“From prehistoric caves to contemporary fashion” (our translation), with this line, Denise Pepita from Fashion Bubles summarizes linen’s history.
According to the history of clothing, “The first written evidence of linen comes from the Linear B tablets of Pylos, Greece, where linen hast its own ideogram and is also written as “li-no” in Greek.”
The history of linen is fascinating. Linen is a material that can be sourced entirely in Europe.
Although we have a definitive list of great European organic knit suppliers on our base date, we know that yarns are not always produced in Europe. This is because European climatic conditions do not always allow the cultivation of plants in large quantities. This is the case, for example, cotton. Fortunately, linen is different, as we have great European suppliers for both yarns and finished linen fabrics and knits.
Organic linen is one of the most sustainable fabrics used by designers incubated in our Sustainable Fashion Brand Innovation and Development Program.
Don’t you know The Slow Fashion Innovation Program yet? It is an incubation program for sustainable fashion brands and designers that assists makers in the essential steps of creating a sustainable fashion collection: trends and market research, design, eco-fabric sourcing, prototyping, and low MOQ’s manufacturing by European suppliers. Check out more information here.
We offer specialized consultancy services for brands already established in the market that seek assistance for fabric sourcing and production with European manufacturing suppliers. For more information about this service, write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Let us now talk about the history of linen in ancient times and Egyptian culture.
Linen in ancient times and Egyptian culture
“Linen is one of the oldest fibers in the world to be used in the textile industry. According to historical data in 36,000 BC, there was already evidence of the use of this fiber.” (Fashion Buble, our translation)
According to Deck Towel, Linen is the most ancient vegetable fabric in the history of man. In 2009 archaeologists made the discovery of linen buried in a prehistoric cave in Georgia. The discovered material was dated to 36,000 BC, becoming the oldest linen fabric found by man to date. “It was very special to ancient Egyptian society, revered by Israel’s tribes, produced in twelfth-century Ireland.”
In addition to its use for mummification, linen was also used as a form of currency. The image above shows flax harvesting on Sennedjem’s Tomb from ancient Egypt (Deck towel)
In Egypt, Linen was used in clothing, and believe me, it was also used to wrap mummies at funerals. Linen was the Egyptians’ fabric to cover the mummies because it represented light and purity for them. Linen used to be called “woven moonlight” by Egyptians.
Denise Pepita reveals that the tomb of Pharaoh Ramesses II; died in 1,213 BC; it was discovered in 1,881 AD. The linen surrounding the mummy was in perfect condition - even after 3,000 years”.
As Penamacor describes it, linen’s importance in ancient Egyptian populations’ lives was that “the loss of a linen harvest represented a” plague “or disgrace.”
Linen in the Bible
But it is not just the ancient Egyptians who used linen fabrics. According to Penamacor, Linen is in the Bible: the curtains and the Tabernacle’s veil and the robes of Abraão as officiant were in “fine woven linen.”
Denise Pepita explains that it is also believed that Jesus Christ was buried in a linen piece, preserved until today - the Shroud of Turin. The fabric presents the image of a 1,83m tall man that looks crucified, with wounds consistent with the ones Jesus suffered before his crucifixion in the biblical account “.
Linen supply in Europe
According to Deb Fuller (via Fabric Store) “After the Ancient Egyptians, linen continued to be a staple of clothing in the Western world for many’ centuries. It was commonly used for undergarments and sleepwear for all classes of people in Europe in all climates and seasons. Linen was also woven into bedsheets, napkins, and other household fabrics. It’s no wonder that during the Middle Ages’ the term “linens” became to be synonymous’ for household items such as bedding, tablecloths, and towels. The term survives to this day even though linens are made from a range of fabrics.”
In the Mediaeval European period, 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 (Linen Beauty )
Linen was exported to Europe by the Phoenicians between the 12th and 8th centuries (Fashion Bubbles). Aqui flax plants encontraram as condições de clima perfeitas para crescerem dando início a uma ampla cultura europeia de cultivo do linho.
