The history of Irish linen production is at least 300 years old. The country benefited from a strong wild and cultivated flax crop, and accounts by English visitors noted Irishmen wearing pleated linen shirts sewn from many yards of fabric.
Linen textiles are made from flax plant fibers, and it is a labor-intensive product to manufacture. Flax fibers are longer than cotton or wool, and the plant was once harvested by hand so that the fibers remained undamaged. It’s these long fibers that are responsible for the unique quality, durability, and soft texture of finished linen. Historians believe linen to be one of the world’s oldest cloths, with evidence of its use dating back many thousands of years. In ancient Egypt, it was used for clothing, mummification wrapping, and even as currency.
Traditionally, women and children prepared flax and spun fibers into thread, and men then wove the thread into linen cloth. These tasks were carried out in homes using spinning wheels and hand looms. Natural-colored “brown” linen cloth was typically brought to markets, sold for bleaching and finishing, and then usually exported, mainly to England. This natural linen is what you’ll see in products like our Irish Linen Cap, made by Latchfords of Ireland. Irish linen was renowned for its fineness, and to enforce this reputation, the Board of Trustees of the Linen Manufacturers of Ireland was established in 1711. New techniques were developed, and better flax seeds were imported to improve Irish linen-making.
In the early 19th century, linen cloth production moved from individual homes in the countryside to factories in towns. In 1861, the American Civil War disrupted cotton supplies, leading to an increased demand for linen. By 1900, about 65,000 people worked in linen mills in Ireland, and the nation was producing and exporting more linen than anywhere in the world. While manufacturing has declined overall in Ireland during the last century, textile production is still a prominent industry, and the value of Irish linen remains strong.
Our lightweight natural Irish Linen Cap and the herringbone and hound’s-tooth patterned Irish Linen Patchwork Cap are assembled by hand at Latchfords of Ireland’s workshop in Donegal (Dún na nGall in the Irish language). County Donegal in the northwest is recognized for retaining traditional Irish culture through cloth goods, music, and especially language. The dialect spoken there is Ulster Irish, named for the Province of Ulster in which Donegal lies. The Donegal Gaeltacht, or Irish-speaking district, attracts Irish young people and visitors from abroad to study the language.
Watch the video below to go beind-the-scenes and see how our Irish Linen Caps are made from start to finish.
Shop more of National Geographic Store’s selection of caps made of the finest Irish fabrics, like our Donegal Tweed Wool Patchwork Walking Hat, Herringbone Donegal Cap, Irish Linen Patchwork Cap, and Irish Donegal Tweed Cap. All of our hats are perfect for adapting to warm temperatures or rainy days, and try pairing one with our Irish Donegal Tweed Patchwork Scarf for the ultimate finished look.