A Brief History Of Fine Swedish Table Linen
By Calle Redhe
Linen itself has been featured in history since Prehistoric times. Egyptian culture used linen as a basic cloth as well as for costume. Archaeologists have found samples of linen, dating back to 4200 BC. Linen that is now used in fine Swedish table linen was processed in much the same way, back in 642 AD. Unfortunately, few pieces have survived from that time.
By the 1500's, a damask linen was imported by Holland and Flanders. This linen was used for table cloths by the wealthy. This tradition was replicated in the seventeenth century in Sweden. Fine Swedish table linens were owned by wealthy Swedish families"they were ornate and decorative. And it wasn't until the 1800's that table linen was used as an everyday table cloth.
From the seventeenth century, Halsingland, Sweden began to produce both flax and linen. It was in 1730 that a man by the name of Stephen Bennet set up a linen factory of sorts with about eighty looms. The quality of the damask created was high, but the factory stopped producing fine Swedish table linen in 1845 when it closed down.
In terms of producing the linen, most histories agree that men were given the responsibility of the heavier work"carrying and lifting and transport of materials. Women were taught from a young age about the craft of linen. Many of the children and older women were in charge of less delicate jobs, while those with manual dexterity and stamina were given the task of making the higher quality fine Swedish table linens on one of the many looms.
Prior to weaving and spinning, the women would color the flax. Bleaching the fine Swedish table linens was difficult, as many of the dyes were not colorfast. Some of the natural dyes that were utilized were from natural findings"leaves, lichens, moss, and bark. In the rare occasions when other colors were requested, they could buy colorings"logwood, gambier, indigo, and Farnock (from a tree).
The complicated process of weaving fine Swedish table linen was not without good results though. One story goes that an owner of a weavery"Calle Redhe-- used to go to Norway to sell his fine Swedish table linen. In one particular summer trip, he met an older woman of about seventy years old. The woman came up to Calle and asked him if he was indeed Calle Redhe, to which he replied yes.
The woman was delighted to find Calle as she herself had bought a fine Swedish table linen from Calle's father in 1948 just after she was married. Now, recently widowed after fifty-seven years and returned to Norway to live she was delighted to learn she could finally buy some napkins woven from the same loom as the tablecloth. She had her tablecloth with her and purchased matching napkins.
Fine Swedish table linen has a long history behind it, but it's the story of the owners and their families are what enrich their legacy. And with the long-standing tradition of linen making and weaving, you too can probably find something to match your great-grandmother's linens.
About The Author
Calle Redhe is the owner and Master Weaver at Redhes Weavery in Bjorbo, Sweden. Redhes Weavery was founded in the mid-1940's and has become renowned for keeping alive the ancient Swedish traditions of patterning and quality most evident in the overshot weave cloths they produce today. He makes it easy for all to own table linens with the air of royalty.