The conversation of natural fabrics has revolved around cotton and wool for ages, swooshing linen under the carpet. One of the oldest sustainable fabrics known to man, Linen hails from the truly noble flax plant, every bit of which comes bearing gifts. Known for its light and soothing nature, the history of linen from fiber to fabric is a rather long and daunting one, to say the least. Linen is a love letter written in fabric for home decor enthusiasts to create an oasis away from all worldly worries. The subdued hues ethereal yet durable nature has made it a suitable pick for home furnishing and comfort clothing for ages.
Going back to the roots- The history of Linen
There is a lot of debate and discussions around who were the ones to have started using linens for the first time. Linen artifacts found near the Dead Sea trace their origin to as far as 6000 BC. However, it is the Babylonians who are deemed as the pioneers in the linen trade.
Linen soon found its way to the Egyptian civilization, where its airy and light composition became a boon to the people living in the land of sweltering weather. The mummies were wrapped in linen, but they also featured it in the robes and clothing of the pharaohs. The dry weather also helped in preserving the linen remnants to this day.
Linen was much more than fabric for the Babylonians, Egyptians, and other Mediterranean regions, and it was a connate part of their culture and very identity. Sumerian hymns and texts stand testament to the glorious celebration of linen. Popularly believed that the divine clothing was woven with linen, putting it on a pedestal that no fabric could come close to.
From the Mediterranean to the rest of the World
It didn’t take long before linen trickled its way to European society. Unlike Egypt, linen did not restrict itself to royalty; it became everyone’s favorite in no time. There was nothing that linen wasn’t a part of, from clothing to bedding. Linen was not just another fabric for Americans, but it became a symbol of their self-sufficiency in the revolutionary war. Each house in the American colony would have its plot of flax, and the families would do the entire process of producing linen from this flax. It stood as an emblem for their resilience and the pride they held for their colonies. It played a pivotal role in the British goods boycott movement, and the gained momentum has lasted the test of time.
Industrial Revolution: From Rags to the Rich
The Industrial revolution stalled the meteoric rise of linen- the mechanization of the textile industry meant that more labor-intensive fibers like linen were getting replaced by cheaper and easier to produce fabrics like cotton. The invention of the cotton gin changed the entire dynamics of the textile industry. It became much more cost-effective to produce cotton than linen. And owing to the lower production cost, the end price of cotton was also less, which made it more popular among the masses. The entire culture of American families producing the fabric at their homes started disappearing. The usage of cotton in the day to day life spread like wildfire.
Ironically, the very phenomenon of cotton becoming a staple in people’s everyday lives led to a resurgence of linen. While cotton continued to remain the commoner’s choice, linen started becoming the fabric of the rich and elite. Its usage in making specialized products such as tablecloths quickly made them into a status symbol. The same was reflected in clothes, wherein the members of the aristocracy widely wore pastel linen suits and linen gowns. The history of linen masked its transition from an everyday fabric to becoming a nobility staple.