Tag Archives: fulled wool fabrics

Glossary: Wool Flannel and Fulled Wools

Wool flannel is a fabric made from wool, a natural fiber which comes from the fleece of sheep. For more information, see the entry Glossary: Wool Fiber. The term flannel refers to woven fabrics which have been fulled to make them denser and thus, warmer. Often, the fabrics are also brushed to raise a nap, on one or both sides, which gives the fabric a soft, fuzzy texture. Historically, wool broadcloth is a similar textile, undergoing a process of fulling and brushing. Modern cotton flannel, sometimes called flannelette, is very different; in historical references, “flannel” typically means wool flannel (see the entry on cotton flannel for more information). Fulled wool fabrics are usually made of woolen, rather than worsted, yarns. For more information on the distinction, see the entry on wool tabby.

Note that many fabrics of this type available today are made of synthetic fibers, or blended wool with synthetic fibers; blends, and especially fully synthetic fabrics, do not look, feel, or behave the same way as natural, 100% wool or animal hair (such as cashmere) fabrics. For more information on the differences between natural and synthetic fibers, see the entry on synthetic fiber.

Definitions of flannel and other fulled wool fabrics from a variety of print resources, each of which contains further information:

On page 12, on the subject of fibers, it is stated that “Wool or woolen is a staple fiber, meaning it is of relatively short length. Short staple wool is carded before spinning and creates fluffier yarn and fabric. Longer staple wool is called ‘worsted.’ Worsted fibers are combed to lay them parallel before spinning, creating a smoother yarn and thus a smoother fabric. Natural colors of wool range from creamy white to beige to brown to black. Wool dyes well because it is absorbent upon prolonged exposure to moisture. Overlapping scales that cover the fiber (seen under magnification) give wool its felting ability, because they interlock and entangle the fibers with the application of heat, moisture, and agitation. This is important in the fulling process, which shrinks and felts the wool to a desired degree. The scales also trap air, which makes wool warm to wear.”

There are no specific references to “flannel,” but on page 24, the fabric swatch for “baize” is something that could be termed a heavy flannel. The text states that “This plain-weave woolen cloth was heavily fulled so that the fibers became felted. Both sides were brushed to raise a nap. The linings of many early nineteenth century cloaks appear to be home-woven baize (commonly green), and are of a lighter weight than the same shown here, which represents a factory-woven baize.”

  • Butterick Publishing Company, The. Vogue Sewing. Revised edition. New York: The Butterick Publishing Company, 2000.

Under the heading of “Texture Finishes” on page 46, it is stated that “Napping is a common finish by which short fiber ends of spun yarn are raised to the surface of a fabric by a series of revolving wire brushes to create flannel or fleece.” On the same page, it is also stated that “Fulling takes advantage of the natural shrinkage capacity of wool. Subjecting the cloth to moisture, heat, and pressure compacts the yarns, strengthens the weave, and imparts warmth, body, and stability. It is similar to the felting of non-woven fibers.”

While discussing wool textiles for mid-19th century reproduction clothing on page 61, it is stated that:
“When you come across references to ‘flannel’ in mid-century sources, this is most often a wool flannel, not cotton. Wool flannel can be made in a plain weave, or in a twill weave; it may be fuzzed on one or both sides. Woolen flannel generally has a loose weave, and is resistant to creasing; the woolen fibers give it an almost springy feel. Worsted flannels are firm, with a very slightly fuzzed surface, and tak[e] well to tailoring and creasing. Worsted flannel also tends to be less itchy, due to the longer fibers.
“Similarly, when you find references to ‘broadcloth’ in mod-century sources, it is most often a wool broadcloth, not cotton.”

On page 175, “broadcloth” is defined as “fine, stout, smooth-faced wool cloth, felted or given a nap finish to avoid raveling, much used for men’s clothes.” On page 176, “Georgian cloth” is defined as “light-weight broadcloth, first popular in 1806.” Also on page 176, “ladies’ cloth” is defined as “a light-weight broadcloth used for dresses.”

On page 180, “wool” is defined as “fabric made from the fleece of sheep, woven in many different styles, has warmth and elasticity.” On page 181, “worsted” is defined as “wool fabric made of well-twisted yarn of long-staple wool, combed to lay the fibers parallel.”

