Craft / June 2017

Irish Linen: The Ultimate Summer Fabric

One of the last outposts of a once-massive industry, Baird McNutt divulges why Irish linen is the ultimate summer fabric.

King Louis XIV of France believed he derived his right to rule directly from God. Through his rule he saw an opportunity to establish a perfect autocratic regime - the absolute monarchy. The quibbling nobility and the frustratingly contrarian Protestants were merely roadblocks; dogs that needed to be brought to heel by a stern and uncompromising disciplinarian. The aristocrats were easily cowed by offers of money and privilege, yet it was the French Protestants, the Huguenots, that proved most difficult. So Louis ended the Huguenots’ legal recognition as a religion, ruthlessly persecuted them and eventually drove them from France, in the process forcing some of the nation’s greatest intellectuals and most skilled artisans to re-settle and go into the employ of France’s sworn enemies. More specifically, that’s how Louis XIV sent some 500 of the world’s best linen weavers to Ireland.

Irish linen is a rightfully famous fabric - it’s beautifully rich to the touch, and possesses a wonderful balance of drape, breathability and comfort. It’s wearable, adaptable, stunning when finely tailored and yet full of personality and individuality. It’s not the cloth of a uniform; it’s a cloth that when you wear it, it’s yours only. Linen’s history on the Emerald Isle is long and storied. The oldest recorded mention of it dates back to the 13th century, however, in all likelihood it was produced for many hundreds of years before that. Linen is, after all, one of the oldest fabrics in the world. With the arrival of the Huguenots, however, the industry began to boom. Wool was heavily taxed by the English to protect their own farmers, something that basically destroyed Ireland’s sheep industry. So it was linen that they turned to – far harder and more demanding to weave, but versatile, absorbent and comfortable.

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Ben St George

Ben St George is The Rake's Head of Buying