Cloth Cloth defines us as human beings. Everyday we clothe ourselves, yet most of us do not think how it is made, where it is made or what it is made of. Wars have been fought because of cloth and the slave trade of the Americas was fuelled and sustained by growing cotton (and sugar). The Industrial Revolution, which saw the birth of modern day factories in the later part of the 18th Century, was sparked by the desire for increased production of textiles.
Making fabric by hand is very time consuming. Contrary to what BBC and Hollywood productions convey, even the wealthy had restricted wardrobes before the industrialisation of textile production. Before the invention of the Spinning Jenny in 1764, every single strand of yarn was laboriously spun by hand. The Spinning Jenny meant people could spin multiple strands of yarn at the same time. It is important to remember that cloth is made up of single strands of yarn that are massed together in both the warp and the weft. Think of how much yarn would be required to make a piece of fine linen cloth and then think of how long it would take to grow the flax, harvest it, prepare it for spinning and spin it, all before weaving the cloth. The Jacquard Loom (1804), the Flying Shuttle (1733) and the Cotton Gin (1793) are inventions directly related to improving the speed and diverseness with which textiles could be manufactured. Up until the Industrial Revolution the simple act of making textiles for clothes, bed linens and the like was so labour intensive that cloth itself was prohibitively expensive.
The history of human civilization is the history of textiles. Think of sails for sailing ships and the impact sea exploration has had on the history of humankind. The Vikings, for example, made their sales out of woven wool fabric, felted then coated with animal fat to make it water proof and wind resistant. Think of the ‘Silk Road’ and all that is associated with that! Just as there has been a growing movement in the last twenty years to make people more aware of where our food comes from, I think there needs to be more awareness about where our textiles comes from; how they are made and their impact on people and planet.
Two fabulous and accessible books on this subject are The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World’ by Virginia Postrel and ‘The Golden Thread, How Fabric Changed History’ by Kassia St Clair.
Fibres for weaving
Not all yarns are suitable for weaving - wool, linen, cotton, silk and most natural fibres are perfect for creating cloth. Below is some information on different types of yarns.
SilkSilk, a protein fibre, originates from the cocoons of silk worms. The knowledge of silk production, or sericulture, was closely guarded for thousands of years until it eventually made its way out of China and into mainland Europe and India. The most common variety of silk is from the Bombyx Mori silkworm – this is sometimes called “mulberry” silk, which refers to the leaves that make up the diet of the Bombyx worm.
To make ‘reeled’ silk, the cocoons containing the worms must be boiled or steamed so the moth does not eat its way out and break the single continuous filament that gives silk its trademark lustre and strength. Tussah silk is made from the cocoons of moths who eat leaves high in tannin like oak, which gives the fibre a golden colour and a more slubby texture. Eri silk is produced by yet another moth, but has short fuzzy lengths instead of a continuous filament, which makes Eri silk coarser and less lustrous. Spun silk is made from the cocoons of moths that have exited their cocoons, meaning the filament has been broken in many places. Spun silk does not require the moths to be killed, and has a rougher texture and lower sheen compared to reeled silk. Silk Noil is spun from the small fibres that are left behind when spinning and reeling silk. These fibres are spun together to create a highly textured, matte yarn - a great choice for people into upcycling and zero-waste.
Silk is very easy to dye because it is protein-based, which is similar to our own hair or nails. It has excellent tensile strength, lustre, drape and moisture wicking properties - though these will vary greatly depending on what type of silk it is. Silk is highly insulating, making it cool in summer and warm in winter. It also has a high resistance to deformation, making it less likely to crease with laundering and use. Care should be taken with all silk yarns and fabrics - gentle hand washing in lukewarm water with a mild detergent is recommended, as is professional dry cleaning.
LinenLinen is a strong natural fibre from the cellulose family. It is a bast fibre, meaning it comes from long fibrous strands of the stem of a plant, in this case flax. Linen is highly favoured for high strength, coolness, moisture wicking and a soft handle that only gets better with age.
Napoleon, concerned about the French linen industry, offered 1,000,000 francs to whoever could modernise flax production. Before this, all labour was done by hand as machines had not yet been invented that could process, spin and weave linen without it breaking. This is because the strength of linen makes it very inelastic. The industry joined the industrial revolution only four years after Napoleon’s offer, with the advent of wet spinning and weaving in specially-designed machines.
Traditionally, linen is harvested and then ‘retted’, either in a damp field or a water source such as a pond or stream. This process can take anywhere from 14 to 28 days. It is crucial for the lignin, which binds the bast fibres to the outer core, to be broken down enough for processing. The invention of a purpose built retting tank, inspired by the steam engine, reduced the amount of time this took from a month to a maximum of 8 days.
Linen is a versatile and sustainable fibre choice for strength, durability and longevity, whether used as warp for a rug or tapestry, loose garments, interior furnishings, bags or napkins. It can be plied together to create strong rope, braid and twine. Linen yarns and garments should be washed in cool or warm water and hung to dry so as to let the fabric crease naturally. It can be ironed at a hot temperature, and pre-washing/wet finishing before sewing is recommended.
Our linen range comes in lots of colours ranging from natural to brights. We also have cottolin, a mixed fibre yarn of linen and organic cotton which also comes in a beautiful range of colours.
TencelTencel, a trademark name for lyocell, is a regenerated cellulose fibre. It is similar to rayon, being made of wood from trees that are dissolved into a pulp and extruded to create yarn. Unlike rayon, which is typically made from old growth forests and toxic chemicals, lyocell is made with sustainably farmed trees in a closed-loop process that recovers and reuses nearly 99% of all chemicals. It is less water, energy and chemical intensive than traditional rayon production.
Tencel/lyocell has great moisture wicking and absorption abilities due to its high moisture regain, making it the most absorbent non-natural, or semi-synthetic, fibre. A flowy drape, soft handle and lustrous sheen makes it similar to silk. It has low wet-strength, meaning it is susceptible to damage when wet. Care should be taken when washing and drying lyocell fabrics and yarns.
Tencel is generally more biodegradable than cotton, though finishing and dyeing processes undertaken after the yarn is made may impact the sustainability of the end product. No bleach is required in the making of Tencel fibres, compared to other cellulose fibres such as cotton and linen. It reacts well to acid dyes and has good dye affinity.
Tencel is a good choice if you’re looking for a vegan alternative to silk or traditional rayon products. We offer a great range of colours making it a versatile choice for your projects, whether by itself or paired with other yarns such as wool and cotton. A wise choice for anything from light, breathable summery garments to sophisticated evening wear.