On page 375, “woolen” is defined as “Cloth made of carded short-staple fibers. After weaving, the cloth was fulled for shrunk to make it denser and heavier. Broadcloth was England’s traditional fine woolen manufacture. The soft fluffy fibers of carded wool were also suitable for knitting.” On page 177, “broadcloth” is described as being “Made of carded wool in plain weave and fulled after weaving.”

On page 152, “baize” is defined as “A heavy woolen cloth, well felted and usually raised, or napped, on both sides. Dyed brown or green it is used for covering tables, especially billiard tables.”

Online Resources:

For more information about an individual fiber, fabric, or other material, select it on the right side menu for “Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials.” This will bring up all entries which have that tag, including (in most cases) a Glossary post like this one, which will offer a definition of that fiber, fabric, or material, and sometimes also offer useful links to outside sources on working with it. For more general information, visit the core entry for the Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials. For a directory of all textile glossary posts, go to the Glossary Table of Contents.

Updated January 10, 2012

Glossary: Wool Fiber

Wool is a natural fiber which comes from the fleece of sheep, or sometimes other animals such as goats (including cashmere) and even rabbits. Usually, however, the term refers to the wool of sheep. Many different fabrics are made from wool fiber, including wool gauze, wool challis, many different weights and types of wool tabby (including some varieties of suiting), many varieties of twilled wool (including gabardine and herringbone), and fulled wool fabrics, including flannel and a variety of suiting and coating fabrics. Historically, wool broadcloth was a tabby-woven fabric which was fulled and otherwise processed.

“Wool fibers are composed of a protein called keratin, and are in general composition similar to human hairs. The fibers have three parts, or layers: the epidermis, the cortex, and the medulla. The medulla is at the center of the wool fiber. Thick, stiff wool fibers have larger medullas; fine, flexible, easy spun wool fibers have almost invisible medullas.
“The cortex layer is responsible for the natural crimp in wool fibers. It gives wool fabric elasticity and the ability to shed wrinkles.
“The outermost layer of the wool fiber, the epidermis, is formed from scales that, under a high-powered microscope, look slightly like hooks. The epidermis helps make wool waterproof and resistant to abrasion. When the yarn is spun, the hooklike scales interlock with one another to create a strong yarn. These scales cause wool to feel ‘scratchy’ and irritate some people’s skin. Processes remove the scales from wool fibers before spinning. Woolens treated in this manner are not scratchy, and are washable.” (Ingham and Covey, The Costume Technician’s Handbook, page 64)

“Wool or woolen is a staple fiber, meaning it is of relatively short length. Short staple wool is carded before spinning and creates fluffier yarn and fabric. Longer staple wool is called ‘worsted.’ Worsted fibers are combed to lay them parallel before spinning, creating a smoother yarn and thus a smoother fabric. Natural colors of wool range from creamy white to beige to brown to black. Wool dyes well because it is absorbent upon prolonged exposure to moisture. Overlapping scales that cover the fiber (seen under magnification) give wool its felting ability, because they interlock and entangle the fibers with the application of heat, moisture, and agitation. This is important in the fulling process, which shrinks and felts the wool to a desired degree. The scales also trap air, which makes wool warm to wear. Wool does not burn well; thus, in this period of open fires, it was often used for kitchen aprons and for children’s clothes.” (Bassett, Textiles for Regency Clothing 1800-1850, pages 12-13)

“Versatile in weight, texture, weave, and color. Unique properties of wool permit constructions not possible in any other fiber. Tailors well because of ability to be molded into shape. Used for coatings, suitings, crepe, tweeds, knits, gabardine, flannel, jersey.” (Butterick, Vogue Sewing, page 51)

“Wool is one of the most versatile fabrics known to dressmakers. Usually quite colorfast and fade-resistant, wool adapts well to draping and pleating. Due to its insulating qualities, wool can actually keep you more comfortable in warm weather than a synthetic fabric. Wool can absorb a large percentage of moisture without feeling wet, and unlike cotton, it retains its insulation benefits even when damp.
“Wool is somewhat elastic, extremely hard-wearing, and naturally resistant to soil and stains. It releases odors more easily than cotton or silk. In most cases, a wool garment will not require frequent laundering. A good airing after use, with spot cleaning and brushing to remove dust as needed, will keep wool garments in excellent shape for years.” (Clark, The Dressmaker’s Guide, 2nd ed., page 54)

For more information about an individual fiber, fabric, or other material, select it on the right side menu for “Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials.” This will bring up all entries which have that tag, including (in most cases) a Glossary post which will offer a definition of that fiber, fabric, or material, and sometimes also offer useful links to outside sources on working with it. For more general information, visit the core entry for the Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials. For a directory of all textile glossary posts, go to the Glossary Table of Contents.

