Cotton in period

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Ariarnia
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Cotton in period

Postby Ariarnia » Tue Feb 05, 2008 6:19 pm

I must admit, I've been increasingly intrigued by the reenactor's opinion of cotton- with the simple response from most groups ''they didn't have it.''
As a 12th century reenactor, I can only speak within the 12th century; but seeing as cotton is an Arabic commodity in period, and the crusader states constantly import back to europe via Italy and Sicily, surely it would be as rare as silk, but still present?
The fact it appears in Hospitaller assizes as of the early 13th century, is there any REAL period evidence universally against cotton?



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Wiblick
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Postby Wiblick » Tue Feb 05, 2008 7:29 pm

I'll let someone more knowledgeable give you the definitive answer but as far as I know 'cotton' was also a way of finishing cloth and may not refer to cotton as we know it in the assizes.

I would imagine it was rarer than silk.



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Postby Brother Ranulf » Tue Feb 05, 2008 7:34 pm

Cotton turns up in Alexander Neckham's description (circa 1180) of the costume of a knight, being listed as one of the options for shirt material (the line reads: "A shirt of muslin, silk, or cotton, or linen . . .".)

King John is recorded as importing huge quantities of cotton specifically for use "at table" (presumably as expensive tablecloths); several late 12th century materials may be of mixed cotton/linen fibres.

The idea that "they didn't have cotton" is unsupportable, but who actually had it is really the point - if you were a miller, a shepherd or a cesspit operative, then the chances that you even knew what cotton was would be remote; as a wealthy landowner, or a royal official of some sort, I imagine it would be a requirement of the position (like keeping stables, green wellies and a 4x4 today).
Last edited by Brother Ranulf on Tue Feb 05, 2008 7:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.


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Ariarnia
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Postby Ariarnia » Tue Feb 05, 2008 7:47 pm

So you would say it should be available for the higher social classes, household knights upwards?

I was only asking on the basis that many groups, the Middlewhich regs as an onsite example, allow silk but not cotton in the 12th century.

This seems a fairly prevalent attitude amongst re-enactment. It also seems a little odd, to me at least. Given that they follow the same kind of trade routes.



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Brother Ranulf
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Postby Brother Ranulf » Tue Feb 05, 2008 8:00 pm

Good point about trade routes - it prompted me to look up my battered copy of "Medieval Trade Routes" by the Historical Association. A pertinent section reads:

"The Venetian connection with Egypt dates from the ninth century; Egypt was at the end of three ancient trade routes from the east. The Crusaders' territories in Syria lay athwart the great trade routes of the Near East."

The same routes which provided silks and spices could very easily have provided cotton, subject to the political relationship with Egypt at the time.

But yes, only available at extreme cost to the higher social classes.

EDIT - I forgot to mention that so much cotton was being produced in Spain by the 12th century they they were exporting it to North Africa (coals to Newcastle??)


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Postby Ariarnia » Tue Feb 05, 2008 8:23 pm

So if it could/did exist why do so many groups say no cotton flat?



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Postby Brother Ranulf » Tue Feb 05, 2008 8:48 pm

I can't comment on why people hold particular beliefs - one very odd case in the 12th century group I'm with might illustrate the point. It was declared when I joined that the length of a person's excess belt (the bit hanging down the front) indicated his relative status.

Later, as I got into researching the period, this didn't match the evidence so I asked where it came from; "someone told me" was the reply.

Believing a thing to be true simply on the basis that someone else said it is must surely come under the heading of "gullible"; much of what is passed on as received wisdom within groups is sadly lacking in research and evidence, but is held as being true.


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Postby Ariarnia » Tue Feb 05, 2008 9:06 pm

I'm glad there's someone else who has a similar system to my group; the BSU. Dan Wick, the head of the group, keeps quoting some books published on the import of cotton from Jerusalem; and has been quite vehement at some events... just wondering how deep this went.
Ta.



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Postby Karen Larsdatter » Tue Feb 05, 2008 10:14 pm

Maybe it's not so much about discouraging cotton, but encouraging linen & wool as historically accurate garment fabrics more widely represented in the medieval context?

Here in the U.S., at least, cotton is far less expensive and easier to find in fabric stores than linen or wool; most of the medieval types of silk fabric are vanishingly rare except for a few websites. But for most of the Middle Ages, cotton garments would be more unusual (depending on the time period and country under discussion).

