Small plots of flax were cultivated on many farms in Dumfries and Galloway, on the 'hemp rig.' The flax was harvested by hand, tied up in sheaves and stooked in the field for several days. It was then steeped in a pool weighted down with stones until the 'scouring' process was completed - in about a fortnight. It was dried by spreading it out in rows and was then sent to the 'lint mill' for further processing.
Often the mill was situated at a considerable distance and there were many complaints about the delay in processing, the expense and the imperfections of the work. After dressing, flax was spun at home on a spinning wheel by women and girls and then sent to weavers to be worked into cloth on handlooms. Domestic linen making was still practised in the early decades of the nineteenth century and in isolated districts was still carried on as late as 1840. In 1835, for example, there was a total of 45 acres devoted to flax growing in Lower Annandale.
The first process to be mechanised was flax or lint scutching and the typical lint mill housed simple machinery for this purpose. The machinery was water-powered and the mill itself single or at most two storeyed.
By 1793 "The First Statitistical Account" records that Lochmaben had two lint mills 'which are insufficient to perform the work that would come to them'; in Applegarth a mill was 'now building' on the Water of Annan; in Dunscore, where Robert Burns rented the farm of Ellisland, a flax mill was about to be erected on the River Cairn; and in Morton the mill 'for dressing lint' serviced a wide area up to sixteen miles distant. The majority of lint mills were relatively small units whose main function was flax-dressing for the country folk of the surrounding district.
Throughout the whole of the eighteenth and the early decades of the nineteenth century the most important area of linen manufacture was Lower Annandale, production being centred on the neighbouring towns of Lochmaben and Lockerbie. In the 1760s, when output was greatest, nearly 250,000 yards of linen were annually stamped for sale in Dumfriesshire, the majority from Annandale.
Local conditions suited flax growing, particularly the rich, fertile valleys of the River Annan and the Water of Ae. Here in the 1790s local and foreign flax was spun by women and woven by men into coarse linens. In the nearby parish of Tinwald, at Trailflat, was located "one of the most extensive bleachfields in Scotland", operated by Cruickshank & Son, and there were several other bleachers in Dumfries and Maxwelltown.
During the Napoleonic Wars the linen industry declined and by the early 1820s had virtually succumbed to the overwhelming competition of the large scale factory industry in eastern Scotland and nearby Ulster.