Linen has a long history dating back thousands of years. It is a textile made from the fibers of the flax plant. Flax is one of the oldest agricultural plants in the world. In fact, the weaving of flax is as old as or older than written records. The earliest records of an established linen industry are 4,000 years old and come to us from Egypt. However; fragments of straw, seeds, fibers, yarn and various types of fabrics which date back to about 8,000 BC have been found in Swiss lake dwellings. Dyed flax fibers found in a prehistoric cave in Georgia suggest the use of woven linen fabrics from wild flax may date back even earlier to 36,000 BC.
Egyptian mummies were wrapped in linen because it was seen as a symbol of light and purity and as a display of wealth. In fact, linen was thought to have been used in ancient Egypt as currency. The history of linen is closely interwoven with the Bible stories and has always been held in reference as an emblem of purity. In ancient times, almost every country that stayed on the land grew flax and wove linen for its own use. It was the Phoenicians who introduced flax and the making of linen into Ireland before the birth of Christ. Today, flax is grown in many parts of the world, but top quality flax is primarily grown in Western Europe. Many believe that Belgium grows the finest quality flax fibers in the world, with Scottish and Irish linen not far behind. In recent years bulk linen production has moved to Eastern Europe and China.
Linen is a versatile fabric. Its strength and breathability has been used as both a utility and a luxury fabric in the home. Because the flax plant has a natural vegetable wax coating, it creates a subtle sheen and luster when woven. The plants fiber is naturally strong, soft and light and fabric made from these fibers are breathable and durable. It is naturally off-white in color, but linen absorbs dyes well and retains its color. Linen typically has a crisp and textural feel but it can range from stiff and rough to soft and smooth. The natural fibers of the flax make the woven textile slightly bumpy with a smooth finish. The better the quality of the linen the smoother the surface will be. In some cases, you will find knots or slubs running across the fabric. This is a characteristic of a lesser quality of linen and in many cases is the look the weaver was trying to achieve. The finest linens have a very consistent diameter and will not have slubs.
Linen has that subtle elegance that helps to achieve a clean tailored look for many of today’s modern interiors. The fact that when King Tutankhamen’s tomb was opened they found he had curtains made of linen hanging and they were still intact says a lot of the durability and history of linen. I have only scratched the surface of the wonderful history of linen and encourage you all to investigate this timeless fiber a little more.
Alice Guercio, Vice President of Product Coordination and a Kravet veteran for more than 15 years, travels the world to source and develop new product for Kravet. She is one of our top experts on textiles. If you have a question about fabric for Alice, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and your question may become the subject of a future article.