Glossary Entries for Wool Fabrics:

Online Resources:

Print Resources: See the article Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials for a list of print resources.

Updated January 10, 2012

Norse tubular smokkr of fulled dark blue wool

Garment

Intro: 1780s man’s caped topcoat

For: Zachary….at some point….maybe……
Inspiration: Images in Men’s 17th & 18th Century Costume, Cut & Fashion: figure 89-A, 1780, on page 124; figure 113-A, c. 1780, on page 144.
Pattern: To be drafted from diagrams in Men’s 17th & 18th Century Costume, Cut & Fashion
Fabric: TBD
Lining: None? TBD
Construction:  Either hand-stitched or hand-finished; TBD

Status: On hold. At this point, this project is just research and a hypothetical maybe-later. (January 10, 2011)

I’ve done quite a bit of research, and I intend to pursue the project later, but considering that I’m doing far too much, cuts had to be made, and this is one of the pieces being cut. I made this decision in part because of the realization that the fabric I was planning to use really wouldn’t be suitable. Which leads me to an earlier point in the evolution of my plans to attempt 18th century menswear!

Originally I had planned to make a close historical approximation of the extant suit coat, waistcoat, and breeches depicted in Costume Close-Up (#17; item number 1960-697, 1-3; pages 80-88 and following color plate), dating to 1765-1790. The suit doesn’t seem to be included in their online collection, or I would include a link. It’s a lovely suit, and not too elaborate in ornament. And it’s conveniently almost exactly the right measurements for my boyfriend, who could be pressed into service as a dress form and dashing model. (He was more enthusiastic about this than you might think.) So my plan was to scale up the pattern and simply cut it out of muslin with large seam allowances, and fiddle with it until it started looking right. I bought several yards of lightweight, worsted wool, tabby suiting in a nice deep blue from Fashion Fabrics Club, intending it for the jacket and waistcoat, and several yards of beige, or buff-colored, lightweight cotton sateen to use as lining. I planned to recruit silk from my stash to make the waistcoat.

But time, it ran short, and I was trying to do too much. And if I’d made the suit, I would have needed to make a shirt as well! While teaching myself a great many new skills. Given the scope of everything I was trying to do, it simply didn’t make sense. So I scaled back and decided to make a topcoat of the same period instead, having seen designs from the 1780s that I found very intriguing, and thinking I could use the materials I had already purchased. But upon further research into the matter of topcoats and greatcoats, I discovered that such garments were, as far as I could tell, invariably made of tightly woven, densely fulled wool, and were unlined, with unfinished cut edges. That is not something that my tabby suiting would cooperate with. I considered trying to do a historically inspired type garment, but eventually concluded that it would be wasteful to use good materials improperly, and that I would prefer to put both the suit idea and the topcoat idea on the back burner, and eventually make both in the proper fabrics.

So that is the sad saga of my foray into the research of 18th century menswear. I’ve learned quite a lot but nothing three-dimensional will be appearing in the immediate future.  Though I did produce quite a nice design sketch of the topcoat! With three capes, no less.

Topcoats and greatcoats in printed resources:

Online resources:

Updated January 10, 2012

Intro: Mid 18th to early 19th century red wool cloak

Inspiration: The general fabulousness of red wool cloaks (also, piles of snow!)
Pattern: Drafted from Costume Close-Up, #10, Cloak, c. 1750-1810, in the Colonial Williamsburg collection (#1953-968), p 54-56 and color plate 2, with a slight alteration and additional piecing due to yardage constraints
Fabric: Just over two yards of 60-odd-inch-wide coating-weight wool flannel in vivid scarlet red, pieced within an inch of its life
Lining: Front edge facings and hood lining of black silk habotai
Thread: Plain cotton thread in matching red and in black (I couldn’t afford silk)
Closure: Two inch wide black silk satin ribbons which tie at the neck, purchased from Timely Tresses
Construction: Entirely hand-sewn
Fun fact: I had to do quite a bit of piecing in order to get away with using the fabric I had, but it’s really quite difficult to see, because the pieces of fulled wool are butted up against one another and overcast. The original had one bit of piecing, making an ostensibly 4-piece pattern actually five pieces. Mine was nine pieces. When I finished cutting out the fabric, I had literally only a handful of amassed scrap material leftover – of heavy coating-weight wool. Seriously.
Current Status: Finished! (Update! Now with photos to prove it! 3/25/12)

My Reproduction Red Wool Cloak

(Never mind the later period reproduction quilted petticoat under the cloak. My mannequin looked creepy and naked with only the cloak on,  so it is wearing my c. mid 18th century to early 19th century repro cloak with my 1830s-1850s repro quilted petticoat. Which also clashes slightly. Shh, moving on.)

