As early as the Stone Age, people were also to dress linen, even if the major part was used for utility products such as rope, fishing nets etc. Clothes fashion was not, of course, so well developed at the time; and tablecloths had hardly been thought of, never mind about napkins!
But in the ancient Egypt people started early on to dress themselves in beautiful, cool clothes. Linen was, in fact, the only material permitted for clerical dress; and mummies were wrapped in fine linen cloths, many of which have been preserved. Knowledge of the technique spread from Egypt over to Babylon, which in ancient times seems to have been the centre of the “linen industry” and via Greece to the Roman Empire and right through Europe.
In the Roman Empire, large flax mills such as those in Ravenna and Vienna were, in ancient times, under the strict control of “procuratores linificiorum”; which says a good deal about the high regard in which the material was held. In Sweden, we have been able to dress linen at least since the time of the Bronze Age.
Far into the sixteenth century linen was spun on a distaff, a handy piece of equipment which oriental women to this day master with virtuosity. In 1530, even greater impetus was given to the linen manufacture with the arrival of the spinning wheel.
For a long time, linen production was a handicraft. With the introduction of machines at the end of the eighteenth century came also linen’s worst rival: cotton. But better machines also suitable for the linen industry were at the same time developed. In 1805, Joseph Marie Jacquard constructed his fancy weaving machine, marking the end of an epoch. As well as bringing a number of other advantages with it, this machine opened up new possibilities to the fine, old damask weaving industry.
Linen has encountered tough competition from both simpler and cheaper materials and more than once it has been feared that it would disappear altogether. But the quality and beauty of linen have survived all “new fashions”, including the synthetic fibres of recent times. And we now seem to be moving towards a new hey-day for linen, back to a world where quality and beautiful things are once more highly prized. Linen is an unsurpassed material in the hands of skilful craftsmen.
Kungaduken Klässbols Linneväveri Hans Thomsson Foto: Henrik Garlov/Kungliga Hovstaterna.