Linen History

Linen's history

Linen has been used for table coverings, bed coverings and clothing for centuries. The exclusivity of linen stems from the fact that it is difficult and time consuming to produce (flax in itself requires a great deal of attention in its growth). Flax is difficult to weave because of its lack of elasticity, and therefore is more expensive to manufacture than cotton. The benefits of linen however, are unmatched.

Due to the parallel arrangement of its fibers, linen is a stronger, sturdier fabric than cotton. In addition, linen is highly absorbent (perfect for dish towels and napkins). Due to its insulating qualities, linen coverings (such as smocks) provide cooling benefits, ideal for warm kitchens. The subtle combination of firmness and softness of linen make this fabric a favorite.

Linen can be machine-washed (and grows softer with time and use) and then ironed while still damp with a hot iron. Linen products tend to outlast cotton, enduring up to 20 years of use.

The Living Linen Project was set up in 1995 as an Oral Archive of the knowledge of the Irish Linen industry still available within a nucleus of people who were formerly working in the industry in Ulster .

The use of linen for priestly vestments was not confined to the Israelites, but from Plutarch, who lived and wrote one hundred years after the birth of Christ, we know that also the priests of Isis wore linen because of its purity.

The Antiquity of Linen

When the tomb of the Pharaoh Ramesses II, who died 1213 BC, was discovered in 1881, the linen wrappings were in a state of perfect preservation - after more than 3000 years.

In the Belfast Library there is preserved the mummy of "Kaboolie,' the daughter of a priest of Ammon, who died 2,500 years ago. The linen on this mummy is in a like state of perfection. When the tomb of Tutankamen was opened, the linen curtains were found intact.

Earliest Linen Industry

In olden days, in almost every country, each family grew flax and wove the linen for its own use; but the earliest records of an established linen industry are 4,000 years old, and come to us from Egypt. The earliest written documentation of a linen industry comes from the Linear B tablets of Pylos,Greece, where linen is depicted as an ideogram and also written as "ri-no" (Greek: λίνον, linon), and the female linen workers are catalogued as "ri-ne-ja" (λίνεια, lineia)

The Phoenicians, who, with their merchant fleet, opened up new channels of commerce to the peoples of the Mediterranean, besides developing the tin mines of Cornwall, introduced flax growing and the making of linen into Ireland before the birth of Christ, but the internal dissensions, which even in those early days were prevalent in Erin, militated against the establishment of an organized industry, and it is not until the twelfth century that we can find records of a definite attempt to systematize flax production.

When the Edict of Nantes was revoked, in A.D. 1695, many of the Huguenots who had to flee the country settled in the British Isles, and amongst them was Louis Crommelin, who was born, and brought up as a weaver of fine linen, in the town of Cambrai. He fled to Ulster, and eventually settled down in the small town of Lisburn, about ten miles from Belfast.

During the late war Cambrai became well known as one of the centers of the most desperate fighting. The name "cambric" is derived from this town.

Although the linen industry was already established in Ulster, Louis Crommelin found scope for improvement in weaving, and his efforts were so successful that he was appointed by the Government to develop the industry over a much wider range .than the small confines of Lisburn and its surroundings. The direct result of his good work was the establishment, under statute, of the Board of Trustees of the Linen Manufacturers of Ireland in the year 1711.

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