Friday, March 29, 2013

Signed, Sealed & Delivered

There are many times that we say things ~ words or phrases ~ that we don't realize had special or particular meanings to our ancestors. One such phrase is "signed, sealed and delivered". We say it when we have finished something, simply to mean that it is complete ~ that we don't intend to add to it. We often don't even consider that at one time the phrase actually meant that something had been signed, then sealed and then delivered.
In the early 18th Century, a deed was "an instrument written on paper or parchment, consisting of three things, viz. Writing, sealing and delivery; and comprehending a contract, or bargain between party and party." That's the definition from a book published in London in 1741 ~ Cyclopaedia: Or An Universal Dictionary Of Arts And Sciences.

A simple deed, such as a Last Will And Testament, in which one

person (or party, as in "the party of the first part") gave property (real or personal) to a second person (or party, as in "the party of the second part"), retained that simple name: a deed.

When there were more than one persons involved, where one person (or party) gave property (real or personal) to a second person (or party), and the second person reciprocated in some way, such as by paying money to receive the property, the deed was given a different name: an indenture. It was called an indenture, because the various sections of the document (one for the giver and one for the receiver) each had the first word of their part indented, so as to easily be found when the document was read. Each person, or party, involved in the deed or indenture would sign the document, usually along the bottom edge.

The transaction, whether a simple deed or a multi-party indenture, was not complete in the writing of it on the paper or parchment (and thusly being signed). In fact, it was only one third completed at that point. It still had to be sealed and delivered. And if those two steps were not completed, the transaction, in the sight of the law, did not exist.

Again, according to the 1741 Cyclopaedia: "Sealing deeds, makes persons parties to them: and if they are not thus sealed they are void. If a Seal is broken off, it will make the deed void; and when several are bound in a bond, the pulling off the Seal of one makes it void as to the others..." The seal was a small ball of clay that was

formed around the paired ends of a thin strip of parchment that had been woven through a slit in the document's bottom edge. The ball of clay, when it was still damp and pliable, would have a relief design pressed into it, usually from a signet ring possessed by the person creating the deed (i.e. the party of the first part). Individuals who did not own a signet ring, usually owned a small metal object intended for the purpose of sealing documents. That object was called a seal or a seal die. In some cases, such as the large clay seal shown on the document, dated 1638, above, the seal entirely encloses the thin strip of parchment, whereas the seal shown on the document, dated 1770, below, simply sits on the surface of the parchment strip. The latter one might not even consist of clay; wax tended to be used because it was more easily obtained and used
The wax seal would harden like the clay one, retaining the relief design pressed into it by either a signet ring or a seal die. Some deeds were sealed by weaving a piece of silk ribbon through the parchment, as in the example dated 1762 and signed by John Penn, shown below, in which the ribbon is sewn over the signature in order to 'seal' it in.

The third part of the process involved the physical delivery of the document to the second person (or party). In the case of a Last Will And Testament, the document might not be delivered to the second person until the first person actually died. On the other hand, an indenture, being a transaction of property between two persons, would probably be signed and sealed by both parties at the same time, and therefore the document could be delivered to the second person (or party) immediately.

So, there were three parts to the transference of property known as a deed, which had to exist in order to make the transaction valid and lawful: it had to be signed, sealed and then delivered. If it had all three parts, it was considered complete. That is why today we signify something that is complete by saying it is "signed, sealed and delivered".

Monday, March 25, 2013

Robins And Woolly-worms

This morning I looked out of my kitchen window, and there, on the ground ~ on a small patch of wet grass, cleared so that the dog would have a place to 'do her business', while surrounded by the four inches of snow we got overnight ~ was a red breasted harbinger of spring. There, standing as proud as any proud thing could be, was a robin. Now, most people might not have taken notice of, nor understood the singular importance of, the sight. But I was one who listened to the old folks when they talked ~ and the old folks always said that when the first robin was seen, Spring was not far behind.

Before we had 'doppler weather' to mislead us about the weather (more often than not, if the 'doppler weather' tells you that it will be sunny tomorrow, you can bet it will rain most of the afternoon!), the old folks would look at, and listen to, insects, birds and the like to tell what the weather around the corner would be.

When the mourning dove could be heard making its 'who-woo-oo who who who' call, you knew that rain wasn't too far off. And when you saw the leaves of trees turning over to show you their undersides, you knew that the rain was pretty close. And speaking of rain, Uncle So-and-so's arm or Aunt So-and-so's leg would ache like 'all-get-out' when rain was coming.

