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Edited by GORDON D. KNOX

Vol. 3.





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Edited by GORDON D. KNOX

Vol. 3.




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An author's Introduction to a modern work savours
very much of being a futile anachronism. At the
outset, it must seem imposing mercilessly upon the good
nature of his reader when the author, after spending
his thoughts and energies over several hundred pages,
considers it necessary to emphasise his personality in
an explanation for having done so. It suggests a paradox
too, when, as in the present case, the " Introduction " is
written subsequently, instead of previously, to the work

When launching his romance, " The Vicar of Wake-
field," Goldsmith prefaced his enterprise by an apology
thus : —

" There are a hundred faults in this thing, and a
hundred things might be said to prove them beauties.
But it is needless. A book may be amusing with
numerous errors, or it may be dull without a single

In like fashion, then, I adopt the selfsame explanation
for the present volume.

When, in autumn, 1919, 1 was commissioned to supply
this book, the mandate of the editor was in clear, concise
phraseology : — " While the subject was to be treated
with scientific accuracy, the data was to be set forth
especially for non-experts, but particularly for business
men who may suddenly find themselves obliged to be
interested in linen, or in its raw material, flax. Such
men have a right to expect to find in the book all the
general information necessary for them to form an
independent opinion, so far as this can be possible for
an outsider." It is my hope, therefore, that in seeking
to fulfil my ideals, these busy readers may find this

Author's Introduction

work interesting and informative, and not by any means
unnecessarily dull.

While the Linen Manufacture is the third most
important textile industry in the United Kingdom, yet the
books dealing with it in comprehensive terms have been
remarkably few. True there have been many excellent
ephemeral articles in various publications from time to
time, but for anything approaching a standard work
one must go back to that delightfully discursive volume
entitled " Ireland and her Staple Manufacturers," pub-
lished in Belfast so long agone as 1865, and owing its
authorship to the late Mr. Hugh M'Call. In this volume,
then, I have sought to travel the bridge of time inter-
vening, and briefly to tell simply the story of linen and
its manufacture.

I have avoided any deep probing into the technical
side of the many manufacturing processes, apart from
an attempt to sketch their functions and point out their
inter-relations. I have endeavoured, also, to describe
what may be termed " The New Spirit in the Linen
Industry," which is decidedly hopeful.

The information is largely based on a life of actual
observation, and from data garnered from all possible
authoritative sources, though with the world just
emerging from the seething cauldron of war it has not
been easy to cull up-to-date statistics on many points.
Finally, I admit the work has many defects, yet I hope
it may inspire better.

ALFRED S. MOORE, M. Text. Inst.
Belfast, 1921.




I. The Antiquity of Linen .

II. English and Scotch Linens

III. How Ireland took the Lead

IV. The Linen Trade as it is

V. The World's Flax Supply

VI. Flax in the Field .

VII. From Sale to Spinner

VIII. The Spinning Mill .

IX. The Weaving Factory

X. Fine Art in Fine Linen .

XI. Bleaching and Finishing .

XII. The Wonderful Warehouse

XIII. How Linen is Marketed .

XIV. Linen Trade Organisations

XV. The Future of Linen





















1. Old-fashioned Handloom Weaving Frontispiece

2. Mechanical Flax Puller at Work . . 89

3. Flax Pulled by Mechanical Puller . . 89

4. Flax Breaking at Slane, Co. Meath . . 97

5. Flax Scutching at Slane .... 101

6. Flax Hackling . . . . . .107

7. Flax Roving 113

8. Warp Winding 115

9. Preparing Linen Threads for Sewing Spools 119

10. Linen-weaving Factory

11. Damask-designing Studio

12. Damask Loom with Design Cards

13. Damask Loom with Cards superseded by

Carver Invention ....

