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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Spare A Thought For The Fabric Linen This Easter Weekend

Regardless of your religious beliefs there exists a linen shroud in Turin, Italy which many Christians believe cloaked the dead body of Jesus Of Nazareth. Although many scientists would concur that the cloth dates back to the middle ages based on radiocarbon dating - believing in the shroud therefore comes down to a matter of faith.

Linen as a cloth also seems to attract the same kind of faith based appreciation. Ciccio, my Italian informant, once told me that there was no better form of fabric for the summer than linen. In my own experience I have always favoured cotton and shunned linen since my first bad experience of a very flouncy and unstructured linen shirt gifted to me by my mother. 

Linen should not be over looked though. If it was the final choice of cloth for Jesus of Nazareth perhaps there must be something worth investigating. 

Left, the impression on the shroud of Turin, said to be that of Jesus of Nazareth, and right, the negative image of that impression.

The full shroud of Turin.
Linen is a fabric made from the fibres of a flax plant - Linum usitatissimum . The word linen comes from the latin word for the flax plant, linum, and is originally derived from the early Greek λινόν (linón). According to Wikipedia the name has also given rise in English to words such as line (from the use of the flax thread to determine a straight line, and is also the reason we use the generic term linen when referring to laundry or closets. This is because linen was used a great deal in the making of items from napkins, shirts, detachable shirt collars, towels, handkerchiefs and, you might have guessed it, lingerie and the lining of your jacket are all derived from the word linen as they were once made of the same stuff. And it doesn't end there either - we also use flax in the making of linseed oil and linoleum flooring, wallpapers, upholstery, suits, shoes, luggage and more.

It's not really surprising that humans have been able to use this plant in so many manners as it was one of the first ever cultivated plants for textiles weaving dating back to Egypt over 4000 years ago. It's also not the first to shroud a religious or cultural icon. When they uncovered the Pharaoh Ramses II in 1881, who died in 1213 BC, they found that the linen wrappings were perfectly preserved after 3000 years. The same was found of Tutankhamen. But not all faiths were as happy with linen. In Jewish law it is said that you can wear linen, but it is strictly forbidden to weave it with wool. It was in Leviticus 19:19 that is was said "Thou shalt not wear a mingled stuff, wool and linen together". It goes to show that the Jews were probably ahead of the rest when it comes to the rag trade as no doubt they were trying to say, in my humble opinion - why weave something that keeps you warm with something that's supposed to keep you cool.

So, as Jesus prepares to make his ascension this weekend, spare a thought for the 3 to 1 herringbone twill weave linen that's about 4 and a half metres long and 1.1 metres wide with it's impression which has captivated Christians since the middle ages as to whether it is or isn't the final piece of cloth to touch Jesus' skin.

As to whether you choose to believe in linen as something you will wear, that also is a matter of faith. 

A contemporary blend of linen and cotton used in this blue and white striped custom made shirt. 

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