In September 2009, archeologists discovered minuscule linen fibers dating from 36,000 B.C. in a Georgian cave in the Caucasus. With their remnants of twists and pigments, they are the first known textiles developed by man.
Having played a key economic role during the Pharoanic era, linen has always been the textile commonly associated with ancient Egypt. The transparency of this natural, heat-regulating fabric was subtle yet flattering ! Symbolic, pure white linen, already known for its sturdiness, was used to wrap bodies for burial and « accompany » souls to eternity.
The Phoenicians, known as great navigators, were the first to export linen : they bought it from Egypt and introduced it to Greece, Rome, Brittany, England, Ireland and Spain. As of 1,700 B.C., canals dug along the Nile to the Red Sea allowed boats from Tyre to transport scutched or woven linen to India and then on to China.
When he conquered the Gauls, Julius Caesar was impressed by the high-quality textiles produced in the plains of Flanders (a historic region that spread through Belgium and France) by a population he called the Belgae ! In the Celtic language, the name of this nation was Bel’ch : linen. And the Gaulist priests – Druids – who dressed in linen were known as Belek.
In 789, Charlemagne gave momentum to linen production in a decree in his Capitulaires (the first law book organized by chapter) that linen be spun in court and that each household in France should have the equipment needed to make linen textiles.
In 1066, William the Conqueror (1027-1087), Duke of Normandy, claimed the English crown. His wife, Queen Mathilda, embroidered the epic tale of this event on the famous Bayeux tapestry : a 70 meter-long linen « comic strip » that illustrates what life was like during that period.
At the beginning of the 13th century a weaver named Baptiste, from a village near Cambrai, perfected an extremely fine weaving technique. The success of this cloth was exported to Flanders, Holland, Italy, Spain and England. The batiste weave became the « cloth of kings » and was used for table linens, underwear and handkerchiefs …
In the time of Louis the XIV, fashion focused on the cut of clothing. Jackets were worn open to reveal finely-embroidered shirts underneath. Day and night linen underwear appeared with lace and fine finishings. The word lingerie comes from « linge », a delicate linen shirt worn next to the skin. The repeal of the Edict of Nantes (1685) caused 6,000 protestant weavers and lacemakers to flee France and go to Holland, Switzerland, Germany, England and Ireland.
The crinoline appeared during the reign of Louis the XVI (1754-1793). Made of linen and horsehair, it was mounted on a «panier » that held up the skirt to give it exaggerated fullness.
During this era, all fabric warps, including those used to make velvet, were in linen to reinforce fabric sturdiness. This is why so many clothes, furniture, table linens and lingerie from that period have been conserved in good condition to this day.
At the end of the 18th century, the brocade weave was still done by hand. In 1790, a French weaver from Lyon, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, began work on a machine which could raise threads automatically during weaving. He constructed the first jacquard loom in 1801 which he perfected and completed in 1806.
It thus became possible for a single worker to use the loom, marking the beginning of the industrial revolution.
Napoleon the 1st, whose goal was to stimulate the French textile industry, decided to offer a reward of one million francs in gold to the inventor of a linen spinning machine. The decree was published in the « Moniteur » newspaper.
On March 12, 1810, Philippe de Girard (1775-1845) heard about this prize and came up with a solution in two months. He filed a patent on June 12, 1810 and was so certain to win the award that he borrowed money and constructed two textile mills in Paris in 1811. Unfortunately, the fall of the empire and change in regime drove him to prison for his debts.
While 90% of European linen is destined for the textile market (60% for clothing, 15% for household linens, 15% for furniture and lifestyle), 10% is now dedicated to technical opportunities : eco-construction, insulation, automobile parts, sports equipment, boating, stationery, surgery and health items …
Linen technical materials in the industry associated with resins are at the origin of « high performance » composite products : window frames (for resistance and insulation), sports equipment, mountain bike helmets, tennis rackets (that absorb vibrations), automobiles (rear-view mirrors and door reinforcements for lightness and rigidity) and eco-construction with particle boards, wool insulations, wood floor under-layers, under-layers and roof linings thanks to linen’s acoustic and thermal properties.