Current Status, in more detail: (Update May 1, 2011) The cloak is now entirely finished! After the ribbon arrived from Timely Tresses, I cut lengths of it and stitched it to the front edges of the cloak. I then proceeded to run around the house in the cloak, in spite of the fact that it’s now full spring and quite warm out. Despite how very unseasonable it now is, I’m very fond of the cloak. Although I must admit that the shaping, which is the same as the shaping of the original in Costume Close-Up, drapes more nicely on people with a slighter build, and narrower shoulders, than I have. Nevertheless, I can and will wear it.

(Status update from April 24, 2011) Happily, the cloak is essentially finished. Unhappily, it has been essentially finished for months. It came together quite quickly initially, due to a confluence of events involving winter inspiration, falling in love with the extant cloak depicted in Costume Close-Up, discovering that I had the perfect wool already, fiendish determination to find a way to cut the pattern out of not-nearly-enough fabric, an epic patterning and cutting effort, and conveniently timed illness that gave me four days of complete uselessness during which I was somehow still capable of executing tiny, perfect hand-stitches. (I don’t believe in feigning modesty about my hand-sewing skills. I am, in fact, quite vain about my hand-sewing.) I was able to construct the cloak, which is made of a coating-weight red wool flannel, with a lining for the hood and facings for the front edges, out of black silk habotai. Both of these things I had on hand, and I was able to buy matching red cotton thread.

But could I get my hands on black silk ribbon? No, I could not. Silk ribbons are notoriously difficult to find, and I was quite unwilling to use synthetic substitutes on a garment that I had spent an astonishing number of hours painstakingly constructing, entirely by hand (including nearly-invisible piecing to get the most out of my scant yardage), of high-quality natural fibers. For such a heavy garment, I didn’t want to try faking ribbons using my habotai. I didn’t have any black silk taffeta on hand, or I might have considered using that. The poor cloak has had to wait until I got around to ordering my millinery supplies – because I was able to buy black silk satin ribbon from Timely Tresses, along with everything needful for my charmingly enormous 1830s bonnet. The order has finally been placed, and with luck, the ribbon will arrive soon, and I will attach it to the cloak in short order. Then it will have ties! Once it has ties, I’ll be able to put it on, and will cut the arm slits. I marked them already, but I want to make certain they’re in the right place.

My Cloak, Side View

Further information online:

Print resources:

It was surprisingly easy to figure out how to put this cloak together – a great deal of information gets packed into the entries in this book! I really can’t recommend it highly enough. I wish there were more resources like this for the 19th century! See the annotated bibliography entry for more information. The cloak is on pages 54-56 and color plate 2.

There is an example of a similar cloak pictured on page 53, with substantial accompanying information on that cloak, a particularly fine example, and red cloaks in general, on page 54. It is noted (without citation) that “It would be typical Sunday best for an English village woman from the mid-eighteenth to the early nineteenth century. After that date. the younger element were more likely to wear mantles, pelisses and shawls, and the scarlet cloak became an old woman’s garment by the 1830’s” (page 54).

 

Last updated March 25, 2012, to add pictures.

Intro: 10th century Norsewoman’s clothes

While I was doing my undergraduate thesis project at Hampshire, a fellow Div III student, Freya, was putting together a museum exhibit of reproduction artifacts of 10th Century Scandinavian domestic life – Vikings at home, in other words. Toward that endeavor, I contributed clothing for Freya to display and then wear, based on archaeological evidence and various hypotheses about what the scraps of evidence might mean and how ancient many-centuries-old Scandinavian clothing would have been worn, looked, and functioned. Only scraps of fabric, beads, and ornaments remain, along with a few vague images of people and references in epic poetry. Researching and experimenting with clothing of a period with so little information presented a new and interesting challenge!

Sadly, this project is still waiting on a proper write up, but eventually I’ll get some pictures from Freya and get back here with my notes and research to detail all of it!

Updated – such as it is – August 7, 2012.