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Linen is one of the oldest fabrics made by man. Archaeologists have found a piece of linen cloth in Egypt that dates back almost 7000 years (to 5000 B.C.)! Linen cloth is made from the flax plant, which the ancient Egyptians grew in fields along the Nile River. The Egyptians usually planted their flax very close together, to encourage it to grow tall. Harvesting could be done by any person who could pull the plant up by its roots, unlike wheat, which had to be cut and was harvested by men. Choosing when to harvest the flax depended upon the quality of linen you wanted to weave. The finest or "royal linen" came from young flax that was pulled up before the seeds had even sprouted at the top of the plant.

The process of making linen cloth from flax required many steps. The plants were combed, soaked in water, and beaten to separate the fibers from the plant's woody core. These fibers were then loosely twisted together before being sent on for spinning into the thread that would be woven into linen cloth. Flax thread does not hold dye very well, so linen cloth was usually left in its natural golden state or bleached white.


© Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University,
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester and Dallas Museum of Art
For more information please contact odyssey@emory.edu.
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