subject of trading and a phenomenon of quite exceptional importance was the international trade with these products. Since the 16th century flax processing and linen manufacture were an important economic sector and at the end of the 18th century yarn and linen represented more than one half of the exports of Bohemia and Moravia. The manual and manufactory production of textiles was the first sector of the economy that was hard hit by the beginning of mechanical production by machines. In the 30s and 40s of the 19th century – after the end of the Napoleonic wars and the invention of the spinning machine – the flax processing underwent a serious crisis. Manual processing of flax and hemp for the needs of the trade was quickly replaced by factory production. However, for private needs flax and hemp were manually processed in some regions until the middle of the 20th century.