14. Bleaching Linens : Dipping System

15. Finishing Linens .....

16. Hemstitching Factory ....

17. Flax by Factory Methods ; Mr. Leitch's

Enterprise at Slane, Co. Meath, Ireland








After food, man's primal necessity was clothing.
That fact is obvious even to-day, but it is less manifest
and definite what was the nature of that garment. In
man's primitive state he required no clothing whatever.
Thus we have it stated that " They were both naked,
the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed."
However, when they fell there came an awakening to
certain aspects not previously recognised. " The eyes
of both of them were opened, and they knew that they
were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and
made themselves aprons," or primitive garments of a
rudimentary sort, to gird about their loins.

This, according to Jewish tradition, was the first fibre
manufactured by human hands, and it was fashioned
because man required to hide his shame. Manufacturing
and sorrow were thus closely united almost from man's
first appearance in the world, just as labour and sorrow
have been generally associated since, and as they will
continue to be, so long as water runs and fire burns.
Later, at the first interview between man and his Maker
after the Fall, it is recorded that " unto Adam also, and
to his wife, did the Lord God make coats of skins, and
clothed them." This is the classical statement of the
extension of human knowledge from an acquaintance
with the possibilities of vegetable fibres as clothing to
those of animal fibres.

One might venture the speculation that while there


is no positive record of what material these coats were
composed there is every probability that it was wool.
We can guess as much when we know that Abel, the
second son of Adam, was " a keeper of sheep," for the
flock would have supplied a ready material for clothing,
as the fleece would call for comparatively little prepara-
tion for its conversion into garments. Fallen man
required as primal necessities food and clothing, and the
flock always supplied a natural and ever-convenient
supply of both.

During those far-back antediluvian days, as in the
ages after the Flood, some of the people may have
lived in houses, but it is more likely that the majority
led a pastoral or nomadic life, dwelling in tents. At
any rate, we have it that " Adah bare Jubal, he was the
father of such as dwell in tents and have cattle."
Nomadic people must wander to and fro in quest of
fresh pastures for their flocks and herds, and their tents,
while impervious to wind and rain, must also be portable
and light, so as to be easily taken down and erected
as the occasion demands. The history of civilisation
shows that all comforts are derived from discovery
and evolution, and it is possible that these primitive,
people were not long in finding out that woven fabrics
were much more suitable for their habitations than
rude skins. Hence the deduction is justified that the
spinning and weaving of cloth suitable for tents and
clothing — as well as for other domestic purposes —
constituted one of the very earliest arts acquired by
man. The view is deductive rather than positive,
because there is certainly no record of linen in the ante-
diluvian era, even though there is little doubt that it
was then known and used.

So much as to the use of linen during the epoch before
the Flood, and for a considerable period after that
exceedingly momentous world's crisis. Although we
may suppose that woven fabrics were in regular use,
there is little mention of them. One indication, how-
ever, at this juncture, throws some light upon the
research. It is stated that Abraham pitched his tent


The Antiquity of Linen

near Bethel ; that he sat in his tent door in the heat of
the day, and that he would not take from a thread even
to a shoe latchet of the spoil of the four kings whom he
discomfited. What was that thread referred to ? Was
it flax ?

Again, when Rebekah met Isaac, she alighted off the
camel, and took a veil and covered herself. In the East
even until now this veil is a great sheet which, when
thrown over the wearer's head, flows down to the heels,
so as to envelop the entire person. Veils were always
of linen in these early days, and in some instances — as
in the case of Ruth — there was a starchy filling-in sub-
stance introduced as dressing to the fabric to make it
less transparent. Probably this is the first biblical
mention of a fabric, which, so far as referred to in the
Bible, was almost certainly linen. There can, however,
be no doubt that even before this event it was a garment
of wear years previously in Phoenicia, since the neigh-
bouring country of Egypt had achieved fame for its
manufacture centuries before the period of Abraham.

It is possible, also, that the sackcloth so often referred
to in early Scripture was a coarse flaxen cloth. One
fact, saliently indisputable, is that the first mention of
linen by that name in the Bible is when Pharaoh exalted
Joseph to the second place in the land of Egypt. The
exact passage is worth emphasis : " And Pharaoh took
off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph's
hand, and arrayed him in vestures of linen, and put a
gold chain about his neck."

