History of natural flax linen.

Linen fabrics produced from fibres.

Extracted from the stems of the flax plant.

The earliest example of preserved linen appears to be a needle-netted linen headpiece from Nahal Hemar Cave in Israel from 8,500 years ago (see Barber), and Swiss Lake Dwellers used a native flax to make cloth 5-6,000 years ago.

Linen was the preferred textile of the Ancient Egyptians who used it for clothing, bed linen, shrouds for mummies and for ships’ sails.

The earliest Egyptian linen cloth dates from the Old Kingdom.

Flax appeared around 5,000 years ago in the Early Dynastic period.

Phoenician traders widely exported Egyptian linen throughout the Mediterranean.

Used by Greeks and Romans for clothing and ships’ sails.

Charlemagne strongly encouraged flax production and Flanders became a centre of flax production in medieval Europe.

Women in nearly every household in northern Europe,were spinning flax in the Middle Ages.

According to “Life in Flanders in the 18th and 19th Centuries

Flanders had 300,000 home-based spinners / weavers during the 19th century.

152 spinners along with 721 weavers were working in 1896.


Separate varieties are grown for fibre or seeds.

Used in linseed oil production.

The plant grows to about 1 metre in height in 3-4 months and has attractive pale blue flowers at the tips of the stems.

Whole plants used for maximum fibre length.

Linen fibre production

Flax stems hung out to dry.

Stems are dried and combed with a rippling rake.

Removing the seed pods.

Stems become rotted down

By laying them in a damp field for a couple of weeks, where they ret in the dew.

Or by leaving them in standing water for a few days.

Retted stems, rinsed and dried.

Breaking them with a flax-brake and cleaning them by scutching.

Fibres are combed on hackles.

Producing long line fibres.called line flax.

Short fibres get combed out.

Making hackle tow or flax tow.

Carded and spun into coarse yarns and thread.

Described and illustrated in a YouTube video prepared by the Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia.

Accompanied by a second video on the spinning of flax (see references) and there are diagrams in the Life in Flanders references.

Read more about flax in Christian and Johannes Zinzendorf’s The Big Book of Flax.

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