But it wasn't only rain that could be foretold. When you would see hornets in the dreadful heat of the Summer building their nests up high, you could be sure that there was going to be some pretty high snows in the coming Winter. Contrary-wise, if the hornets built their nests low, then the snows would be light that Winter. And then there are the woolly-worms. In Pennsylvania, we call them woolly-worms, even though their proper names are "banded woolly bear caterpillars", or even more properly "Pyrrharctia isabella" (i.e. the Tiger Moth's larval stage). Whatever you call them, woolly-worms usually have black 'fur' on each end with orangish-brown 'fur' in the middle. The old folks used to say that if the black ends were so large that there was only a thin band of brown, it would be a harsh winter. Conversely, if the black ends were thin themselves, with the brown band covering most of the worm, a mild winter would be coming. Since I have always believed what the old folks said, I didn't need the fancy 'dopppler weather" to tell me that we'd see a lot of snow during this winter of 2012/13 because during last Autumn I came across five or six of the woolly-worms, and all of them were nearly completely black!

Many of the weather prognosticators, even though the old folks didn't know it, were based on logical, if not scientific, facts. You could see the undersides of a tree's leaves when rain was close by because a warm layer of air pushing underneath a cold layer ~ the friction of the positively charged and negatively charged ions, which would result in rain ~ was what pushed the leaves upward, turning them over. The old folks didn't know much of anything about warm air versus cold air, they just knew that when you saw the leaves turning upside-down it was going to rain soon.

So today, although I didn't know the scientific explanation of it, I knew that since I saw the first robin of Spring, it (Spring, that is) would not be far behind it (the robin, that is).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I'm Gonna Cut Down Me A Tree

I think that I'll take my broad ax and head out into the forest to cut down a tree.

Oops! There's something wrong in that sentence above. Could it be that I probably would not want to exert the energy necessary to cut down a tree? Could it be that my sciatica would prevent me from heading too far from home - that my right leg would be aching too much before I got very far into "the forest". ~ No, the thing that's wrong with the sentence at the head of this post is that in order to cut down a tree, I would not use a broad ax; everyone knows (I'm sure that, at least, you did) that a felling ax is needed to cut down a tree, and that a broad ax would be used to dress the logs after the tree was felled.

The idyllic image of the ax-wielding homesteader, as created and spread by early-American historians who didn't know what they were writing about, was that he used a broad ax for his every wood-cutting need. Indeed, if the myth is believed, the homesteader carried his broad ax everywhere he went, setting it aside only when he ate his supper. Unfortunately, that myth, like the one about hanging your musket on the fireplace mantle above the raging fire, came into being during the first half of the 20th Century. There was a Colonial Revival movement in the United States during the 1920s, and certain objects, including the broad ax, spinning wheel and musket with powder horn, became mythologized. The advocates of the Colonial Revival style were fond of the art form of the tableau, in which they arranged properly dressed 'colonists' in their idea of 'realistic' situations. This means that one of their tableaus was bound to show a man, dressed in knee breeches and black leather shoes with giant brass buckles, standing beside a tree that has been just recently cut down, holding a broad ax with its big, massive iron head. Despite the fact that that image was wrong, it was made that way because the diminutive sized head of the 

felling ax wasn't as impressive as the broad ax.

The broad ax (shown in the photo above) was used primarily for dressing (i.e. finishing) a log to remove the bark and flatten the sides. The dressing of a log made it more useful in home construction. The broad ax was constructed with a single beveled edge (i.e. beveled just on one face, as seen in the photo to the left) to enable it to shave pieces of wood off the log with ease.


On the other hand, the felling ax had a double beveled edge (i.e. beveled on both faces) which made it ideal for deep-cutting slashes into a standing tree. A photo of a pre-1750s felling ax is shown below.

The broad ax is notable for its curved handle. More than likely, most people who see a broad ax for the first time probably think that the handle has just bent into a curve over time. But they were produced that way to accommodate how they were used. The broad ax would be held by the user as he stood on top of the log, facing at a right angle to the log, with the handle forming a concave curve when held parallel to the side of the log. The curve in the handle allowed the user to stand with both feet on the log and not have to bend and twist uncomfortably to bring the ax's face in contact with the log. The felling ax, on the other hand, was held by the user, standing on the ground, striking the tree at right angle, and therefore did not require any curve in the handle.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

St. Patrick's Day is special to me ~ as it is to all Irish and descendants of the Irish who live either in the Irish Diaspora, or in the homeland herself.