While this is the first definite mention of linen in the
Scriptures, we know it was a common article of clothing
very much earlier. The region that may well be
described as the cradle of the human race was in Asia,
not far distant from the banks of the Euphrates, and
it was in the vicinity of this river that tradition asserts
that the ark came to rest on the subsidence of the
waters after the Flood. Now the heat in that region is
very great, as our troops located there knew to the full
during the recent war, so that woollen clothing is scarcely
tolerable, especially in summer. Therefore, because of

3 B2


its clean and cool qualities, flax would seem to have
been the preferable fibre to be used for garments. It
is certain that this plant was known and woven into
cloth at an almost prehistoric period, since specimens
of linen have been discovered in Egypt which have been
proved to be at least 4,000 years old.

The garments in which Joseph was arrayed consisted
probably of something in the nature of a kilt, hung from
the shoulders by straps, girdled round the waist, and
reaching below the knees, and of a large ample shirt that
came over it. Both of these articles were made from
fine white linen, the upper garment being of a very
beautiful and transparent texture and having a fringe
along its lower hem. In fact, this was the customary
regal garb of the kings of Egypt, so we may imagine that
it was one of Pharaoh's regal robes which was put upon
Joseph, as was the custom in Eastern countries when
the reigning monarch sought to exhibit his regard and
esteem for a favourite subject.

When the dead were embalmed in Egypt the custom
also was to encircle the body with a multitude of folds
of linen cloth, the fineness of the fabric being in accord-
ance with the rank of the deceased. Jacob, and after-
wards Joseph, were so embalmed, and their remains
carried into the Promised Land from Egypt, and it may
be expected that the linen so used was of very fine

Undoubtedly, immense quantities of linen were woven
in Egypt through many ages for this purpose of embalm-
ing, and it is from these historic evidences still extant
that we get an indication of how extensive was the linen
manufacture and how beautiful was the handiwork of
the weavers. The curious and costly fabrics which
adorned the living, and were the pride of the industry
and the skill of Thebes, have probably all perished ages
ago. In fact, it may be regarded as a somewhat striking,
if peculiar, commentary on the vast stocks of linen found
in the mummy pits and sepulchres of Egypt, that at
one time it was a speculation in Europe as to whether it
should not all be collected for the purpose of making


The Antiquity of Linen

paper. The economic enterprise savours of the very
literal application of the poet's lines : —

" Imperial Caesar dead and turned to clay,
Might serve to stop a hole to keep the wind away."

It is usually possible to tell the caste of the deceased
from the quality of the mummy cerements. Thus the
poorer persons were encased in cloths of a very common
or inferior quality (ranging from 6 per cent, to 8 per cent.),
with the yarn coarse and unequally spun, and the reed,
or set, thin and open. Nevertheless, other specimens
revealed the yarn as level and regularly spun, and,
though woven through a thin reed, the cloth looked well.
This variation might be taken to prove that, even in the
era when Egypt was famed for its fine linen, there were
good and bad spinners just as we have them now. Linen
of a vastly different texture was used as the wrapping for
the bodies of the priests, together with those of the
wealthy and noble classes. Many of these specimens
were so beautiful as well to deserve the description of
" fine linen of Egypt." It is a remarkable fact that,
while we now have the benefit of all the improvements of
science, art, and machinery, evolved through probably
3,000 years, still these ancient linens compare very
favourably with the modern cloths by reason not alone
of their excellence of weaving, but also of the perfectly
spun yarn composing them.

The kings and queens, in particular those of the earlier
dynasties, were embalmed in an exceedingly costly
fashion, and the linen employed for their wrappings was
of the very finest texture, admirable alike for the quality
of the yarn and the beautiful fabric of the cloth. Some
specimens still preserved in the British Museum and
other places are so delicate in texture that even the very
choicest productions of our modern looms can scarcely
stand comparison with them. The very best lawn or
cambric of the present day looks coarse when placed
beside these specimens derived from the Egyptian hand
looms in the days of the early Pharaohs. Indeed, so
beautiful are they that it is remarkable how the yarn


could have been produced, or a reed formed fine enough
for weaving them through.

