Hank of flax

From Egypt
New Kingdom, 1550-1069 BC

For making linen cloth

The principal material used for clothing worn in ancient Egypt was linen. The fibre used to make linen comes from the stalk of the flax plant. Flax is still grown in many countries today, for both linen and linseed oil. The oil is used for animal feeds and is the traditional treatment applied to cricket bats.

Flax is often shown in agricultural scenes. It was harvested by pulling the plant up by the roots. The stalks were soaked in water and beaten to remove the woody inner core. The flax fibres were combed and short lengths twisted together, or roved, to make longer lengths. The joins in the roves were strengthened by pectin (a sticky substance), which occurs naturally in flax. Linen yarn was produced by spinning the roved flax using a hand-held spindle with a weight at one end. The spindle was rolled down the spinner's right thigh to start it spinning. Spun yarn was hand woven into lengths of cloth and made into garments.

It is normal to divide Egyptian linen into four types: royal, fine thin, fine and smooth cloth. Smooth cloth was the coarsest and thickest, used for working clothes, cloaks and blankets. The middle two categories were for finer clothes, worn by the wealthy. Royal linen was reserved for royal burials and ritual clothing, sometimes donated to temples by the king.

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More information


S. Quirke and A.J. Spencer, The British Museum book of anc (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

L. Heinrich, The magic of linen: flax seed (Victoria, B.C., Orca Book Publishers, 1992)


Length: 23.000 cm

Museum number

EA 36177


Formerly part of the Harris collection


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