You can find more links to resources on medieval cotton textiles (and the cotton textile trade) at http://moas.atlantia.sca.org/wsnlinks/i ... &catid=573 -- and also check out the burial-clothing of Doña María (her tunic was cotton).
Last edited by Karen Larsdatter on Wed Feb 06, 2008 6:26 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Postby Simon_Diment » Tue Feb 05, 2008 10:14 pm

Why the determined stance for cotton when evidence leads us to believe it would be the realm of the rich at the earliest period of importing it into the UK?

You are far safer with linens or wool which may be bought at more than reasonable prices from traders such as Herts Fabrics and Bernie the Bolt. Anwar is very knowledgeable and will give you good advice on the suitability of cloth and colour if you tell him which period you re-enact and at what rank.

You're lucky, although you belong to a very new re-enactment society and it's a struggle to start out from scratch there are some very knowledgeable people out there you can pick the brains of :)

As far as Middlewich and the requirements are concerned the organising group can stipulate what they want - it's their party and you have to play by their rules.

Thankfully the hordes of charity blanket tunic and cotton undertunic wearers are mostly a horrible memory from the eighties and nineties
:roll:

We have moved on haven't we? Please say we have :? :D


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Postby Ariarnia » Tue Feb 05, 2008 10:34 pm

Simon_Diment wrote: realm of the rich


*shrug* I'm the sister of the Earl of Chester and the wife of the Royal Castellan of Ludlow/Lord of the Marches (period and show dependant) . I have a cotton underdress.

As far as Middlewich and the requirements are concerned the organising group can stipulate what they want - it's their party and you have to play by their rules.


I know. I was just using them as an example of a group that says no to cotton but ok with silk.
I find the stance confusing and they are a convenient example.

Thankfully the hordes of charity blanket tunic and cotton undertunic wearers are mostly a horrible memory from the eighties and nineties
:roll:


I think I missed this one, care to elaborate?



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Postby Brother Ranulf » Tue Feb 05, 2008 10:42 pm

Karen is quite right, of course, as groups we should really be trying to reflect the norm rather than the unusual - not just in materials and other kit, but in terms of social classes. But that is not the same thing as "they did not have . . ."

The population of England in the 12th century was predominantly non-noble (estimates vary but it was more than 80 per cent). I believe that groups tend to be extremely top-heavy with knights and ladies (probably because the clothes look better) and the lower orders are consequently grossly under-represented, giving a false impression of the times (rant off, it's a bugbear of mine :roll: )


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Postby Simon_Diment » Tue Feb 05, 2008 10:57 pm

*shrug* I'm the sister of the Earl of Chester and the wife of the Royal Castellan of Ludlow/Lord of the Marches (period and show dependant) . I have a cotton underdress.


I have a silk undertunic for my very posh kit ( court costume ), otherwise it's linen for me. Rank is based on experience and supporting kit not assumed social standing.

I know. I was just using them as an example of a group that says no to cotton but ok with silk.
I find the stance confusing and they are a convenient example.


Cotton was not a widely available resource as previously mentioned, in Conquest, as far as I am aware, silk is restricted in usage, medium ranks may have some edging while those more senior may have silk items.

Quote:
Thankfully the hordes of charity blanket tunic and cotton undertunic wearers are mostly a horrible memory from the eighties and nineties
Rolling Eyes


I think I missed this one, care to elaborate?


Charity shops were the only source of cheap wool before the markets were established and more publicised, the more enterprising re-enactors dyed the fabric rather than wear it au naturelle. Off white tunics were very widespread for far too long in conjunction with really nasty cotton pieces of kit in completely unnatural colours ( guilty on the last charge m'lud ).

But on the other hand further research and new evidence is always welcome if it increases our knowledge, documents and the scant physical evidence is always tantalising :D


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Postby ViscontesseD'Asbeau » Tue Feb 05, 2008 11:11 pm

'Cotton' seems to be the name for a type of low grade woolen fabric, finished in a certain way. So even references to 'cotton' you can find may not be referring to cotton as we understand it.

In the medieval period there are references to it being used possibly as packing, padding or stuffing, rather than routinely processed into fibre, then cloth. Anyone who's seen raw cotton will understand why that is possibly the case!

It's entirely possible to spin it on the available wheels/handspindles, from the 12thC onwards... but 'new' fibres seem to have been regarded with a lot of suspicion and something used just as filling is unlikely to have appealed - especially given how fiddly and demanding it is to spin and although similar to linen, on the surface, being a vegetable fibre the technique of spinning it is entirely different to the way you spin flax.

Years ago, we routinely used undyed calico to line things simply because it was the nearest approximation we could get to linen but there's no longer any excuse for it as linen is readily available!



