Hey, Camp Fans!
Today I want to look into the history of bed sheets. They date back at least 10,000 years—possibly over 36,000! Mankind has been catching Zzz’s since before we walked on two legs…and then some. But they certainly weren’t fitted mattress sheets with colorful patterns and prints of favorite superheroes. So just what did our very first bed sheets look like?
Mankind’s first attempt at using ‘bed sheets’ was more-or-less just a crude pile of straw, leaves, and twigs. At the same time, however, dyed fibers of the flax plant have been found in prehistoric caves, suggesting that these were once woven fabrics made from wild flax.
Flax became the leading fabric for woven linen—in fact, flax is actually where the word ‘linen’ comes from as the Latin word for flax is ‘linum’. It was so popular in ancient Egypt that they would use it as a form of money. The wraps of their preserved mummies were made of linen.
Linen fabrics aren’t the easiest to spin and they’re typically expensive (which is why mummies were wrapped in it, displaying their wealth). But it is a very durable, long-lasting fabric (which we also see from Egyptian mummies).
Still linen sheets couldn’t truly be considered ‘bedding’ as beds didn’t exist until over 3000 years ago when ancient Egyptians invented the elevated sleeping platform—the precursor of the bed.
Hard-to-spin flax was soon replaced in 1793 when Eli Whitney invented the Cotton Gin (the Gin is short for engine, by the way), creating a much faster method of separating seeds from cotton. Cotton became the new fabric for bed sheets. And while the fabric changed, the name didn’t. We still call our bed sheets linens when they’re 100% cotton.
True linen, made from flax is still spun today and preferred by some as it’s a softer, healthier material.
I hope you learned a thing or two today and go to bed tonight with a new appreciation of your bed sheets. Thanks for reading, Camp Fans!