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THE MAGIC OF LINEN: FLAX SEED TO WOVEN CLOTH

Heinrich, Linda
Victoria (B.C.), Orca Book Publishers, 1992. 228pp, paper, $41.95, ISBN 0-920501-67-2. CIP


Grades 9 and up/Ages 14 and up

Reviewed by Christine Buchanan

Volume 21 Number 2
1993 March


In her introduction to this book, Linda Heinrich states that for twenty years she has been captured by the texture and enduring beauty of linen. The author's fascination with and knowledge of this subject are amply displayed throughout this impressive and encyclopedic study.

As in the case of cotton and silk, flax cultivation and linen production have played a significant part in the agricultural, economic, and social history of many cultures. All aspects of these processes are fully covered here, from a study of the flax plant itself to its cultivation, processing, spinning, dyeing, weaving, design and finishing. Valuable technical information is given with examples from many different times and places, including, amongst others, ancient Egypt, Ireland, Sweden and Canada. Fifteen weaving projects are included, with full instructions, for the student who wants to put all these ideas into practice.

Through a rich display of quotations, diagrams and illustrations, Heinrich reveals the complex social history of linen as fully as its technical processes. Many individuals speak of the role that linen (the fabric that "improves with age ... like wine and fine women") has played in their lives. One of the most memorable of these recollections is that of Booker T. Washington, who spoke of the torture of "breaking in" a new flax shirt made of the coarsest, left-over fibres, which were reserved for slave clothing, and the kindness of his older brother in substituting his own softer garment for this newer shirt for several days. He concluded, "Until I had grown to be quite a youth, this single garment was all that I wore."

This is a readable and attractive work to consult for specific technical information regarding linen, or just for general reading and browsing. It is indeed noteworthy to find a book that can simultaneously appeal to both the specialist and the general reader. Illustrations, boxed summaries of information, careful organization, and many subheadings all facilitate and invite these various uses. The book is richly supported by 186 colour plates, 136 black-and-white photographs, and numerous diagrams, all appropriately related to the text. Also included are a glossary, a list of suppliers and museums (with Canadian sources), an excellent bibliography, and an index.

Highly recommended for medium and large public libraries, as well as the libraries of high schools, colleges, or other institutions with textile-related programs.


Christine Buchanan, a former librarian with Toronto Public Library, teaches English as a Second Language with the Scarborough Board of Education in Scarborough, Ontario
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