In Ancient Egypt, textiles were used for many purposes, among them clothing, bags, sails, ropes, and nets. Ancient Egyptian textiles were primarily made of linen, which comes from the flax plant. Textiles were also made from palm fibers, grass, seeds, and much less frequently from sheep's wool and goat hair. Once fibers were removed from the flax, they were spun on a spindle and then woven on a loom into the textile. In Pharaonic Egypt, textiles were usually created by women on looms in weaving workshops, which were usually housed in palaces and large estates.
Linen fibers were naturally pale golden brown or green, if the plant was harvested early. Ancient Egyptians used ocher and plant dyes to color textiles, although the cellulose of the plant made dyeing difficult. Ocher is a type of earth that consists of hydrated oxide of iron mixed with clay; it can create yellow, yellow-brown, and red colors. Plant materials used for dye include woad for blue and madder and safflower for red. Bleaching was also used to make white textiles, which were considered a symbol of high status for their clean appearance.
By the Ptolemaic era, the government began to supervise the textile industry and control the cultivation of flax for linen. Patterned textiles, or tapestries that use decorations of two or more colors, became widespread. These decorative fabrics became known as "al-Qubati" after the word "Qubt," which means Copt. Coptic textiles are known for their elaborate and detailed designs. In the Roman era, the fabrics were decorated with figures of humans and animals as well as plant and geometric designs. Later phases saw the increased use of Christian symbols as the human and animal portrayals became more abstract. The fabrics were used in churches and public buildings as curtains and hangings as well as for bed sheets and covers, towels, tablecloths, and bags. Wool, which was easier to dye with plant-based materials, became more commonly used for textiles.
In Islamic Egypt, textiles gained worldwide recognition for their quality and beauty. This growth was due to the Islamic government's involvement in controlling raw materials, building public and private factories, and ensuring quality standards. Wool became second to linen as an important raw material. Weavers used horizontal and vertical looms and wove extra wefts into the fabric as a method of decoration. Fabrics were also printed with designs or embroidered with silk threads. Arabic calligraphy, plant and geometric designs, as well as abstract symbols for birds, humans, and animals were traditional decorations.