Homespun Linen -V- Homespun Wool

Making, Pictures, Queries, Resources

Moderator: Moderators

Post Reply
User avatar
Posts: 146
Joined: Tue Jul 19, 2005 2:34 pm
Location: Dublin, Ireland

Homespun Linen -V- Homespun Wool

Post by Wiblick »

Dear all

can anyone comment on the relative ease with which wool would have been produced at home compared to linen - timeline 400 - 1400. I'm getting the impression that wool would have been easier to produce at home but can anyone point me in the direction of books or websites to prove this.

I realise that both processes were labour intensive but I think wool was easier?

I'm thinking a small farmstead, maybe something along the lines of the one from Tales from the Green Valley, but an earlier time period.

Hmmm how many sheep would a regular farming family have owned, in a self-sustaining farm rather than one regularly selling much surplus.

Absolute Wizard
Posts: 2349
Joined: Sun Aug 14, 2005 8:54 pm
Location: Polmont-Edinburgh

Post by guthrie »

I think the wool would have been easier. With linen you have to rot it first, and break the outer shell up, and then get the fibres out, whereas with wool, I suppose you had to card it, but that could have been done more easily sitting around at home. (No insult to hard working housewives intended)

User avatar
Posts: 146
Joined: Tue Jul 19, 2005 2:34 pm
Location: Dublin, Ireland

Post by Wiblick »

see that was my opinion too... wool as a far more viable cottage industry. I'm just trying to get some hard facts so as I convince someone that yes while wool was labour intensive linen was even more so and that resources would have be diverted to produce the same amount of cloth in a year. And in a small self-sufficient level farm that wouldn't be practical.

oh when were carding combs invented?

Post Centurion
Posts: 624
Joined: Mon Aug 15, 2005 1:11 pm
Location: NW England

Post by m300572 »

Linen was produced on a fairly large scale in some parts of the country where sheep may seem to be a more viable option - the Ribble Valley has an area earthworks from retting ponds which are probably medieval - cover a big area and would have held a lot of flax if they were filled up. Linen was also a cottage industry in the NW, untill replaced by cotton in the 18th century (you can tell linen weavers cottages from wool weavers as the linen weavers have basement loomshops - linen and later cotton works best in a slightly damp atmosphere, wool has natural oil to keep it flexible. Its also possible that flax fibre was used for rope and heavy use cloth like sailcloth as its a lot stronger than wool for these uses (likewise hemp was required to be grown by law).

Carding is always said to have been done with teasels - not sure how well it works - wool combs are known from Viking contexts at least and there may have been Roman ones - combed wool yarn gives you a worsted type cloth.

User avatar
Posts: 158
Joined: Thu Aug 04, 2005 6:21 pm

Post by Vicky »

m300572 wrote:Carding is always said to have been done with teasels - not sure how well it works
That's interesting. I've always thought that the teasels were used to raise the nap on woven cloth as part of the finishing process rather than for carding the unspun wool. Hmmn, I'll have to look into that.

User avatar
Posts: 207
Joined: Mon Jul 18, 2005 8:40 am
Location: Cambridgeshire

Post by PaulMurphy »

Two books with short sections of relevance (which I admit to not having read!):

Higham, M.C. 1989b Some evidence for 12th and 13th century linen and woollen textile processing. Medieval Archaeology 33, 38-52.

Higham, M.C. 1998. The organisation and production of textiles in north-west England in the medieval period. In E. Roberts (ed.) A History of Linen in the North West, 1-21. Lancaster University Centre for North West Regional Studies.

See also:

I would guess that both were produced in farmsteads for local use, and that any excess would be sold locally.

The process of preparing the linen fibres for spinning is complex, but not technically difficult, so the only problem is in having a pit to rett the fibres for 3-5 days, or of having field space to lay them out for 4-6 weeks. On a small farmstead, harvesting the flax and laying it out as soon as the fields were clear of their crop would make sense, so that thread production would have gone on from late autumn into winter, and then weaving could be done over the winter when little else was happening. Use of pits may therefore have been a later, more industrialised, approach.

Wool on the other hand was sheared in spring, when lambing was over, so probably around May. There are many other things to be done from May onwards, so it wouldn't surprise me if some of the wool was sold immediately and the local requirement stored until the autumn when there was more time to deal with it.

Paul Murphy
Tournée & The Vikings

User avatar
Posts: 58
Joined: Tue Sep 27, 2005 11:03 pm
Location: London

Post by nutmeg_bec »

There's a lovely carding brush in Brecon museum made from about 16 teasels held together with small battens, I believe it's 19thC. Maybe their use continued later than the medieval period since they're a virtually free option compared to a "modern" metal/wool brush?

User avatar
Posts: 10
Joined: Thu Jul 28, 2005 10:51 am
Location: north essex

Post by Spinit »

Sorry to dispel illusions as to using teasels to card.Look at and feel a teasel,get some fleece and feel it.Teasels have hooks,which make it virtually impossible to use them for carding.Secondly they are simply not strong enough to card wool.Steel pins set into cloth and glued onto wooden bats with handles ,hence called carders were and still are used.previous to this wool would be pulled through wool combs.similar to retting combs for flax,usually done to prepare the long wools which couldn't be carded anyway,with any ease.Previously to that wool would probably be teased by hand and pulled prior to spinning to make a fine worsted thread ready for weaving.Teasels were used to raise the nap on a fabric and were set in a frame to do this.I think this is where the confusion has arisen because the square frame looks like cards. When talking to children in the woolshed at KW ,they often ask how much wool we would spin in a day and the answer we give is at least a pound weight of wool per week if we were spinning for a clothier.We have a most knowledgable lady in the woolshed who has done a great deal of research,namely Ruth Gilbert and we pick her brain continually as to answers and where to find them for ourselves.

Posts: 243
Joined: Tue Jan 24, 2006 10:00 pm
Location: deepest Staffordshire

Post by kate/bob »

there's a picture in the Luttrel (SP?) psalter with a woman carding wool with combs very similar to those sold by the Mulberry Dyer - they're expensive so I checked it out first!

Ellen Gethin
Posts: 96
Joined: Fri Apr 21, 2006 11:03 pm
Location: Hay-on-Wye, town of books

Post by Ellen Gethin »

Thanks for the information, spinit - I'd picked up from various reading that teasels were used for carding, but it does make more sense for them to be used to raise the nap. I believe they're still used for this purpose for making the green baize for snooker tables (according to Richard Mabey, anyway).
"Take wrong turns, talk to strangers, open unmarked doors. And if you see a group of people in a field, go find out what they're doing."
JimmyB27, absolutewrite

Post Reply