Flax Scutching Festival attracts new generation of families

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Carrie Hood will be at the Flax Scutching Festival again this year, just like she has been since she was 6 years old.

Hood grew up at this event selling hayride tickets and watching generations before her commit to making it a fun and educational experience. And she wants to keep it going for future generations.

The 112th annual Flax Scutching Festival will be held Sept. 14-15 at Monticue’s Grove in Stahlstown. Hood won’t be selling hayride tickets, but she will be one of the people working on a spinning wheel.

“This festival has been in my family for generations,” said Hood, a senior art education major at Seton Hill University in Greensburg. “It was important to my grandparents, and my dad will be there with me.”

The spinning wheel helps in creating the thread from flax that’s used on a loom to make linen fabric. Hood’s father, Brian Hood, does the loom demonstrations. Her grandmother, Lois, had worked in the buckwheat pancake stand but won’t be there this year. Carrie Hood said when she’s not at the spinning wheel, she wipes the syrup off the tables to keep the bees away. It’s a simple thing, but festival-goers don’t want sticky seats and tables. They do, however, want the best buckwheat pancakes and syrup, she said.

“All of the food is so good, and you can buy interesting handmade items from crafters,” Hood said. “It’s a wonderful event and a way for people to learn the history of how linen is made. We take for granted we can go to a store or online and buy clothes, but our ancestors had to make their clothes. You can witness what our ancestors went through. They put their heart and soul into what is made.”

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It’s a festival rich in history that continues to thrive because generations of families like the Hoods. It’s the oldest flax scutching festival in the western hemisphere.

“We try to add something to it every year, and we are fortunate to have many dedicated volunteers who care about the festival and are willing to give of their time,” said Marilee Pletcher, of Stahlstown, an organizer who was introduced to the festival through the involvement of her ex-husband’s grandfather. “We couldn’t do this without them.”

Some of the volunteers even dress the part, wearing vintage clothing that represents life into the late 1800s. It’s a time period recognized at the festival through a Civil War encampment, covered wagon train encampment and a staged Indian raid — a realistic battle between the Indians and Settlers.

The festival is interactive, and there are numerous demonstrations to demonstrate scutching — the process by which linen is made via flax.

The process is labor intensive, Pletcher said.

According to the festival’s website, as early in the season as possible, plots of flax are planted by local residents. This plant, as it grows, resembles oats, having small narrow leaves, blue flowers and slender stems.

The plant is pulled from the ground by the roots where the finest fibers are found. The thread-like fibers are spun into linen thread.

The festival was the creation of Elmer N. Miller, justice of the “peace” in Stahlstown in 1907, according to the festival website. He wanted to bring people together centered on the process of flax scutching. It is estimated 1,800 horse-drawn rigs were parked on the grounds in the festival’s early days. The only time it wasn’t held was from 1942-47 because of World War II.

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In addition to the demonstrations, groups will play live music from an array of genres — country, bluegrass, gospel and more. And funnel cakes, ice cream treats, hamburgers, hot dogs, hot sausages, roast beef and barbecue are on the menu in addition to the famous buckwheat pancakes.

Start Sept. 15 with the Stahlstown United Methodist Church worship service at 9 a.m., and then head over to the festival.


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