I can trace certain ancestral lines back to Ireland, directly and indirectly. I say 'indirectly' because I descend from both, Fergus and Angus, two of the sons of Erc who took the Celtic Dal Riada culture (descended from the Milesians) from Eire to Pictland. My lineage descends from Erc to Cinaed mac Ailpin (i.e. Kenneth MacAlpin), and from there to the Mackintosh and Shaw clans. From Scotland, my Shaw ancestors migrated back to Ireland, where they intermarried with the Townsons and Hydes. At the same time, my Muirhead ancestors were being relocated from their ancestral home in Scotland to the Ulster Plantation in northern Ireland. From Ireland, my Shaw and Muirhead ancestors emigrated to America, and their descendants became part of the Irish Diaspora.

Sure, I've got Swiss and German blood in me also, because the Germans and Ulster Scots intermarried quite heavily in the South-Central Pennsylvania region in which I was born, but the Irish part of me always bubbles and boils with pride when St. Patrick's Day comes around.

And so, on this St. Patrick's Day, I would like to extend to all my family and friends the following blessings and toasts:

May you live as long as you want, and never want as long as you live.

May you be half-an-hour in Heaven before the Devil knows you're dead.

May the road rise to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face. May the rain fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you securely in the hollow of His hand.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Everything But The Squeal

Nothing was taken for granted by our ancestors; they utilized what was at hand and economized as much as they could. There was an old joke about how farmers, when they butchered a pig, used everything except the squeal.
This item comes from the late 1800s to early 1900s. It is made from the mane of a horse. When the animal died, or had to be 'put down', the farmer would not have simply buried the body. What parts could be used, would have been. The mane and the tail would have provided for some unique things, such as the item exhibited here. It consists of the mane removed from a dead horse, wrapped around and fastened to a wooden handle.

When a farmer plowed his fields, using oxen or horses, the flies tended to bother the animals. Oxen, in particular, would be bothered by insects flying around their eyes. If bothered too much by the flies, oxen might refuse to continue walking. As the farmer guided his team in the plowing, he would engage a young son, or perhaps a daughter if a son wasn't available, to walk alongside the horse or oxen and use one of these 'swishers' to shoo the flies away.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

It's Nice Not To Have To Pay A Six Pence Tax To Have A Will Drawn Up

In another eight days it will have been 248 years (that's about 90,580 days, in case you're curious) since the Stamp Act was passed by the British Parliament on 22 March 1765. But let's not celebrate on the 22nd. ~ Let's hold the celebration on the 18th (the date in 1766 on which the Act was repealed ~ Whew-hoo!!!). (And in case you're curious, that will amount to roughly 90,211 days)

The Stamp Act {or more precisely: AN ACT for granting and applying certain stamp duties, and other duties, in the British colonies and plantations in America, towards further defraying the expenses of defending, protecting, and securing the same; and for amending such parts of the several acts of parliament relating to the trade and revenues of the said colonies and plantations, as direct the manner of determining and recovering the penalties and forfeitures therein mentioned.} was passed as a Statute at Large ostensibly for the purpose of raising at least £60,000 to help offset the £350,000 required to maintain the British Army in the American Colonies.

The Stamp Act required that stamps be purchased for (and affixed to) printed documents, including legal documents, newspapers and so forth, along with many other paper items, such as playing cards. The photo below shows one of the stamps attached to a deed. The costs for each stamp varied from three pence (that's cents for my American readers) to multiple pounds (that's kind of like dollars for my American readers). To have a license printed for retailing of "spiritous liquor", a duty (i.e. a tax or payment) of three pounds was to be charged for the stamp that was to be attached to it. The duty for the stamp that was attached to the deed shown below would have cost one shilling and six pence.

The idea of the Act was not really so wrong ~ it was intended to help pay for the troops that had fought to win control of the continent from the French during the French and Indian War. Why should the people residing in Great Britain pay for the upkeep of the army in the American Colonies? ~ But the American colonists took offense to the Act having been passed, like so many others, by the British Parliament without allowing any representatives from the colonies participate in that Parliament. ~ Hence the saying: Taxation Without Representation!

