Breakout Session four: The Most Perfect Cloth – Bronwyn Parr BA (Hons)

Textiles for Georgian and Regency characters and households

Bronwyn has been a spinner and weaver since teenager.  She did her honours thesis on 18th century textiles.
In general, the more precious materials – silks and muslins – have survived, which were worn for formal and special occasions, in museums and costume collections
Very little has survived of every day wear
They have just survived in Clothiers’ pattern books, as small fabric swatches.


  • hand spun & woven – quality was incredibly fine
  • mechanical (im)perfection – machines could not reproduce fine weaves for a very long time
  • not-so-sexy silk
  • soft, sensual linen
  • colours before aniline dyes

Linen worn against the skin was soft and sensual – would never have worn silk (which was too rough).
Colours were incredibly vibrant even though they were from natural dyes

Textile WWWW

  • warp (goes on the loom)
  • weft (threads that cross)
  • woollen (cloth) – made from carded fleece (with a lot of air trapped in the wool), brushed with teazel and then napped.  Looks like felt
  • worsted (stuff) – made from longer fibre and spun.  This holds patterns better.  Incredibly fine, used in items where the weave structure is visible.

Dying occurred in different phases.
Dyed in the wool – before it was spun.  Dye went right through the cloth
Cloth dyed – did not go all the way through

On tenterhooks
after being washed and dyed, woollens needed to be stretched to be made even and regain their shapes again


  • imports from the East inspired local production
  • mechanised earlier than other fabrics
  • harder to dye than protein fibres (silk / wool)
  • indigo and turkey red main dyes
  • block printing on white major popular
  • silk embroidery on white for luxury cottons
  • calico, batiste, cambric, muslin, lawn
  • muslin was a very fragile textile and could be torn very easily – not worn every day


  • yarn spun from flax fibres – line & low
  • linen more difficult to dye than wool or silk (so mostly white)
  • predominant fabric for close-to-silk wear until early nineteenth century
  • strong fibres especially when wet; softens beautifully with use


  • luxury fabric woven from reeled silk
  • protein fibre takes dyes beautifully
  • taffetas, satins, damasks, brocades
  • very fine yarns = slow weaving
  • drawlooms > days to warp
  • complex damasks & brocades – weaving might progress 1 – 2 inches per day
  • expensive – therefore reused, sold, gifted
  • Spittalfields was the premier silk area in the UK

Cloth & Stuff

  • English woolen & worsted industry significant economic factor in late 1700s – early 1800s
  • high quality hand spun and woven textiles – industry at ts zenith, leading the world
  • could not be replicated on machines
  • many types of worsted fabrics now lost
  • except some survive in clothiers pattern books, which still have actual swatches – brightly coloured patterns still survived because the books were closed and protected from light and air and so have not faded


  • plain weave
  • woollen fabric, slightly longer
  • used for coats, blankets, outerwear, perhaps some furnishing
  • from 1850s, most likely made by Australian merino


  • woollen cloth
  • twill weave, but fooled and napped
  • drapier than plain weave
  • best qualities used for clothing – printed kerseys for gentleman’s waistcoats (block printed)

Grograms & Mooreens

  • worsted spun wool woven in plain weave with a plied (thicker) warp and a fine singles weft to give a ribbed effect
  • sometimes pressed while wet with heave patterned rollers to give a watered or ‘flower’d’ effect


  • worsted spun yarn, and twill (diagonal) weave
  • often used for serviceable clothes, or for unseen parts of formal clothes – eg waistcoat backs an sleeves


  • worsted spun yarns, often dyed in the yarn, plain weave.
  • sometimes monochromatics, sometimes different colours in warp and weft
  • lighter fabrics than broadcolours
  • often glazed and pressed for a shiny appearance
  • used for clothing and furnishings

Striped camblets

  • yarn-dyed, stripes in warp
  • weave just one colour
  • bright colours


  • worsted yarns, weft very fine, satin weave structure  (four over one under weave or similar)
  • glazed and pressed between rollers for a smooth, shiny finish
  • could be plain or very fancy
  • wool fabric but looked like a heavy soft satin


  • yarn dyed in the hank and contrasting in warp and weft
  • typically diamond (‘diaper’) weave structure
  • used for clothing and furnishing


  • plied warp, fine singles weft – makes background rib effect
  • usually dyed in the piece; used for furnishings and clothing
  • similar to (or the same as) Lastings – visually similar, not sure of the difference
  • Flower’d Amens – have a flowered, more complex pattern in them
  • used for drapery, bed coverings, shoes, etc


  • Spinsters – literally (a respectable way to earn money to contribute to your upkeep)
  • Spinning key skill & earning potential for rural girls & women
  • Spinning wheels & spindles in every cottage
  • Great wheel or wool wheel used in the South of England
  • Treadle wheel used in the flax producing areas, and possibly the north (not known)


  • Broadcloths – 45  inches
  • most cloths – 22 inches
  • silk- 16 inches

Industrialisation took over in the Wool industry by the late 1840s, and the hand weavers died out.  When the hand weavers were gone, many of these weaves died out too – Grograms & Mooreens, Callimancoes etc.  It is not known now how they were created.  There are some samples in museums and textile books, but they are not able to be reproduced now.

Heroines and Hardships
Worsted Act of 1777

  • statute introduced as a result of efforts of group of Yorkshire clothiers aimed at detecting and prosecuting acts of embezzlement
  • numerous spinners (mostly women) convicted for reeling false or short yarn
  • fines of 5 or 10 shillings for first offence, 40 shillings for second offence; public whipping and commitment to a house of correction for third offence
  • as weavers were mostly women, it was done in the home and measurement was not necessarily accurate or often done on borrowed equipment, many women were punished by the Worsted Act.  It was about social control as much as economics.

Patron saint of Wool Combers – torn apart by Wool Combs in Roman Times

Images shown were reproduced from items in the Victoria & Albert Museum and used with permission, however I am not able to reproduce them for this blog.
The woollens were fine, shiny, looking like silks and satins.

I took some photos which hopefully did not suck, will try to upload them to this article.

2 thoughts on “Breakout Session four: The Most Perfect Cloth – Bronwyn Parr BA (Hons)

  1. I had left my camera on, and unfortunately although I had it at the session the battery was dead. so I took the photos with my phone. Now I just have to work out how to get them off – and they won’t be as good quality as if I had used my camera. But hopefully ok at least

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