The bleaching of linen came up on the LH forum a while back, and someone offered a suggestion made by a historian at a conference. To wit, that putting linens onto grass or bushes helped bleach them by the oxygen given off by the plants. Or the ozone. Or something. It was all a bit garbled, and obviously oxygen alone doesn’t do much, since there’s plenty of it in the air. Remember, linen is brown in its natural just woven state, and nowadays bleach and other oxidising chemicals are used to make it brilliant white. Hence places that have the name ‘fields’ which might be from being called “Bleachfields” centuries ago.
Anyway, if you are trying to give a good portrayal of social differences in the past, you need to consider how the rich folk can afford good white well woven linen, and the poor can only afford rough, coarse unbleached linen. So we mostly think, but as usual, life is a bit more complicated than that.
How was linen bleached? Was it an expensive process? And what does authentic, well worn linen look like when peasants wear it?
I started some experiments back in April/ May of 2013 with the aim of whitening two kinds of linen. Continue reading