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Postby Heloise » Tue Feb 05, 2008 11:26 pm

Maybe it's not so much about discouraging cotton, but encouraging linen & wool as historically accurate garment fabrics more widely represented in the medieval context?


I think this is it really - why go for things that have little evidence in terms of use in clothing (leaving aside table linens and stuffing) when you can have lovely fine linen, for example (if you conveniently portray someone rich), for which there is reasonable evidence? What's the point? We can't all be rich people - as Brother Ranulph says, lower orders tend to get under represented as everyone wants flash kit. And also, surely we shouldn't use supposition as a basis for kit? (I'm not going down this argument, it's been done to death on this forum! :lol: )

As far as I'm aware Conquest have not said no to cotton existing, just no to the use of cotton in a context that is lacking in evidence. But I'm sure someone can correct me on that :D



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Postby Jack the dodgy builder » Tue Feb 05, 2008 11:52 pm

I am`going to throw in a wobbler here , Whilst in northern Italy last year . Went to a museum as you do lots about growing cotton and making cotton fabric from 1100 on wards .My friend translated a bit that seemed to say that cotton was so common for all, that the posh folks wore linen as it was not common and had to be imported!!. which makes alot of sense to me. So if youve got the cash

I wrote down the title of a book/ journal ?? as it was the only reference in english . The Italian cotton industry in the late middle ages 1100-1600 by maureen Fennell Mazzaoui.

Probably just muddies the water but !

Jack



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Postby GuyofBurgundy » Wed Feb 06, 2008 12:44 am

This is pretty much the thrust of the argument as per our group (The BSU); I fully acknowledge cotton should not be everywhere (as, when you allow it, it INEVITABLY is; I'm actually in the process of extremely rarefying it), but in countries known to trade with Medieval England, cotton is extremely common. I understand the arguments against, and the assumption that it is incredibly upper-class, but that does somewhat lay it alongside silk; coming from similar areas, through similar traderoutes, and being similarly 'foreign'.
But alongside the idea of cotton being rare runs the argument that ALL 12th century groups are somewhat top-heavy; more knights than one can easily shake a stick at, and few cottars and vileins standing nearby. Therefore is it so arguable that a supposedly rare, rich item should be used by groups who are, on the whole, incredibly rich by their portrayal?

I'd just like to reiterate, I'm not arguing ''cotton for all!'' simply... when knights and proffesional soldiers (especially mercenaries) were relatively well-traveled, (crusades, anyone?) why is it assumed that eastern commodities would be so very rare? Cotton in England was relatively rare, not so much through lack of access but according to (http://des.kyhm.com/cotton) more as a reaction by the local wool industry to competition.

I do think the idea that linen is 'more period' than cotton, (when it can be proved it was available and present) to an upper-class knight/member of the lower gentry is just a little suspect; and more a backlash to the omnipresence of cotton in the 80's/90's.

Oh, and in reference to the group; the BSU is five years old, and has roughly 120 members. It isn't as green as one would suppose.
Also, the person posting has attained her rank through kit and through the position of her spouse within the group; as I run and founded the group I am an Earl; I don't think this is too much of a self-aggrandisement; the ranks in the BSU represent someone's standing within the group structure through kit, experience, effort and actual organisational standing.



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Postby Wiblick » Wed Feb 06, 2008 10:55 am

http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/econom ... zzaoui.pdf

I'll still stick to advising my group who portray Viking Age and 15thC to steer clear of cotton, as none of us portray nobility and blends are a little beyond them. If I tell them to stick to linen & wool with some silk trim we won't go too far wrong



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Heloise
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Postby Heloise » Wed Feb 06, 2008 11:10 am

Cotton in England was relatively rare, not so much through lack of access but according to (http://des.kyhm.com/cotton) more as a reaction by the local wool industry to competition.


Assuming we take a secondary source such as this to be ok(!), I think the relevant bit of the article quoted above is:

Cotton was first "officially" introduced to Europe after the First crusade. Italy was the first Christian nation to understand the significance of cotton, and began marketing it from the 12th century onwards. As a luxury fabric, Germany's earliest record of cotton products was in 1282 as overland transportation from Venice. France began to demand cotton after it appeared at the Champagne Fairs, the first record of sale was from 1376. From those fairs, it spread to England, but in such small quantities, that it was not well known until after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, and English merchant ships reached the Levant. And even then, it was heavily opposed by the wool guilds and traders until cotton overtook wool in popularity in the mid 18th century.


I'd still like to see primary evidence for it being used as commonly as you say in England in the 12th century? It'd certainly expand the fabric buying fun if there was! :lol:



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Postby Nigel » Wed Feb 06, 2008 12:09 pm

Ok a few arguements from a learned person whom i agree with

Coton has been banned/ discouraged for a couple of reasons.