As Linen Beauty explains, “Middle Eastern countries were the first cultivators of the flax plant (...). “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 grew there is regarded as top quality.”
Today, most of the flax plantation is concentrated in Belgium (where our European organic linen supplier is located) and France, The Netherlands, and Ireland.
However, there were also representative flax farming in Portugal in the past, as shown in the title below.
Linen supply in Portugal
In the past, Portugal was an essential European supplier of linen. Here, flax plants were cultivated and worked to create linen knits and fabrics through handcrafted work.
As Penamacor describes it, “In the territory that would become Portugal, the cultivation of linen and its textile use come from prehistoric times. Next to Caldas de Monchique, in the Algarve, a small linen rag that dates back to the 1st Bronze Age Mediterranean peninsular, (2500 BC) “.
According to Folclore de Portugal, in the Iberian Peninsula, specifically in the territory that would become Portugal, were found traces not only of linen fabric and flax plant seeds, which date from 2,000 and 2,500 BC.
With Rome’s domination, linen’s cultivation and use were developed and the home spinning and weaving industries. Throughout the Middle Ages, linen production and the economic importance of this type of production increased. Even rents payment was often made with the linen production (Folclore de Portugal portal (our translation).
Jorge Fernandes Alves explains that “Linen was a culture disseminated throughout the country, animating rural society with a domestic activity of spinning and weaving, parallel to wool’s work. In northern Portugal’s humid areas, the variant of Galician linen was planted, sowing in spring (April) to harvest in June. However, the Moorish variety, grown in autumn (September / November), was also produced in parallel. However, this was a lower quality product. spinning) has become one of the female attributes of the Guimarães region and, in general, of the peasant families of Entre-Douro-e Minho and other regions.”
In Portugal, linen activities were found all over the country. They were always with the same homemade and handmade nature, individual and dispersed. Despite this, in the century. XVI there were regions of the country where these activities were densified. This was the case of Guimarães, which stood out for the fineness of the fabrics it manufactured. The fairs were attended by merchants in charge of supplying trade in the rest of the country. (Folclore de Portugal, our translation).
As Penamacor (our translation) describes it, “by registering the population of the municipality in 1849 (AM-PNC: Registration of the Population of the Municipality in 1849), is possible to get an idea of the extent of the working flax, which in some “freguesias” reached impressive numbers, such as in Penamacor, where around 650 women spun, representing 27% of the total female population. In Pedrógão, those numbers reached, respectively, 81 and 20%. In Benquerença, with 15% of the female population spinning on the spinning wheel, that is, equivalent to 39 women. Percentage, Benquerença had the largest number of looms, or at least the largest number of weavers - 18, equal to 6.6% of the female population, followed by Meimão - 10, equivalent to 5.9%, and Aranhas - 8, that is 2.8%. The profession of weaver also appears in almost all “freguesias”: Aranhas; Benquerença, Pedrógão, Aldeia do Bispo and Aldeia de João Pires; Bemposta and Penamacor.”
Today, most of our linen fabric suppliers buy yarns from suppliers located in France, Belgium, Ireland, and Greece. When the thread arrives in Portuguese lands, they transform it into beautiful fabrics and knits using different production and finishing techniques. In our database, we have several samples of what can be done with organic linen. Various weights and finishes can give rise to different pieces of clothing or decoration.
Sustainable fashion brands working with linen
We currently have 5 brands in our Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program, creating collections using linen. We also have a client who is developing sheets.
In our next articles, we will talk about the flax cultivation process. You will understand why this fiber is considered ecological and recommended to sustainable fashion brands. Although sustainable, the cultivation and processing of linen involve demanding and time-consuming work. Thus, we will also talk about the costs involved in linen production, which is why the price is higher than that of others, such as cotton.
After we publish the article on linen’s production and cultivation, we will post the last one to give you tips on garments and decorations that can be made with linen. We will also highlight cautions you should take when choosing your European organic linen supplier.
If you are attending The Slow Fashion Innovation Program, and you need assistance to contact the organic and conventional linen suppliers available in our database, reach your project mentor. She/he will be happy to help you.
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