The photo at the top of this post shows the stamp close up. The grey, rectangular thing on the center-right is not an example of damage to the stamp. It is actually part of the stamp affixing process. The grey thing is a small piece of tin foil. The stamp would be pasted to the document, and then the small piece of tin foil would be pushed through the stamp and the document itself.

It would be left exposed on the front side, and then on the back, the piece of tin foil would be covered over by a piece of paper printed with the royal seal of the king. In this case, as shown in the photo to the right, the seal bears the letters G and R (for George - Rex, or King).

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Speaking Of ....... Women And Their Shoes

Okay, so it's 1872, and you are getting ready to go to the ball. You have your chemise on ~ oh come on now, you know that a chemise is just a type of slip ~ and you have your corset of whalebone on (how else are you going to get that 24" waist?) ~ and you are just about ready to put on your hoop skirt.

So the shoes are next. But just think of those high topped, leather monstrosities with their rows of fifteen buttons and matching button eyelets lining the opening of the high upper. And that's just one shoe ~ there's two of them to deal with. It's going to be a chore, especially if you don't have a servant girl to help you.

So what's a poor girl to do?

The answer is  ~ you have your husband, or father, or brother, take a saw and cut about four to six inches off the bottoms of the legs of a chair to make a short shoe-buttoning seat for you.

By lowering the height of the chair, when seated, the lady's knees would be higher than her waist, and her relaxed arm would reach to the floor without any effort or discomfort. Without straining, she could easily button her own shoes because the row of buttons and eyelets were positioned on the 'outside' of the shoes.

I found the chair shown to the upper left in an antique shop many years ago. The antique dealer thought it was just cut off for a child to use. But small chairs were made for that purpose ~ or the child would simply sit on the floor. Children, back then, were considered to be subservient to their elders, and often did not merit being afforded the luxury of sitting in a chair. They often stood at the table during meals, and sat or lay on the floor in the evening after chores were completed.

Chairs, like any other piece of furniture were costly, and so when the legs of a regular size chair were cut off, you can bet it was intended for a lady to easily button her own shoes.

I also own a high, spindle back chair with the legs uncut, whose turned legs and stretchers exactly match those of the altered chair. From the two pictures, you can see that there was about four inches cut off the one; it was cut off just below the side stretcher.

The cut off chair would also be used by ladies who wore lace-up high boots because they were perhaps as difficult to fasten as were the button type.

So now that we have the chair out of the way, let's look at that thing that is pictured at the top of this post. The button-hook was the tool used by a lady to connect the eyelets around the buttons of her shoes. The hook end would be passed through the bottom-most eyelet, and then hooked around the bottom-most button. The button-hook would then be pulled the entire way through the eyelet, thereby pulling the button through with it. The hook end would be disengaged from that button, and the process repeated, moving up the row of buttons / eyelets, until all of the buttons would be pulled through the eyelets.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Your Mother Said To Take Your Shoes Off If You're Going In The House

When I walk into a house, I am in the habit - as probably many of you also are - of taking my shoes off. It's just a habit that my mother taught me to get into when I was young. Not all habits are good ones, but taking off one's shoes when entering a house is one of those that should be learned as a child, and continued throughout life. It's one of those little courtesies that you can, as a visitor, extend to a host, signifying that you respect his, her or their property.

The process of taking one's shoes off is a very simple one. In most cases, you just place the toe of one shoe against the heel of the other shoe and then pull the second foot out of that shoe. Then you repeat the process by placing the toe of your shoeless foot against the heel of the first shoe, and pull your foot out of that shoe. It should be so simple that any child, with a little practice, can pick it up easily - and hopefully get into the habit.

The only time a person should not take off his or her shoes when entering someone else's (or even your own) house would be if specifically told by the host that it is not necessary. That should be the homeowner's prerogative, though.

So, what is that thing at the top of this post?   It's a boot jack.

The boot jack is a tool, that was very popular in days past, to help in the removal of one's boots. This was in a day and age when loafers and oxfords for men were not even invented yet, and when boots were more common as footwear than were 'regular' shoes.

Men and boys sometimes wore plain, low shoes, fastened with buckles, and having flat toes making useable on either the left or right foot. But those shoes were worn primarily in dry locations. Roads were not paved, and so when it rained they became muddy pathways. In inclement weather, men wore high leather boots. Also, around the farm, in all the muck and mud, high boots were required footwear.