A mummy cloth discovered by Belzoni illustrates very
strikingly the peculiarity of the structure and the beauty
of the texture. Thus the yarn of both warp and weft is
remarkably even and well spun, and the cloth is close and
firm, yet very elastic. The thread of the warp is double,
consisting of two fine threads twisted together, but the
weft is single. The warp has ninety threads to an inch
(about 1,600), with the weft only forty-four, being barely
half as many. The fineness of the threads, estimated
according to the count of cotton yarns, is about thirty
hanks to the pound — i.e., a pound weight of the threads
of this cloth would measure out almost sixteen and a half
miles in length.

The peculiarity of the disparity between the warp and
weft in this old Egyptian cloth is worthy of notice. Thus
sometimes the warp counts as many threads to the inch
as the weft does, sometimes three times more, and not
seldom four times the number. This system, so different
from modern cloth, which has the proportions nearly
equal, originated probably in the difficulty and tedious-
ness of putting in the weft when the shuttle was thrown
by hand, as is still the custom in this country with some
very coarse fabrics.

So great was the tenuity with which linen was occa-
sionally made in Egypt that some of the specimens were
described as " woven air " — a definition not so very
greatly exaggerated. Further, too, the writing seen on
these ancient mummy cloths proves that the Egyptians
were skilled in writing on cloth.

Another art known to the ancient Egyptian linen
workers, and one that modern research has not revived
so far to the same perfection, was the skilful use of
mordants or dyes applied to the flaxen cloths. It is
clear that the beautiful colours — and, in particular, blue
— was imparted to the threads prior to the weaving into
cloths. Some fabrics, with broad coloured borders, are
very interesting, since they not only illustrate old
Egyptian paintings, but are similar to those made by


The Antiquity of Linen

the looms in the age of the Pharaohs of the 12th and 18th
dynasties, the date of the former being set down about
2,000 years before Christ.

Probably the most remarkable piece of linen of this
type is one found near Memphis, on the Nile. It is a
cloth which justifies all the superlatives bestowed on
Egyptian fine linens and makes modern manufacturers
envious with astonishment. It is comparable with silk
to the touch, and, in texture, not inferior to the most
delicate cambric which has yet been produced. Some
idea may be gained of its unrivalled fineness from the
number of threads to the inch, which are 540, or 270
double threads in the warp and only 110 in the weft. It
is not white but of a light brown colour, and is covered
with small figures and hieroglyphics, so minutely drawn
that here and there the naked eye can scarcely trace
them. It is clear, however, that, as there is no appear-
ance of any ink having been run in any part of the cloth,
it had been previously prepared for the purpose.

Similarly surprising is the perfection of its component
threads, for the knots and breaks, as seen in our choicest
modern cambric, cannot be discovered in this ancient
specimen in holding it up to the light. This was the
mode of examining fine cloth known to, and practised
by, the ancients. It gave rise to the beautiful Greek
expression, signifiying " Lincere" borrowed from " test
of light," and it is far superior to the Latin Lincerus,
derived from honey, Line cera.

Without digressing unnecessarily, something may be
said regarding the high, and since scarcely approachable,
perfection attained by these wonderful people in spin-
ning. In appreciating their work, it should be remem-
bered that these Egyptian yarns were made from flax
which is quite similar to the flax we use to-day, and that we
now have superadded the improvements due to the deve-
lopments of such mechanical master machines as the
hackling machine, the drawing, doubling and spinning
frames, and, above all, the incalculable advantages due
to the introduction of the wet spinning process.

Pliny tells of how the threads of a corslet owned by


Amasis, king of Egypt, were composed each of 365 fibres,
all distinct. The nearest approach we have to this in
comparatively modern days is the record given in M'CalPs
" Ireland and her Staple Manufactures " of a fifteen
years' old girl, in the neighbourhood of Ballynahinch,
County Down, who, in the early 19th century, spun a
hank of yarn which weighed just 10 grains. What this
fineness means is, that as a linen hank represents 300
yards, there would be a length of almost 120 miles of
thread in one pound weight.

