The historic impact of linen
The charm of Egypt is in its long history that goes back far beyond the written word and in there tells the story of linen. In a land of scorching heat, it’s no surprise that ancient Egyptians wore predominantly linen, from the finest weave for the royalty to crude ones for the simple men and women.
Tunics, shentis and robes were made of rectangular pieces of undyed linen, some of which survive till today apart from the perfectly preserved linen wrappings recovered from the tomb of King Tutankhamen. What we use tissue paper for today, the ancient Egyptians used scraps of linen.
Flax, its source, was treated in the same order. Taking about a hundred days to grow from seed to mature plant then uprooted and laid flat to let nature take its course - ferment through the combination of air, sun and dew. While the spinning of the flax fibers is now mechanised, every part of the process was once done skilfully by hand. The ancient Egyptians were weaving delicate linen that could be pulled through a signet ring by 3000 BC.
Though high-grade linen is now produced in Western Europe, there's no denying that the ancient Egyptians planted the seeds and we're reaping the benefits. Discovering how linen is easy to take care of with its ability to resist dirt and stains, lint or pilling. Always comfortable on the skin with its high heat conductivity, letting heat escape as rapidly as it absorbs and loses water.
Unlike many textile practices like the traditional art of weaving muslin that have largely lost to history, linen continues to be as much of a utilitarian tool as an expression of life. Withstanding the diverse encounters that each day brings, collecting memories for many years to come.
There's a distinct beauty to be admired about linen. A beauty that isn't confined to its physical form but expands to the intangible. With its flaxseed to fabric process teaching us to respect nature's pace and soft creases reminding us to celebrate a well-lived life, linen is an antidote to the perpetual obsession with speed and perfection.
As much as it seems like linen has lost its place as the universal fabric of choice upon the mass production of cotton in the 19th century and with polyester being more affordable, it remains valued for its unique properties and environmental benefits, especially among those who are moving towards sustainability. However, this demand is often exploited because not all linen are the same.
An off-the-rack blouse may state where the garment was piece together and what the fabric composition is but not where the fabric originated from. This supposedly trivial information makes a significant difference on the actual environmental benefits and cost.
Only when cultivated in specific geographical areas can the flax plant be producing zero waste without the need of fertilisers. High-grade linen produced in Europe has much lower ecological footprint due to the ideal climate and long history with the fabric. Instead of throwing around the term "organic" like how cotton is being marketed, there are linen with Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification that guarantees chemicals have not been used.
Conventional linen in the global marketplace, sold by textile chains and widely used by fashion companies, are mainly produced in China that involves irrigation, argo-chemicals and fertilisers to produce, negating many of the flax plant's environmental benefits. The quality being exceptionally lower from the European equivalent is the trade-off for a lower price. The deviation can sometimes be felt from a simple touch of the fabric, other times from the absence of properties like moisture-wicking, durability and softness from wear and wash.
That explains why a linen blouse from a fast-fashion retail chain can be exponentially marked down during a sale, it's unlikely that the linen was sourced from Belgium or Lithuania.
Don't make your first encounter with linen, whether in the state of delight or hesitance about the origin, be your last. Fall in love with linen by putting it on to keep cool in the heat, proof your first sourdough bread or wrap your lunch box everyday. For something that has been woven in human history since the ancient Egypt, linen can leave a lasting impact on your life too.
Want to be the first to know when the next essay’s released? Stay in touch and subscribe to our mailing list.