Men's high boots were difficult to remove easily, so the boot jack was invented to assist that process. The man would place one foot on the long, flat surface of the boot jack. Then he would position the other boot into the "U" or "V" shaped end. That open end of the boot jack was raised, as you can see in some of the photos, so that the wooden jack would touch the boot just above the boot heel, grabbing it and holding it firmly in place as the man pulled his foot out. This particular boot jack must not have been high enough to hold the owner's boots securely, so a small piece of wood was tacked onto the bottom.

Boot jacks, such as this one, were commonly made of wood, and did their job adequately well. Into the late 1800s, boot jacks became fabricated out of cast metal. While wooden ones, like this example, are now only found as antiques, but the boot jack is not entirely a thing of the past. They can still be purchased - usually by farmers who still have to work in mud and muck.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Do You Accept Turnpike Dollars?

According to Bruce Champ (former senior research economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland), the Federal Government of the United States of America is not the only entity that is allowed to issue 'money' or specie. And throughout our history, various other entities, such as banks and turnpike companies, have issued their own currency (usually backed up by dividend-paying stock in the bank or company itself) to pay their workers for use in their regional communities. The practice continues to the present time. For example: banks issue paper currency in the form of personal checks, which are accepted by businesses in the community, under the assumption that the checks are backed up by funds deposited into the bank by the check user. A turnpike company would issue their own paper money, commonly known as scrip to its workers, who could then use it to pay for goods in community businesses, under the assumption that it was backed up by equity in the turnpike company, and/or eventually, in the proceeds that would be collected from users of the turnpike.

The image above is of a turnpike dollar, variously called a note or scrip, issued by the Chambersburg and Bedford Turnpike Road Company in the year 1818. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the south central region of Pennsylvania was growing in population. Following the end of the American Revolutionary War, there was widespread migration of families westward, and roads were being constructed throughout the region to accommodate that westward movement. Turnpike companies sprang up to construct roads between the various towns dotting the region. They would usually disassemble once the road was built, except for the collection of tolls from travelers using the roads.

This particular piece was issued for the value of five dollars. It was specifically issued to a man by the name of J. Noble. The note could be used by Mr. Noble to purchase five dollars worth of whatever commodity he desired, and the businessman whom he paid with this note could either use the note to pay some other person, or cash it in to the turnpike company.

One additional item of interest that I found in this note was that it was signed by the Chambersburg and Bedford Turnpike Road Company's president, Jonathan Dickey. Jonathan Dickey married Elizabeth Smith, a granddaughter of my paternal ancestor, Jacob Schmitt, Sr. (Jonathan Dickey was one of my great-great-great-great-uncles.)


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Don't Forget Mothering Day

Mother's Day, this year, will fall on May 12. Are you aware, though, that Mothering Day will occur on March 10 ~ next Sunday? Mother's Day and Mothering Day are not the same thing. The latter holiday provides the topic of this post.

Mothering Day was one of the holidays that would have been celebrated primarily by Roman Catholics during the Colonial Period in the colonies and provinces of the fledgling United States of America. Despite the fact that it has fallen out of favor in the U.S. over the past two centuries, Mothering Day is a holiday still celebrated in parts of the United Kingdom.

On the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, the fourth Sunday in Lent was given the formal name of Laetare Sunday; it was intended to be a day set aside to honor the Virgin Mary. The name Laetare was derived from Latin meaning 'rejoice'. Laetare Sunday became known as Mid-Lent Sunday because it falls within the Lenten Season (i.e. the fourth Sunday in Lent). The original custom practiced on this holiday was for parishioners to visit their mother church (i.e. the pioneering or mission church in the region) and to make offerings there.

As time went on, the custom of visiting the mother church and giving her offerings evolved into children visiting their own parents, and giving them gifts. In the U.S., this day set aside for honoring parents together evolved into two holidays: a special day set aside for honoring mothers, and a special day set aside for honoring fathers. To separate them yet further from this original holiday in Lent, the new Mother's Day was pushed ahead to the second Sunday in May, and the new Father's Day was moved to the third Sunday in June.

But to return to Mothering Day: 

Although Mothering Day was established as a Roman Catholic holiday, it was probably celebrated by many Protestants in the early days of the United States, because even they paid special honor to the pioneering church of their own particular denominations.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

From Foundry To Font

The image opening this post displays a couple characters from a font that I have created for use on my website, I use it as an embedded font on my webpages. An embedded font is a font set which exists as a (.ttf) file on the server on which my page files also exist, and to which I refer in the html (hyper text markup language) coding of certain of my webpages so that it will display on any visitor's computer, regardless of whether they have it loaded. The html coding of my pages includes directions for a variety of browsers to 'read' the font and display it appropriately.

