chapter  2
31 Pages

Woollens Production and the Growing English Advantage

ByJohn Oldland

The broadloom was mandated in towns from 1196. In the thirteenth century expensive greased woollens competed with serges and worsteds, but then they declined with the introduction of coarse woollens in the early-fourteenth century. Worsteds were used primarily for bedding for the remainder of the period. Yarn preparation accounted for 60 per cent of the hours to make quality woollen cloth. Key changes were the carding and wheel-spinning of weft thread in the fourteenth century and of the warp, probably beginning in the second half of the fifteenth century. Complex worsted weaves were replaced by the simple tabby weave for woollens. The fulling mill gradually replaced fulling-by-foot so that all but the very finest woollens were mill-fulled by the mid-sixteenth century, in contrast with continental draperies which continued to full-by-foot. Woollens required extensive shearing. Importantly, most coloured woollens were usually dyed-in-the-piece (cloth) in contrast to worsteds that often used dyed wools. English dyeing was probably a weakness in the thirteenth century but had become a strength by the sixteenth as rural clothiers dyed their wools with woad, and then with madder and other dyes in-the-piece. The English advantage increased as woollens became a mass market, as English clothmakers had access to a variety of wools and adopted manufacturing process changes rapidly. Rural production was both cheaper, more specialised and well organised to produce a consistent quality product. The full range of woollens is explained: broadcloth 1¾ yards wide, kersey and straits 1 yard, and cottons and frieze ¾ yards wide. Woollens became steadily heavier, leveraging England’s wool advantage.