Flax is one of the oldest fibers in the world (dyed flax fibers found in a cave in Dzudzuana have been dated to 30,000 years ago), and along with wool, the most familiar and intimate. Local production was widespread as recently as a century ago, with a field set aside for flax for the farmer's wife and daughters to spin and weave into cloth for their own use and for sale.
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There were larger operations as well, but linen as a cottage industry and winter occupation didn't end until the industrial revolution, when it couldn't compete with cheap cotton grown by slaves.
Domestic production died out (attended by a lot of hardship in rural Europe), and linen became a luxury product, although young women still created the basis of their household by making, embroidering and collecting bedding and table linens before they were married.
Linen continued to be valued over cotton for its stamina, luster and wonderful 'handle', but its democratic roots were long forgotten, and it became a high-maintenance starched, ironed and decorated symbol of class and status. Cotton came into common use by virtue of its low cost and ease of ironing.
I love everything about it — the color, the heft and sheen, its strength, its impeccable credentials. I hope you do too.