Nettlecloth in Scotland

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Nettlecloth in Scotland

Postby Tod » Wed Jun 18, 2008 1:15 pm

One of my group is researching the use and manufacture of nettle cloth/nettlecloth in Scotland in the mid 18th century.
There is nothing about it in any of my books, or at least the ones I can get to :roll:
It seems to also have been known as Scotch cloth and faded out of use at the end of the 17th century. Both terms seemed to have used for cloth that was also made from flax (linen) as well as nettles. The latter being what he is researching. Any help would be appriciated as at the moment it seems to me to be an out dated textile for the 18th century.

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Postby Brother Ranulf » Wed Jun 18, 2008 2:30 pm

"it seems to me to be an out dated textile for the 18th century".

Hardly - it features as a source of fibre for French cloth in Les Miserables; the German economy in WW1 was so deficient in cloth that nettle fibre was used for millions of uniform shirts; apparently moves were made in Paris fashion houses to create women's haute couture of nettle fibre cloth in the 1990s (not sure how effective this was!).

Otherwise - I can't help, sorry! :roll:

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Postby Vermin » Wed Jun 18, 2008 4:17 pm

As an aside - it may stage a come back ... 425980.stm

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Postby Tod » Wed Jun 18, 2008 4:54 pm

I found the stuff on the web and the bit about WW I Germans. But as far as I could find out by primary source is was in decline by about 1680ish.
I can find no records of it being manufactured in bulk, but there are planty of references to it being replaced by either silk or flax linen.

I've done a huge amount of research into mid 18th century Scotland and have never come across any references to nettle cloth, but plenty for line and even cotton. However I'm interested and said I would look into it.

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Postby Shadowcat » Wed Jun 18, 2008 6:49 pm

There is a "Regency" gown in the collection of the National museum in Copenhagen which purports to be made of nettlecloth, but a Danish friend tells me that it is actually another word for fine linen. Although I imagine it could actually be near enough the same thing?


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Postby Attilla the Bun » Wed Jun 18, 2008 9:21 pm

Treated with lye, it can be incredibly fine and silky.

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Postby Phil the Grips » Thu Jun 19, 2008 12:14 am

I've always known nettle fibre as "ramie" when made suitable for spinning and processed in the same way as flax is to make linen.

That may help with search for modern papers that use the term.

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Postby Merlon. » Thu Jun 19, 2008 8:21 am

Have just checked through JSTOR there are a couple of references to nettle cloth but nothing specific to Scotland. Would there be any refs in Spufford's books?
The OED definition of Scotch cloth has no references after 1738 which ties in with your thoughts on it dying out in the 18th century.
The definition of nettle cloth has a interesting point on the German nettle cloth from WWI

Scotch cloth
A textile fabric resembling lawn, but cheaper; said to have been made of nettle fibre.

1675 GREW Anat. Plants, Trunks (1682) 139 Hemp, is nothing else but the Sap-Vessels of the Barque of the Plant so called. And Scotch-Cloath, is only the Housewifery of the same Parts of the Barque of Nettle. 1696 J. F. Merch. Wareho. laid open 37 Scotch a sort of white Sleasie Soft-Cloth,..and since Callico hath been dear, is much used for Linnens for Beds and for Window Curtains. a1704 T. BROWN Dial. Dead, Reas. Oaths Wks. 1711 IV. 76 A Physician turn'd a Zealous Expounder of the Bible; or a Sworn Friend of Scotch-Cloth, reconciled to Lawn-Sleeves. 1738 Gentl. Mag. VIII. 147/1 A high which a brawny Priest officiated in a Habit of Scotch Cloth.
attrib. 1705 HICKERINGILL Priest-cr. (1721) I. 54 Because this is a Prying Age, and Scholarship and Craft is not now..confin'd to a Cassock, or Scotch-cloth Sleeves.

