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Short overview of bed linen history

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Today we tend to take our bedding for granted. But people haven't always had access to comfortable beds and bed linen. Here is quick overview on linen history.

As we can imagine, man slept on the cold hard ground before he started to form a pile of leaves, straw, and twigs to create a more comfortable sleeping place.

Later the idea of elevated sleeping platform emerged - it's been more than 3,000 years since the Egyptians discovered that sleeping on a surface that was raised off the ground is much more comfortable. Ancestors of nowadays beds and mattresses were invented.

The origin of bedding linen goes back a long way. The earliest human beings had used simple straw mats for sleeping, possibly adding animal furs for warmth and some comfort. Animal skin was soon added over the pile of leaves and straws to lie on and another one as a cover. In some countries hammocks were widely used, removing the need for bedding if the temperature was warm enough.

In general the history of bed linen is tightly related to the history of fabric weaving.

As flax is one of the oldest plants used for textile production, linen ultimately was one of the first fabrics bed sheets were made of. Hence the term bed linen or simply linens. This term is used today to describe any item used on bed. Linen is perfect for being used as bed sheets, even more so than cotton, because of its nature to become softer with use. Traditional linens are white in color.

Flax plant was grown for centuries in Egypt and they perfected the cultivation of the flax plant and weaving of linen fabric.

Linen bedding spread fast among different countries. Women worked long and hard to spin flax into sheets, pillowcases, napkins, hankies, etc. Cultivating, harvesting and weaving the linen was an arduous task. And all changed early in the 19th century when a new plant and process was discovered.

With the invention of the Cotton Gin (machine for separating cotton seeds from cotton) which made the difficult task of separating the seeds from cotton much more feasible, the cotton sheet was born.

This was the beginning of completely new industry. Looms became more mechanized and cotton became much easier to cultivate than flax and that in turn made it cheaper to produce. Ultimately cotton became the new king of bed linen.

Advancing in textile production people started using other fabrics for their beds – brocade, silk, percale, satin, flannel, polyester and different blends. Although man made fabrics (like polyester) are relatively cheap ones and easy taken care of, they tend to fall out of popularity. Actual linen bedding is still very popular nowadays because of its healthy qualities and durability.


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I'm Inga and this is a space where I celebrate simple, slow living. It's a place to be curious and creative, to share ideas on how to live and work sustainably and mindfully. Being the creative force behind I also write about my love for linen and natural fabrics. Linenbeauty weaves inspiring stories of slow living with interior style features, travel and cookery tips and outfit ideas. Thanks so much for stopping by.