1. The use of it is restricted to the very upper classes and re-enactors are
APPALLING at getting the upper echelons of society right. They struggle withthe lower class a lot of the time...SO IF YOU WANT COTTON DO YOU HAVE EVERYTHIGN ELSE AND I MEAN EVERYTHIGN ELSE YOU WOULD NEED LIKE SUITABLE CLOTHING, A BIG TENT WITH ALL THAT MEANS A RETINUE ETC ETC ETC.

2. We don't know what it looked like. I doubt it was bedsheets as I have
seen some 'Templars' wearing.

Of course cotton wadding as padding/stuffing material is a different matter,as proved by helmet linings in many collections, also turns up as materialsfor wicks. You can get this easily on holiday to the med area past Italy sobring some back, stick it in your sallet and feel smug.

So in short Go with what's usual rather than unusual.


There’s a country in Europe where they treat their ex soldiers with pride no waits for medical treatment after injuries received during service, no amensia from the government. Cant for the life of me recall where it is but I know exactly where it is not.

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Postby Medicus Matt » Wed Feb 06, 2008 12:47 pm

Just to chuck something else into the discussion.

Why would you bother paying the high price for imported cotton if linen and fine wools were available. Was there something about it that made it a more desirable fabric and therefore worth the expense (as you would with silk).

I certainly can't think of any reason why you would use an expensive imported fabric for under garments that weren't going to be seen or for something that was going to be worn on the battlefield.

As it's been cultivated for thousands of years, starting in India and then working it's way through the classical and early medieval world I don't think that there's any doubt that it COULD be available but I think you really need to consider WHY you'd use it.

Wanting to use it as a re-enactor because it's more readily available than decent linen isn't a good enough reason.


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Postby GuyofBurgundy » Wed Feb 06, 2008 1:34 pm

''Why pay the high price for cotton when wool or linen was available?"
... and why bother with purple dyes, which were so expensive, when light yellows were easily procured? This is somewhat of a specious argument, seeing as it is universally accepted that displays of wealth were A) common and B) sought after. As for the 'second hand' source; it does state its sources quite clearly. Italy has a lively 12th century history of its own cotton trade.

''...wanting to use it because it is more readily available''.
Well, not really. All the cotton on my kit is wide-weave and relatively rough (in some cases mixed with and indistinguishable from linen); which is actually more expensive than linen by the metre. It was bought and is worn as a sign of rank; and of a portrayal of a relatively well-travelled 12th century man (Southern France--->Italy--->Jerusalem--->England, basically a crusade and back). It completely fits the persona, and was available to buy in large quantities in the two countries in the middle of that list.
I am still completely against poly-cotton bedsheet affairs; these look awful and there's nothing that can suport them.

I understand (in response to Nigel) the struggle in trying to manage the best kit to the ranks; some items get banned because when present, the system is used and abused (and there's rank and looting arguments aplenty for otherwise non-justifiable kit!) and I even completely suppport the ''our show; our rules'' attitude; I'm not trying to argue for wearing cotton in another group; just wondering why this is so heavily resisted by all and still a point of general ignorance. The responses range from ''it was unavailable'' to ''it wasn't worn''. The argument that ''cotton'' mentioned in assizes is not cotton can be countered by the fact that cotton was incorrectly identified by early Medieval people as a form of wool... therefore who says it would not be referred to as such in documents? It muddies the water somewhat.

And the final reason; as to ''why?''... display of rank generally requires little justification. Seeing as it has been agreed that it would be present, but expensive, and imported... well, again, we're back to the silk argument, surely?



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Postby GuyofBurgundy » Wed Feb 06, 2008 1:37 pm

Oh, and I missed a point; sorry.
''SO IF YOU WANT COTTON DO YOU HAVE EVERYTHIGN ELSE AND I MEAN EVERYTHIGN ELSE YOU WOULD NEED LIKE SUITABLE CLOTHING, A BIG TENT WITH ALL THAT MEANS A RETINUE ETC ETC ETC''
:)
That is why in the BSU it is now a limited item to heads of groups; meaning people with retinues, and tents.
Again; I'm not trying to say; ''Cotton for ALL!"
Simply...
''Surely its not actually inauthentic, simply rare as hell.''



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Postby Medicus Matt » Wed Feb 06, 2008 1:41 pm

GuyofBurgundy wrote:''Why pay the high price for cotton when wool or linen was available?"
... and why bother with purple dyes?


Because it's a blatant and obvious symbol of status and it looks nice and feels nice to wear.