1. Cloth made of nettle fibres. Also: cotton cloth, calico. Obs.

1539 Will of Elyn Carleton (P.R.O.: PROB. 11/28 ) f. 23v, My best rayle of Nettyll cloth. 1588 T. HICKOCK tr. C. Federici Voy. & Trauaile f. 22, Cloth of hearbes, which is a kinde of Silke which groweth amongst the woods without any labour of man. margin This cloth we call Nettle cloth. 1598 J. FLORIO Worlde of Wordes, A kinde of cloth we call calico or nettle cloth, or the rootes to make it. 1626 BACON Sylva Sylvarum §614 Nettles, (whereof they make Nettle-Cloth).

2. spec. A coarse cotton cloth specially finished so as to imitate leather (see quot. 1937). Now rare or hist.

1858 P. L. SIMMONDS Dict. Trade Products, Nettle-cloth, a new German material, consisting of a very thick tissued cotton, which is japanned and prepared as a substitute for leather, particularly for the peaks of caps, waistbelts, &c. 1884 Chambers's Jrnl. 8 Mar. 147/1 At Dresden, Herr F. C. Seidel has recently established a manufactory for nettle-cloth. 1919 Chambers's Jrnl. May 298/2 What used to be called ‘nettle-cloth’ is again brought on the market. 1937 Dict. Textile Terms in Textile Mercury & Argus 22 Oct. 417 Nettle cloth, A heavy cotton fabric specially finished in a lacquer or enamel to imitate leather; used for waist-belts, etc.

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Postby Tod » Thu Jun 19, 2008 8:58 am

That's what I found and some thing from the "The Plain Dealing Linen Draper".
In brief.
It was used for hundreds of years. Much of it was used for clothing, but its final use seems to be for bed sheets and table cloths. (not incl. the WWI ref.).
When linen, cotton and silk were imported in massive amounts it went out of fashion. It loks the reason being that you need alot of nettles to make a little cloth. Quality varied as did finish from rough to very fine depending on how it was processed or finished.
By the 18th century it was almost completely replaced, I can find no record of manufacture or sales etc for that century.
Most web sites seemed to rehash the same stuff, the primary sources were really difficult to find and some of them are suspect.
Any remains seem to be early medieval.

Any other info. gratefully recieved.

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Postby Mark P. » Thu Jun 19, 2008 1:06 pm

It might have ended up as a 'trade name' almost for any cheap cloth in C18th. The following is from the Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820.

An online dictionary of nearly 4,000 terms found used in documents relating to trade and retail in early modern Britain 1550 to 1820.

Quite useful for indentifying obscure old articles, ingrediants and commodities and working out if they are period correct.

Nettle cloth
A TEXTILE made of the fibres found in the stalks of the NETTLE. It was also a name given to COTTON CLOTH or CALICO. In the only examples noted in the Dictionary Archive, both in the same shop, there is no indication of which type was meant except in the valuation. The cloth was very cheap, being valued at only 3d a YARD or an ELL, so the former is more likely [Inventories (1679)].
OED online earliest date of use: 1539
Found in units of ELL, YARD
Sources: Inventories (mid-period).

