Just Linen – The Story Of Linen Through The Ages


Where It All Began

Linen really is an amazing and fascinating fabric, with its origins in south eastern Europe, dating back over 35,000 years.

In ancient Egyptian times, thousands of years ago, it was used to wrap mummies in. Unsurprisingly it was also used for clothing, and it was even used as currency.

It was in this region, well Greece actually, that the first linen industry is evidenced, in approximately 1450 BC.

Into The West

In medieval times throughout Germany, and other neighbouring parts of western Europe, there was a booming industry centred around flax and linen.

As the centuries progressed, from the 11th century through to the 15th century, the rise of linen continued west into England, Scotland and Ireland.

The linen industry has long been linked to Irish history. In the 1600s the Hugenots fled France with many settling in Ireland and England. They brought with them more advanced methods of linen production, which in turn had a positive impact on the linen industry in these countries. The north of Ireland in particular became renowned as an important centre for the linen trade in the late 1600s and 1700s.

Coming To America

As America was colonised in the 1600s, linen became an important aspect of life for settlers there. A valuable commodity, essential for keeping the new colonies clothed. In the eighteen century America was a large scale producer of linen. Linen was also imported into America in large quantities from Europe at this time. Such was its importance with a broad range of applications. Not just clothing, but also as bedding and tableware. It was even used liberally as packaging.

Modern Times

Given flax’s tolerance of cooler climates, its cultivation in the northern hemisphere in recent times has been extensive. In Canada and Russia in particular, but also Belgium, France, Germany and much of Western Europe.

But there are many significant flax producing countries outside of this region. Such as India, Pakistan, Africa and China.

Unsurprisingly, given its scale, China is the world’s largest exporter of flax yarn. Other major exporters include Italy, Tunisia and Lithuania. But they are some distance behind China.

Just Linen - Not Linens

Somewhat confusingly, the word linen has long been used to describe household items, and items of clothing, that aren’t necessarily made of real linen or flax. The origins of this is from a time when such items were produced in linen, but over time they’ve come to be produced in a variety of different fabrics and materials. Although the fabrics used in the manufacture of certain items have become more diverse, the word linen has remained firmly attached to them.

Types of Linen

All linen, the real linen that is, is not created equally. Whilst it’s all fundamentally the same, and made from flax yarn, different weaving processes results in different fabrics. 

  • Sheeting linen – this is the type of linen that a lot of clothing and homewares are made from. It has a tight weave and a soft surface to the touch.
  • Loosely-woven linen – this is a fragile fabric, quite often used in the manufacture of napkins, given its high level of absorbency.
  • Plain-woven linen – common or garden linen, this is the type of linen commonly used in hand towels and dish towels.
  • Damask linen – is an ornate weave that produces a decorative pattern. Not reserved only to linen, damask can also be a weave of silk, cotton, or any one of a number of other fibres.

Top Linen Facts

  • Linen is not just used in clothing and homewares, an increasing proportion is used in construction, the automotive industry and even in the health sector.
  • The great explorers of our time all explored thanks to sails constructed of linen
  • In keeping with the fact that not everything with the name linen, is actually made of linen, the word lingerie is said to be derivative of the word linen.
  • The Shroud of Turin is made of linen
  • Despite the fact that flax is grown in many parts of the world, it’s the flax that’s grown in Western Europe that’s believed to be the best quality.
  • The reason linen has better longevity than cotton fabrics and maintains its shape through successive washes, is because linen actually gets stronger, not weaker, when it gets wet.
  • Linen fabric is 100% biodegradable