Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Linen: Fabric of the Pharaohs

Mummy wrapped in linen
Linen textiles are some of the oldest in the world going back many thousands of years. Fragments of straw, seeds, fibers, yarns, and various types of fabrics which date back to about 8000 BC have been found in Swiss lake dwellings.  Dyed flax fibers found in a prehistoric cave in Georgia show that there were probably woven linen fabrics from wild flax made back even earlier to 36,000 BC. 
Linen was a very valued fabric in ancient Egypt.  It was sometimes used as currency and Egyptian mummies were wrapped in linen because it was seen as a symbol of light and purity, and as a display of wealth.  Some of these fabrics, woven from hand spun yarns, were very fine for their day, but are coarse compared to modern linen.  Linen was worn by the ancient Egyptians daily because of the extreme heat.  They wore white linen to stay cool in the hot sun. 
Flax Seeds
Flax, which is the primary ingredient in linen, is not an easy product to come by.  Flax takes a lot of effort to grow and must be heavily attended to during the process.  Flax is also extremely difficult to weave since it is not very flexible.  It has a tendency to break easily so the cost of making something linen is higher than other fabric types. 
-Matt