As a third generation business working with linen is in our DNA. While our day-to-day life is concerned with designing, creating and dispatching beautiful linen homewares, we also appreciate the long and fascinating history of this magical fabric. If you've ever wondered how linen has been used over the centuries, or want to understand more about flax growing in Europe, here's a brief history of linen.
Our ancestors used linen in their homes and for clothing, and the oldest example dates back 36,000 years to dyed flax fibres found in a cave in Georgia. Other ancient evidence of linen fabric includes a 5,000 year-old linen dress discovered in an Egyptian tomb, and we know linen was used by the Romans and during the Middle Ages. The story of our love for linen bed linen, linen tablecloths and linen clothes goes right back to the very early days of humanity.
Along with wool finer, linen is one of the oldest fibres used by humans. Linen fibers are produced from the stems of the flax plan. Linen was an important textile before cotton and other fibers as it is very versatile and can serve many purposes. The best thing about the flax plant is that all its parts can be used for something, so no part of it is wasted. This was useful in earlier societies, and is now essential if we are to live more sustainably on the Earth. For the best quality linen fabric only the best flax stems are used, but the left over parts – like linseeds, oil, straw and lower-quality stems – are turned into many products: linoleum, soap, healthy nutritious oil, paper, even cattle feed and lots more.
Linen Fabric History
Middle Eastern countries were the first cultivators of the flax plant and linen fabric as flax crops flourished there. Skilled artisans turned the flax into ropes, fabric, napkins, bedlinen and clothing. Linen production spread from this area to the American colonies and Europe, where much of the flax in the world is now grown.
To grow well, flax plants need well-drained soil and a cool, humid environment. The Eastern and Western European climate is perfect for this and flax grown there is regarded as top quality. Flax (which goes by the scientific name Linum usitatissimum) is a member of the Linaceae plant family. The last word of its Latin name means “most useful”, which tells us how important this plant was to ancient peoples.
Linen Fabic in Use
Historically, the hard work involved in producing linen cloth from flax plant resulted in high prices. Not everyone was able to afford it. In ancient Egypt mummies were wrapped with linen before laying them into tombs, and sometimes linen even was used as currency. In European Mediaeval times linen fabric was more widely used for everyday products such as linen clothing, sacks, bedsheets, sails, fishing nets, ropes, strings for bows, bags and purses. It was also a popular belief at that time that flax offered some protective powers – it was said that flax flowers guarded against witchcraft, black magic and sorcery. Linen fabric even has its place in the Bible, which states that Christ wore linen as he lay on his tomb.
There is something deeply appealing and satisfying in working with a fabric with such long-reaching roots. Knowing that people many centuries ago wore linen clothes, slept on linen bedding, and used linen tablecloths is somehow reassuring. It makes us feel a sense of continuity with those who believed in flax and thought of so many ways of using it for comfort, beauty and health. When designing and producing our linen bed linen, linen bathroom linen, linen napkins and linen clothes, we at LinenMe are constantly proud to be part of such an meaningful, historic practice.