There are few more fascinating studies in economic
history than the tracing out of the evolution and deve-
lopment of industries and arts, with an endeavour to com-
pare the methods then in vogue with those which are in
practice now. Of necessity, the process by which the
fibre of the flax plant was carried through its successive
stages was exceedingly slow, so the finished article had
thus imparted to it a value which placed it beyond the
reach of the humbler classes of people.

The raw flax went through all the different stages of
its manufacture by agency of hand alone, and the spin-
ning of the yarn was achieved only by the distaff. Several
of the Egyptian sculptures and paintings afford us full
evidence of this fact. The loom was of very crude con-
struction, and yet the description of fabric produced in
that primitive machine would challenge some of the
most skilled cambric weavers of the present day. It is
probable, however, that the Egyptian operatives of the
time of the Pharaohs did not weave three yards of cloth
in any week from the commencement of the web until
it was finished.

One of the most celebrated authors states that all the
labour connected with the pulling and preparing of flax,
the spinning of the yarn, and weaving of the cloth, was
performed by men. While the " lordly " portion of
Egyptian humanity thus became domesticated by the
linen manufacture, and while their daily labour was
confined to the neighbourhood of their homes and their
flax fields, the women were busily employed in general
traffic, journeying to make household purchases, or per-


The Antiquity of Linen

forming the more ordinary and fatiguing labours which,
in general, are considered as belonging to the other

Notwithstanding the many misfortunes which from
time to time befell Egypt arising from war and other
causes, the people still clung to their famous linen trade.
Not only the manufacture of linen, but the art of finish-
ing the fabric in the white state, and the more scientific
operations involved in the printing of landscapes and
other designs on the plain cloth, were all practised by
the Egyptians in these early days.

The Egyptians were, extensive traders and manufac-
turers, and produced goods well worthy of being ex-
ported, but one very vital and very strange fact must be
emphasised concerning them economically. They were
not themselves a commercial people, as they long had a
great aversion from the sea. While they produced their
manufactures, other nations engaged in the traffic of
transporting them to distant countries. Many of the
neighbouring nations pursued this policy, and the
Ishmaelites, who bought Joseph and took him down to
Egypt, traded between that country and Gilead almost
4,000 years ago. They carried down balm and spices
into Egypt, taking back linen and other products of that
country on the return journey. Similarly, we find it
stated that among the imports into Chaldea were " fine
linen, with embroidered work from Egypt, and purple
and blue from the Isles of Elisha."

Undoubtedly, the most important nation in fostering
Egyptian trade, and especially the export of linens, was
the Phoenicians, a people dwelling by the shores of the
Red Sea and on the lands bordering the Persian Gulf.
They traded with most other nations, and though it does
not appear that they themselves had ever cultivated flax
to any great extent, or even made linen, their regular
visits to Egypt gave them such insight into the practical
working of manufactures that they were well able to
impart to natives of distant lands very valuable infor-
mation on these subjects. More than 3,100 years ago
Phoenician ships from Sidon and Tyre ploughed the


Atlantic, and this maritime people founded the colony
at Cadiz.

As a wild and wandering people, the Phoenicians
were possessed of remarkable energy, alike in maritime,
mercantile, and manufacturing pursuits. Mount Libanus
supplied them liberally with timber for the purposes of
naval architecture, and the iron and copper mines of
Sarepta gave them abundance of these metals. The
Phoenicians had early discovered the use that might be
derived from the wind, and employed sails of canvas to
propel their vessels. For this latter purpose large quan-
tities of strong linen cloth were required, and also cordage
of flax for rigging to their ships. These articles of them-
selves would necessitate a considerable trade with Egypt,
whence the supplies of such materials were drawn. But
they had also become adepts in the colouring of textile
fabrics long before the people of most other nations had

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