How Was Linen Made in Ancient Greece?

Linen is a textile that has been used for centuries for its strength, durability, and breathability. In ancient Greece, it was a highly prized fabric and was used to make various garments and household items.

What is Linen?

Linen is a fabric made from the fibers of the flax plant. Flax plants are tall, slender plants with blue flowers that grow in temperate regions of the world. The fibers are extracted from the stem of the plant using a process called retting, which involves soaking the stems in water to break down the outer layer and release the fibers.

The Process of Creating Linen in Ancient Greece

The process of creating linen in ancient Greece was a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. Here are the steps involved:

Growing Flax Plants

The first step in creating linen was growing flax plants. The flax was typically planted in early spring and harvested in late summer or early fall. Once harvested, the flax was left to dry for several weeks.


After drying, the flax stems were soaked in water to begin the retting process. The retting process could take anywhere from several days to several weeks depending on factors such as temperature and humidity.

During retting, bacteria on the surface of the stems would break down pectin (a glue-like substance) that held the fibers together. This would allow for easier separation of individual fibers later on.


Once retted, the flax stems were ready for breaking. Breaking involved crushing or pounding the stems to separate the fibers from woody parts of the stem.


After breaking, scutching followed where wooden tools were used to beat off any remaining woody pieces from the fibers.


The final step in preparing the flax fibers was heckling. During this process, the fibers were combed through a series of finer and finer combs to remove any remaining impurities and to straighten the fibers.


Once the flax fibers were prepared, they were ready for spinning. The spinning process involved twisting the fibers together to create a strong, durable thread that could be used for weaving.


The final step in creating linen was weaving. The linen thread was woven into various fabrics such as plain weave, twill weave, and herringbone weave.

  • Plain weave: The simplest and most common type of weave where the threads alternate over and under each other.
  • Twill weave: A type of diagonal pattern created by passing the weft thread over two or more warp threads.
  • Herringbone weave: A type of twill pattern where the diagonal lines reverse direction at regular intervals.


In conclusion, creating linen in ancient Greece was a time-consuming and labor-intensive process that involved growing flax plants, retting, breaking, scutching, heckling, spinning, and weaving. Despite the effort required to create it, linen remained a highly prized fabric due to its strength, durability, and breathability.

It was used for various garments and household items such as bedsheets and tablecloths. Today it continues to be valued for these same qualities as well as its natural beauty and ease of care.