That's the whole point of what I said. Was there anything in it's texture or appearance that made cotton preferable to linen, either as a status stymbol or in terms of comfort?
It's not a specious arguement at all. That a garment is made from silk or is dyed with the dust from a thousand ground-up milk fed baby seals is glaringly obvious and therefore it's understandable that people would go to the expense of having garments made from such stuff. Can the same be said of cotton of the period?
I don't know as I'm unfamiliar with medieval cotton, my experience of it is restricted to the cotton coptic tunics of Egypt.



BSU? Sorry, not familiar with the group. What's your core period?
Last edited by Medicus Matt on Thu Feb 07, 2008 1:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.


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Postby GuyofBurgundy » Wed Feb 06, 2008 1:44 pm

It depends highly on the weave of the cotton; normally it hangs better, has a finer finish, and takes dye better (and therefore dyes deeper).


The core period is 1099-1215; mainly focusing on 1135-1215.


And as stated above; as a symbol of rank, King John had tablecloths imported in cotton; I doubt he did it unless it 'said something'- otherwise it was just another expensive folly.

EDIT: http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/econom ... zzaoui.pdf

This does contain explanation that it was recognised as a high-status cloth initially in Italy; and was prized for its diverse nature and durability. Its a fairly good academic text on the Italian cotton industry of the 12th century.
Last edited by GuyofBurgundy on Wed Feb 06, 2008 1:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Ariarnia
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Postby Ariarnia » Wed Feb 06, 2008 1:49 pm

EDIT: Nevermind.



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Postby Simon_Diment » Wed Feb 06, 2008 1:59 pm

Ariarnia Posted: Tue Feb 05, 2008 9:34 pm Post subject:

*shrug* I'm the sister of the Earl of Chester and the wife of the Royal Castellan of Ludlow/Lord of the Marches (period and show dependant) . I have a cotton underdress.



GuyofBurgundy Posted: Wed Feb 06, 2008 12:34 pm Post subject:

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

and of a portrayal of a relatively well-travelled 12th century man (Southern France--->Italy--->Jerusalem--->England, basically a crusade and back). It completely fits the persona, and was available to buy in large quantities in the two countries in the middle of that list.



Out of pure interest are you part of the SCA in the UK? Just asking as I have friends based up north who play with them occasionally who also have character backgrounds. It's not something that we tend to see much of in mainstream re-enactment unless portraying a specific role from a historical scenario, take Kentwell for example.


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Postby Medicus Matt » Wed Feb 06, 2008 2:00 pm

GuyofBurgundy wrote:
I doubt he did it unless it 'said something'- otherwise it was just another expensive folly.


And we all know how sensible he was with his cash. Probably signed off on the invoice for cotton tablecloths and never even noticed that he was eating on woolen ones and that his steward had a nice new horse. :wink:

Seriously though, given that 'cotton' was a commonly used term in England for a type of wool weave, it's rather difficult to establish that the cloths were actually cotton as we now know it.

Just seems like a case of having decided on the desired result and then finding 'evidence' to back it up.

Not the way I do things but it's your group. Each to their own.


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Postby GuyofBurgundy » Wed Feb 06, 2008 2:04 pm

Nope; nothing to do with the SCA (trying not to take any exception to it...)
Most people have at least a simple backdrop to their life for a mix of school visit reasons (storytime for the kids, where you explain your persona, stressing you're not a specific historical figure, but instead trying to portray the medieval life of your rank) it rarely comes up, truth to tell, but is something we did in my Regia group (Otringemelr), and it stuck with me as a good idea to have a basic back-grounding. Some members have intertwined genealogy to explain just how close the nobility was related (and in some cases, how far apart).
It's the reason we don't go above Earl; seeking to bury the anachronisms in the lower-ranks (the Earldom of Chester was regularly empty; hence my siezing on it, rather than any other).
Most back-stories comprise;
''I am a local cottar. I was born here; I live here. When I'm smacked alongside the head I fight for the local lord. Aside from that..."



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Postby Merlon. » Wed Feb 06, 2008 2:08 pm

In the 17th century the phrase "Good Welsh cotton" is used to refer to woollen cloth used for the manufacture of stocking. So it is not just a question of mistaking cotton for wool by the people at the time concerned. But whether reenactors can be certain that the reference to cotton that they see in records is actually cotton -plant fibre rather than cotton -finished wool.
Also thereis justification in groups restricting cloth in use. In 17th century we have blue fustion from Genoa the twill pattern of which is periliously close to blue denim, we don't let people use it because it would open the flood gates to bad interpretation




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