Tuesday, June 12, 2018


I have always been fascinated by the history of textiles. I think it is interesting to see how different textiles have developed, and I love looking at the different ways fabric has been used in fashion and for utility purposes.  Linen has been around basically since the beginning of time. Ancient Egyptians used it to wrap up the bodies of their dead before putting them in the tomb and preserved pieces of linen from 1213 BC were discovered in 1881 in a Pharaoh's tomb. Anyways, linen obviously has a long and rich history, but today I am just going to focus on the 17th century.

haarlem linen.jpg

Ever since I took my Northern Baroque class at BYU, I had a different perspective on linen fabric. This is because we talked about linen fields in the painting above, View of Haarlem from the Dunes at Overveen (1670), by Jacob van Ruisdael. I thought it was an interesting painting because the bleaching of linen in the image was symbolic to the artist. The bleaching represented the religious cleansing of the Dutch Republic at the time. The fabric is showing the cleansing power of God as the light from the heavens washes down on it and rids it of its impurities. There is also the image of a church in the background, which furthers this idea. You might already know this, but fabric often has interesting symbolism in art.

vermeer linen.jpg

Another piece of art from this time period that shows linen (or at least is thought to be linen) is Vermeer’s painting, Young Woman with a Water Jug (1665). This painting shows a woman with a linen veil, another image that uses linen to symbolize purity. The veil of linen protects this woman's purity as it covers her face. Side note: I love looking at the colors in Dutch art, especially art by Vermeer. It is really interesting to look at the beautiful blues and yellows that Vermeer pairs together.  Linen was an important textile for the Dutch Republic and was often traded with other countries around them. The city of Haarlem for example (which is shown in the first artwork I shared), was such an important area for linen processing, that countries would often send their linen to Haarlem to be bleached - here is an excerpt I found on this topic:

“Haarlem’s linen industry benefited from experienced linen weavers who migrated from the Southern Netherlands during the Dutch Revolt. Haarlem’s hold on linen production, however, was due more to its success in linen bleaching and finishing. Not only was locally produced linen finished in Haarlem, but linen merchants from other areas of Europe sent their products to Haarlem for bleaching and finishing. As linen production moved to more rural areas as producers sought to decrease costs in the second half of the seventeenth century, Haarlem’s industry went into decline.”

So, kinda sad that the linen industry declined in Haarlem at one point, but it is interesting how they became such a powerhouse for the fabric during the rise of the Dutch Republic. If you don't know much about the Dutch Republic, you should learn more here (I know, I know, it is a wikipedia link... but sometimes that is a great place for summaries). The Dutch Republic is so interesting to read about - you would be amazed at how much more influential women were in the Dutch Republic society, and Dutch Republic's relationship with Japan is also fascinating to me.


Now, this is only a tiny part of the history of linen, but knowing it, is really interesting me. In the artworks I have shared, you can see way this simple fabric affected the Dutch. In the photos of me that I am sharing today, I am wearing two linen pieces. My cardigan is made of 100% linen, and the blouse I am wearing is a viscose and linen blend. I love these two pieces because they are neutral and lightweight in the hot summer. When I wear any of my linen clothing, I love thinking of the long rich history that this fabric holds.  

When I was taking these photos, the wind was suuuuper annoying, so you can see how my hair does not want to stay in place - so don’t pay attention to that and enjoy the clothes, haha. I hope you enjoyed this tiny excerpt on linen. I know there is much more to talk about concerning this fabric, but I don’t want to be long-winded here and maybe I will discuss it another time. 

So, when you wear your linen pieces this summer in order to stay cool, I hope you think of rich history of that fabric you are adorning yourself with. What are some fabrics that you love wearing? Is there anything that you love about linen? I would love to hear!



No comments:

Post a Comment