Since I have identified my "motherbedford.ttf" font as a serif based font, a computer whose browser can't display it will choose another serif based font, such as New Times Roman or Georgia.
But even if any visitor's particular browser is unable to 'read' the font that I have embedded in my pages' html coding, the text will still be displayed ~ albeit in whatever font the visitor has loaded on his/her computer.

The reason I have chosen this subject for a post on my blog, is to enable me to talk a little about font.

The word came into existence in the late 16th Century. Printers in Great Britain borrowed a French word: fonte, which had been derived from the word fondre, which meant 'to melt'. The word was used in relation to the process of casting molten metal in a foundry. Prior to that time, the printing industry had been revolutionized by the invention of moveable type. This process involved setting a page's text using individual letters cast in metal, each individual letter of which could be used over and over again (at least until the edges of the letter began to wear too much, causing distortion when printed). As the individual cast metal type became too worn out for use, they would be melted once again and cast as new letter type.

Any single printer probably used only one or two sets of cast type, although he would probably have a number of sizes of each set. Because he would have more than one set, the printer needed a way to differentiate between each. And that is where the word font took on its most prominent role. The particular style, or look, of a set of type became known as its font, and each font was given its own name, such as Fraktur, Roman, Bembo and so forth.

Even after printers progressed beyond using cast metal type for setting their page text, the word font continued to be used to denote the style of the characters (both letters and numerals). And as the printing processes moved into the realm of word processors and computers, the idea of possessing and using a variety of fonts remained as vibrant and lively as always.

What's amazing is that someone such as myself can create, use and embed (into webpages) my own designed font ~ without my having had to melt down any metal to cast type in order to do so.

Friday, March 1, 2013

If You Don't Behave, You'll Get A Scutchin'

My younger readers might not ever have heard this, but the older ones probably did once or twice when they were young: "If you don't behave, you'll get a scutchin'."

I grew up in a day and age in which it was clearly demonstrated that children who were disciplined by physical means tended to behave themselves ~ as compared to the present time, in which the kids run wild while the parents cower in fear that their neighbors might see a cut on one of the child's arms, and turn them in to the police for abuse. And, amazingly enough, not all of us 'disciplined kids' grew up to be mass murderers or leaders of al qaeda sleeper cells. Parents, in days past, often used a wooden paddle of some sort to correct the children who misbehaved ~ a single swat against the gluteus maximus got the child's attention, and guess what? It sometimes induced them to listen to their parents and stop misbehaving. I remember hearing my mother say that the reason God made the butt so well cushioned with muscle (i.e. the gluteus maximus) and fat was so that a child could be paddled there and it would not disable the child for the rest of his or her life. Despite what behavioral psychologists might want you to believe, very few children ever died from being paddled on the tush.

Now why would the parent say that the child would get a scutchin' if they misbehaved, when what they meant to say was that the child would get a paddling? Maybe because scutchin' sounds better than paddling sounds.

Actually, the reason for the use of the word scutchin' comes from the name of the wooden paddle that most parents had in their houses ~ albeit a generation or two back. In the day and age in which each household had to produce the yarn they needed for weaving cloth, they had to remove the hulls from the flax stalks. They performed that job by first breaking the flax on a flax break, and then, holding a bunch of the broken flax stalks over a stump or chair seat, they would strike at the stalks with the scutching knives, causing most of the pieces of hull, or the straw, to be knocked off of the stalks, leaving only the useable fibers. Lastly, the fibers would be pulled through a hatchel, or flax comb, to remove any remaining pieces of hull.

The word scutching comes from the late 17th Century Old French word escoucher, which, derived from the Latin, excutere, meant "to shake." The wooden paddle used to 'scutch' the flax became known as a scutching knife. And, by extension, the action of using the scutching knife became known as giving the flax a scutchin'.

As the years went by, and the need for housewives to spin their own yarn went by the way, the use of a scutching knife to knock the hulls off the flax fibers was an activity that likewise fell by the wayside. But the parents of the family retained the scutching knife, and used it to paddle the children when they misbehaved. There was no need to make a wooden paddle, when one was readymade in the form of the scutching knife.