Guest Post, Jason Phillips
Linen has been a part of humanity for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians used it to dress and as cloths. Pieces of linen have been found which date back to 4,200 BC although there are not many which have survived! Swedish linen today is made in a very similar way to those original processes. During the 1500’s tablecloths were used by the wealthy, the cloths were made from damask linen which was imported by Flanders and Holland. The cloths were ornate and decorative; it wasn’t until the 1800’s that the use of tablecloths became a common item in many homes.
Linens In The 18th Century
In 1730 a man called Stephen Bennet set up a linen factory in Sweden; the business had approximately eighty looms and produced some of the best quality damask of the period. The factory was operated until 1845 when it, unfortunately, closed down. During this time Sweden was building a reputation for producing high quality flax and linen; this is the origins of the fine quality Swedish table linen available today.
The Production Process
Men were generally responsible for the heavier work; this mainly involved the carrying and lifting of the heavy materials involved in the production process. Women and children were used to create the actual linen. This was generally split between the ones who had a high degree of manual dexterity; these were the ones who made the fine quality table linen and used one of the looms. The less able children and women dealt with the more mundane work; which was essential to ensure the production was successful.
It was the women who were usually responsible for coloring the flax. This could be a time consuming and awkward job as the majority of the dyes were not colorfast. Most of the dyes were created from natural materials such as leaves, lichens, moss and bark.
A Sound Reputation
The process of weaving fine table linen may have been complicated but its quality was becoming known in many places around Europe. There are many stories of satisfied customers. One particular example which has been told many times over the generations is in regard to a gentleman called Calle Redhe who owned one of the weaveries in Sweden. He used to personally take some of his linens to Norway and the story tells of the summer he went to Norway and met an elderly lady.
The lady knew who he was and, upon confirming his identity, immediately asked for some napkins to go with a tablecloth which she had purchased nearly sixty years before. The tablecloth had been made by Calle’s father and was produced on the same loom; something which delighted the elderly women and ensured she told everyone she knew.
The high quality linen produced today in many of the factories across Sweden utilizes the same methods as were used so many years ago. The overshot weave cloth is still patterned and is made to at least the same quality standards as the original pieces. The production methods may be ancient but they have stood the test of time and many people are able to purchase elaborate, ornate pieces of linen which look and feel like they should belong to royalty. The industry today is proud of its heritage and works hard to produce items which will also stand the test of time and inspire those in the future.
Just as you can buy something today which will match something your grandmother bought; so too will your children or even grandchildren be able to match your purchase. As long as linen making is a part of the Swedish culture it will be possible to purchase your own piece of history!
Whether you’re hunting for table linens or bed sheets, it is important to focus on quality. The best fabrics are Egyptian cotton and silk. While it’s true that these are more expensive than polyester or cotton blends, they last longer. They’re hypo-allergenic and they have a functional purpose too. Good quality cotton traps moisture and it protects your furniture. Used in the kitchen or dining room, luxury linen fabrics prevent dust from settling and they have an appealing design too; just make sure the set chosen for your bedroom matches with the overall appeal of your room.
Picture Credits, Volga Linen Styling by Simon Kämpfer, Photography: Yuki Sugiura