domestic woollen cloth manufacture

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kate/bob
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domestic woollen cloth manufacture

Postby kate/bob » Tue Dec 31, 2013 12:01 am

I've got lots of information about how a fleece was turned into woollen fabric in a commercial way in 14th and 15th century, but I'm interested in what, if anything, was done domestically. I don't mean in a cottage industry kind of way, but more along the lines of our old sheep died so we might as well do something with it's fleece. Did people make "homespun" or the equivalent, or was a even a small loom just too expensive to have unless you were a weaver?

I suspect I know the answer (it didn't happen!), but would be interested to hear people's views



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Alan E
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Re: domestic woollen cloth manufacture

Postby Alan E » Tue Dec 31, 2013 1:36 pm

kate/bob wrote:I've got lots of information about how a fleece was turned into woollen fabric in a commercial way in 14th and 15th century, but I'm interested in what, if anything, was done domestically. I don't mean in a cottage industry kind of way, but more along the lines of our old sheep died so we might as well do something with it's fleece. Did people make "homespun" or the equivalent, or was a even a small loom just too expensive to have unless you were a weaver?

I suspect I know the answer (it didn't happen!), but would be interested to hear people's views

Then (as now) if you keep a small number of sheep you don't wait 'till it dies to have the fleece, it is sheered (or in some breeds, sheds) yearly. I know some farmers who keep small flocks who (in our economy now) find it uneconomical to package the fleece for sale and transport it to where the buyers want it - the fleece is usually burned. In the past if there were more local collection points before sorting and packing, or if a local larger manufacturer would take it to incorporate into their shipment, I would guess that would be a route for earning a supplement from a few sheep. In the absence of that and of widely available cheap clothing, I would guess that homespun would be a better option than burning - but that's just the economics now compared to then, not any kind of historical evidence from me.

Christopher Dyer (Making a living in the Middle Ages) - an introductory tertiary text at best, but with >20 pages of 'further reading' says that sheep were kept for wool rather than meat and typically slaughtered mature.
He writes of wool as a cash crop that could yield revenues in money for large landowners ("lords" is the term he uses), so concievably (my interpretation) fleeces could be used towards a rent paid to the local landowner. With little local weaving (local demand) this would only be possible if the "lord" had a ready export trade to absorb transport costs. He does say that some fleeces were woven on the estates but the bulk (1050 - 1100) was destined for the urban cloth industry in England and overseas. Wool can of course be stored which increases the opportunity to sell it on rather than use it locally. His sources appear to be manor accounts, so the evidence is of the larger holdings (some holdings of >7000 sheep and some cases of parcels of 80 in different locations making around 2500 in the holding). He does say that even end C13 English estates were still making 50 - 60% of their income from rents, so in sheep country ... (I conclude) that this may have included fleeces. However in the chapter on 1100 - 1350 he says that estates tended to concentrate on bulky staples (grain, wool) leaving smaller holdings to the niche for more troublesome, smaller scale production (poultry, eggs, fruit and veg.) : OTOH he quotes a tax of 1293 where one person in Merioneth was assessed at 4 oxen, 6 cows and 20 sheep - certainly surplus and a potential cash crop. This he says is "fairly typical in size, and throughout Britain there were many thousands of these modest flocks, an enormous number taken together. The scale of peasant sheep keeping can be appreciated from the total of 46,382 sacks of wool exported from English ports in 1304 - 5, the peak year". I am unsure how this total illustrates the proportion of small 'peasant' flocks to those of larger "lords" but it does seem to confirm that this would be regarded as a yearly cash crop.


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Brother Ranulf
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Re: domestic woollen cloth manufacture

Postby Brother Ranulf » Tue Dec 31, 2013 2:22 pm

Weaving was under the control of guilds in England from as early as the 1130s. These guilds were centred mainly in large urban areas and one of the rights granted to them under Henry II was complete supervision of their craft - they were effectively granted a monopoly in the same way that the king's millers took "cottage milling" out of the hands of individuals in their own homes.

On a purely practical basis few people would have been able to find room for a frame-loom on the off-chance of producing occasional homespun textiles. Much simpler to sell on any surplus wool and spend the cash on cheap, hard-wearing and widely-available burel.


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Re: domestic woollen cloth manufacture

Postby Merlon. » Tue Dec 31, 2013 2:43 pm

Sheep are often described as a beast looking for a new way to kill itself. Would a family own a family sheep.
I am aware that cows could be hired for the summer but I do not know if that practice extended to other animals.
As Brother Ranulf has indicated on other threads, most people lived in grinding levels of poverty which we cannot comprehend. Would a family actually have the spare money to purchase a beast, that would be very much status related.
Below is an extract showing the average costs of beasts in the mid 14th century.
Image



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moosiemoosiegander
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Re: domestic woollen cloth manufacture

Postby moosiemoosiegander » Fri Jan 03, 2014 1:46 pm

Sheep were also kept for milking as well as wool and meat as I recall, as a sheep produces a far more manageable amount of milk than a cow (even a medieval one whose milk yields were significantly lower than modern dairy cattle) and they can graze on relatively poor and/or inacessible land and require nowhere near the amount of feeding that cattle do. There is a nice piece written about it in All Things Medieval: An Encyclopedia of the Medieval World.

I think that the main question is not 'were sheep kept domestically?' I think that is a given. The main question seems to be 'Was the wool from the sheep processed domestically or was it entirely a commercial venture? ie Was the fleece sold on after shearing or combing or would it have been processed at home on a small scale?

Now that's a question I have no idea how to start answering!


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Alan E
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Re: domestic woollen cloth manufacture

Postby Alan E » Fri Jan 03, 2014 5:04 pm

That's sort of the line of thought I was trying to develop above. If Christopher Dyer is correct that at the end C13 English estates were still making 50 - 60% of their income from rents and if that person in Merioneth with 4 oxen, 6 cows and 20 sheep is indeed as he says "fairly typical in size" then his statement that "The scale of peasant sheep keeping can be appreciated from the total of 46,382 sacks of wool exported from English ports in 1304 - 5, the peak year" may be worth investigating? Would figures for yearly sacks produced by the large estates (i.e. those whose records may survive) subtracted from the yearly totals indicate the scale of "peasant" produced wool?

If the large estates only produced 40 - 50% of the wool exported then the rest must have originated in smaller household holdings (perhaps transmitted into the trade via rents)?


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jagusia
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Re: domestic woollen cloth manufacture

Postby jagusia » Wed Mar 12, 2014 1:53 am

From what I know it was a common practice in remote rural areas to clean and spin at home wool from sheep kept in smaller farmsteads. This was done by women usually in winter. Then the spun yarn was sold creating an extra income or taken to a local weaver who produced fabric for a charge. I can't recall though where I found this information. I could try and look in my books...



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Re: domestic woollen cloth manufacture

Postby tanyabentham » Wed May 21, 2014 7:23 pm

I'd second the thing about spinning, a drop spindle is cheap even if you can't afford a great wheel, and the drop has the advantage of being portable, easily combined with herding animals etc. google the knitting genealogist, who recently wrote and article on her blog about the quality of wool bought in from home spinners. It was an important income source for women as one of the few respectable revenue sources, dont forget that an unmarried woman is still called spinster




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