Scotch cloth
[skottish cloth; scotts cloth; scotts cloath; scotts clo; scottisshe clothe; scottish cloth; scots-cloth; scotish cloath; scoth cloth; scotche clothe; scotche cloth; scotchcloth; scotchcloath; scotch clo; sco cloath; sco clo]
The usual definition given in the standard dictionaries is of 'a TEXTILE fabric resembling LAWN, but cheaper, believed to have been made originally from Nettle fibres'. It is not referred to either by Kerridge or by Montgomery, possibly because they consider that the term indicates no more than a LINEN CLOTH made in SCOTLAND. There is something to be said for this view. For example, the act of 1711 that regulated the quality and measurements of various types of SCOTCH LINEN, did not refer to scotch cloth [Acts (1711)]. The anonymous author of 'The Plain Dealing Linen Draper' seems first to suggest it was a distinctive cloth, being 'of general use, and of great consumption ... a sort of Sleasie Soft-Cloth ... of no great wear, but is fine of the price'. He further commented, 'since Callico hath been dear, [it] is much used for Linnens for Beds and for Window Curtins'. However, towards the end of the section on Scotch cloth, he used the term rather more loosely as if he was referring to Scotch linen in a general way [Anon (1696)]. The contexts of some entries in probate inventories are less than clear as to meaning, but others in the Dictionary Archive seem to indicate a distinctive cloth. For example, among a long list of specifically named linens, the appraisers of the shop of Jesse Ghevins of Newport, Isle of White placed Scotch cloth at various valuations, while John Pares of Rochdale had a number of unspecified linen cloths, followed by Scotch cloth and LAWN [Inventories (1592)]; [Inventories (1623)].
The anonymous author of 'The Plain Dealing Linen Draper' included further useful detail that elucidates some of the entries in the Dictionary archive. For example, he declared that it came in two widths; a YARD and ¾ yard, thus explaining the BROAD and the NARROW noted in the Dictionary Archive. The PIECE varied in length, with the coarsest variety being in the shortest lengths. He rather obscurely spoke of a numbering system, providing yet another example of standardisation in this period (see NEEDLE and SHOE for other examples of standardisation).
Scotch cloth attracted some of the lowest valuations noted, often being under a SHILLING. the highest noted was 2s 6d, but valuations above 20d were rare.The popularity of Scotch cloth reached its peak in the second half of the seventeenth century and thereafter became less common in the shops. This may have been that British manufacture of imitation continental linens and INDIAN cottons ousted them from favour. Houghton showed how Scotland itself was following the trend, exporting 24,000 ELL of so-called GERMANY LINEN to England in 1694. Possibly this explains why Scotch cloth was measured both by the YARD and by the ELL. A single example of Scotch cloth has been noted of the term applied to a piece of household linen and not a fabric.
OED earliest date of use: 1675
Found in units of ELL, PIECE, YARD
Sources: Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Tradecards.
References: Anon (1696).

Scotch Holland
A TEXTILE, in the form of a type of HOLLAND made in Scotland, as was much other LINEN CLOTH. Prices advertised in the eighteenth century were in the region of 2s 6d YARD. By the mid-eighteenth century, the term 'Scotch holland' was sufficiently attractive to be used in the names of shops as in the 'Scotch Holland Warehouse' [Newspapers (1741)].
Sources: Newspapers/tradecards.

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Postby Tod » Thu Jun 19, 2008 3:34 pm

Mark, that's where I found some of the stuff (good site), and I'd agree that it seemed to have becomea trade name.

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Postby guthrie » Fri Jun 20, 2008 6:01 pm

Phil the Grips wrote:I've always known nettle fibre as "ramie" when made suitable for spinning and processed in the same way as flax is to make linen.

That may help with search for modern papers that use the term.

Maybe today, however...
I have a textbook "An introduction to the study of spinning", 3rd impression 1966, although first published 1937. It describes Ramie as:
"The fibre that is known in commerce as ramie is obtained from two varieties of stingless nettle that are of common occurrence throughout eastern Asia."
It has no mention of nettle fabric, however I suspect the name "ramie" is not old enough to be of any use in this situation, due to it being used as above.

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Postby auldMotherBegg » Sat Jul 19, 2008 2:46 pm

Nettle cloth... hmmm. That makes sense out of the old fairy tale about the sister who had to spin and weave shirts out of nettle for her seven brothers who were turned into swans, doesn't it? That was something I never could understand when I was little... why nettle?


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Postby Kate Tiler » Mon Jul 21, 2008 6:26 pm

Tod - I knew I had some of this somewhere!

These good people will sell you fine silky fibre that you can spin called Ramie, or Chinese nettle fibre, just in case you want any to show people as part of a living history display.

I have a tiny amount that came from a second-hand source, it is white, fine and lovely to feel but I haven't ever tried to spin it.
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