Linen was one of the favored textiles of Europe in the early modern period. It was seen as fashionable, not only because of its accessibility, but because of its many uses. One could wear linen as clothing and decorate their homes with linen
furnishings. It “provided the next most lustrous surface” to silk, which explained the reason for its high demand (Schoeser, 159). Everyone was infatuated by the gleaming fabric. Linen was lightweight and comfortable. It was extremely popular during the hot summer months. It could be dyed and embroidered, thus improving the style of any garment. Linen was also durable. It almost never had to be replaced and was by far the easiest cloth to manage. There was no need to take precious care of linen, as it “was not only washable, it could literally take a beating” (Schoeser, 160). In fact, linen supposedly becomes stronger with washing. The ease of cleaning would explain why so many wealthy Europeans covered their dining room tables with monogrammed linen tablecloths. If someone were to spill, linen could be beaten until the stain came out, and this would only make the tablecloth stronger. Another reason linen was such a popular commodity was because it did not shrink. By the mid-nineteenth century, girls lined their silk and calico dresses with linen because “it did not shrink when washed and so helped to retain the garment’s shape” (Schoeser, 170-171). Embroidery was also common on linen textiles because designers and consumers did not want the fabric to shrink, as it would distort the embroidery. Over all, linen was a great commodity but as the early modern period progressed, Europeans found new fashionable textiles to replace linen.
While Linen has remained a native, thus popular, item in Europe its demand diminished during the beginning on the modern era. “Linen went behind the scenes” by the 1830s (Schoeser, 170). While it was a textile easy to take care of, it was not easy to produce. Cotton soon replaced linen in Europe “because of the difficulty of mechanizing linen spinning and weaving” (Schoeser, 168). Cotton was much easier to make due to the technology invented in the Early Modern period, and it was seen as much more fashionable due also to its durability, comfort, and look.
- Schoeser, Mary. World Textiles: A Concise History. World of Art. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2003.