Flax is one of the oldest agricultural plants in the world, and Linen, the textile made from the fibers of the flax plant, is one of the oldest fabrics in the world. People have been using linen for thousands of years in countries all over the world, and for a wide variety of uses, so it's no surprise that linen continues to be widely used today, and is regarded as one of the most luxurious and stylish of fabrics.
Flax was grown in ancient Egypt as early as the 4th millennium BC, and was used extensively for tunics and gowns, as well as for the fine cloth bandages that were used to wrap mummies. Amazingly enough, when the tomb of Pharaoh Ramesses II, who died in 1213 BC, was discovered in 1881, his linen wrappings were in a state of perfect preservation, and when King Tut’s tomb was opened, his linen curtains were found completely intact.
Men and women in ancient Greece wore tunics made of linen, and ancient Romans also used linen for their summer tunics.
During the Middle Ages linen remained a clothing staple. Linen was often used for underclothes because it was light, cool, comfortable, and very easy to wash. Both men's and women's coats and cloaks were often woven of linen, and many women's dresses were made of linen woven at home on a loom. Bedding and table linens, as they came into fashion over time, were also frequently made of linen.
Over time, expanding trade routes brought linen—and the cultivation of flax—to Europe, the Near East, and the Americas. Different weights and types of linen fabrics were developed for different uses. Butchers’ linen, for instance, was a sturdy, heavyweight linen fabric first used for French butchers' aprons. Heavy bleached linen was often used as the backing for embroidery or to offset delicate lacework. Damask, a reversible, patterned linen weave, was used for tablecloths and napkins. Linen woven with wool became sturdy “linsey-woolsey,” which was also known as "wincey," and which formed the warm, if not luxurious base of many working people's wardrobes.
Today, linen remains a key natural fiber, still prized for its smooth, cool texture, its strength, and its crisp, clean, stylish, and sophisticated appearance. Linen is a top choice for fine upholstery and window treatments, table furnishings, handkerchiefs, and embroidered finery. It can be used to make pillows, sachets, quilts, and just about anything.