Friday, May 2, 2008

Homespun Cloth ~ Fabric With A Past

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Hand loomed homespun fabrics most generally refers to plain white linen. Linen grown from flax, harvested, spun into thread and then woven into cloth. Bleached white by repeat wetting and drying in the sun. Although it was not uncommon for dyes to be made from roots or plants to add color to the thread. Most common color combination was blue and white.

In rural America homespun cloth was used for household linens including bedding as well as making of sturdy clothing. The time span of these fabrics were from the 18th century to the early 1900's.

With the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 the spinning of cotton became less labor intensive and by the early 1800's factory spun cotton became readily available. By the mid century it was more difficult for hand weavers to compete as factory made goods were cheaper to produce.

I have often been asked how does one tell if a piece is hand woven? Hand woven cloth generally has a more irregular edge than factory woven cloth. Colored factory woven pieces more often than not will have loose threads at the selvage, from the color change, but will still have a straight edge. I have also read factory made fabrics from the mid 19th century were 30" wide while late 1800's / early 1900's fabrics most generally are 24" to 27" wide. Hand loom cloth might be 39 " to 40" wide or up to 80" wide . This wider width more than likely attributed to a mechanical shuttle throwers on a loom. Most generally I have found homespun bedding center seamed with each width of cloth about 39" wide.

A linen homespun towel with hand fringe. Notice the irregular selvage edge.

A cotton red and white checked factory homespun fabric from the late Victorian / early 1900's. The selvage edge is straight and does show some loose threads at the edge of the color change.

All factory homespun cotton fabrics in blue and white. Notice the variation of the checks and coloring of the fabrics. All date late Victorian or early 1900's.

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Kaari Marie said...

Thanks for a great post on early homespun - very informative!

The Gatherings said...

You are most welcome! Thank you for taking the time to write to tell me. It is much appreciated.