The Broadcast / Embracing Tradition: A History of Linen & Hemp

Embracing Tradition: A History of Linen & Hemp

Lightweight, breathable and long-lasting, there’s a reason linen and hemp fabrics have been worn by humans for thousands of years. A content creator and slow seasonal living advocate, Elsa Evelyn dives into the history and natural benefits that have helped these materials endure through the millennia.


3 min read

Words & Images by Elsa Evelyn

In the intricate tapestry of human history, few fabrics offer such enduring allure as linen and hemp. With roots stretching back over 10,000 years, these natural fibres have gracefully woven their way through time adorning emperors and labourers alike, and to this day we wear them representing their timeless elegance. Let me tell you the journey of their rich history, where each thread tells a tale of resilience, sustainability, and effortless beauty.

A Brief History Of Linen & Hemp

From the fertile soils of ancient lands, linen and hemp have long been well known for their exquisite qualities. In China, archaeologists unearthed a Neolithic site where they found remains of hemp cord markings aside a stone beater which was used to pound hemp to make rope. In ancient Egypt, linen was spun and woven to make white tunics, ideal for wearing in extremely arid conditions. The softest, purest linen held particular significance in the higher stratospheres of Egyptian culture, where the luxurious texture of the finest sun-starched and pleated linen was used to create form-fitting garments for spiritual and political leaders.

Hemp became a vital resource in the maritime exploration of colonial European expansion across the globe. Cannabis plant fibres were crafted into rigging and rope that were essential on a variety of sea vessels, and reserve stock of this rope was also needed for naval and shipping ports they would be travelling between. Hemp-based sails were instrumental in the success of Columbus’ journeys to and from the New World, partly because of their resilience to strong weather and exposure to salt water. The material was part and parcel of global navigation for centuries, but in the early 20th Century, prohibition laws aimed at preventing marijuana production also affected the cultivation and processing of hemp, and thus its widespread maritime use across the world effectively ceased.

Benefits Of Linen & Hemp Fabrics

Both linen and hemp are fabrics that have endured the test of time and been used for centuries due to their innate qualities; lightweight, breathable and helping regulate temperature and air flow around the body. The gentle embrace of these fabrics make them the perfect companion to a warm Summer’s day. The comfort of natural materials compliments your body’s interaction with the outdoors - long walks through the meadows, to cold dips in the river. The wisdom of nature speaks to us through the relationship with these delicate garments.

Grown With Lower Impact

Linen and hemp offer beautiful qualities that extend beyond the loom. Not only do they appear flattering to wear on our bodies, their cultivation can help heal the earth. Both materials require fewer resources - they are generally rain-fed, sparing our precious freshwater reserves, and less energy is used to maintain and process them. Often not needing synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, harsh for both the soil and organisms that come into contact with them, linen and hemp cultivation nurtures soil health and encourages biodiversity, embodying a harmonious relationship with the land. This is really important to note, as many modern alternatives to these fabrics can cause great suffering to our environment due to the production and manufacturing methods.

Learning From Nature's Wisdom

Each time I adorn myself in these fabrics I am reminded of the wisdom inherent in the perfect designs of nature. Living in a world of frequent obsolescence, there's solace in the timelessness of these age-old materials. I am always on a journey of embracing more traditions to connect deeper with my ancestors and the trees we perhaps both walked under at different times. I hear the echoes and whispers of memories that have been woven through time. Making the considered choice of natural fibres as a primary staple of my summer wardrobe has been a precious way to connect and feel part of the land I’m treading upon.


Share on Facebook Share on Twitter