Fustian, a 15th Cent. Fabric

Gunnora Hallakarva gunnora at bga.com
Thu Jan 23 00:12:19 PST 1997

The following is an item of interest from the Historical Costuming list.
Remember, if you have questiopns or comments for the author, send them to
the original poster.

From:    David Brewer <db-cos at westmore.demon.co.uk>

> Fustian:  A sturdy cotten fabric, or cross woven cotton with flax or linen,
> hailing from Egypt's Fustat or Cairo, and used especilly for undergarments
> and cape and coat linings.  Fustian equally napped and smoothed on both sides
> was called Bombazeen.  Bombazeen:  (Also bombazine) a twilled English Fabric,
> a fustain made of cotton, or of cotton blended with wool or silk, dyed black
> for mourning.
> >From the Medieval Wordbook,  Madeleine Pelner Cosman


I've had several private replies on what "fustian" is (in a late
medieval English context), and they divide between cotton/linen and
wool/linen. I've also been told that wool/linen fabric may have been
dug up in an excavation in York, but I've not seen the evidence of this.
The above dictionary definition serves as a typically useless secondary
source. Since no actual evidence is given, nor a reference to a
definative source it is not frankly worth consideration. I've seen so
many "expert" sources now that were wrong that I take nothing on faith.

Just to muddy the waters (and stray a little from clothing) inventories
of C15 English bedding includes "fustians". You've got your sheets,
your blankets, your fustians, your pillows etc. I have absolutly no
idea of what a fustian is in this context at all. Usually they are
listed as being of x bredths, as in "a fustian of 4 bredths". I'm
baffled. It's not a costume thing, but if anybody has a clue, I'd
appreciate a private reply.

When I replied to Caroline and mentioned fustian, I said I had sources
for black linen linings (to C15 garments). On reviewing them they just
referenced so-many yards of black lining, without stating linen
(although I, personally, infer it from the context. That's just an

Speaking of linings, Liz Jones says that they came as a revelation to
her. To me *not* lining was a revelation. I started as a reenactor in
a dreadfully shoddy group (KIB as it was) that gave no assistance
whatsoever in producing clothing, and I had never shown any interest
in sewing before. That was all a bit too girly. I signed on to reenact
and wallop people with a bill. My peers and I discovered the (now old
and out-of-date) White Company Handbook which insisted on everything
being interlined, stiffened and the lining sewn on and bagged-out to
hide all the stitching. It was our only guide.

Now I've grown up a bit and discovered my inner peasent, I can't be
bothered to line a garment, or all the other rubbish I was mis-advised
to do. Why strengthen eyelets with canvas interlining and beat in (and
sew over) a grommet when a sewn eyelet though wool, folded over once
at the hem, is probably stronger? Simplicity is a suitably medieval

I suspect the author of that book was misguidedly bringing to it some
costuming prejudices from an earlier life. Still, it's easy to knock
from hindsight. The amazing thing is that I stuck around to gain that

David Brewer


Date:    Wed, 22 Jan 1997 16:39:10 -0500
From:    David Key <david_key at VNET.IBM.COM>
Subject: Linings - Linen & Fustian in the C15th

A follow-on to a couple of the comments I made on the use (or not) or coloured
loured Linen for lining C15th clothing.I had a quick glance through the
Howards Accounts which yielded a ref. to 10 yards of Blue Buckram 6I
252Y & to Black Buckram & Green Buckram to line pelyons 6II 417Y, Black
Fustian for doublets (Fustian appears in use for doublets in Fastolf's
inventory in the Paston Letters ... & is a major constituant in the
'Doublets of Fence' ... probably Jacks also listed in the Howard's
Accounts ... and which are typically covered in Black Fustian) 6I 378Y.

There are innumerable references to linen but almost exclusively for
napery, shirts etc. not really as part of main clothing ... either as a
lining or outer layer.

In addition there is a Seal bag in Westminster Abbey (C14th ??) which
has a blue linen lining.
One of the articles I have (on the Linen & Worsted Industry in East Anglia)
lists Aylsham in the C13th & C14th frequently producing dyed linen - red,
green, red & blue, white, black & red & yellow all being listed (from Royal
Wardrobe accounts ... but I can't remember any specific refs. to follow up.
This industry had effectively died in the face of Flemish imports by the
mid C15th.
The article goes on to say that Blue was the most common 'colour' but that
most were bleached. Indeed in 1332 White (bleached) was the highjest
quality & most expensive at 7s->8s6dfor 1/2 piece compared to 2s-10s per
piece for dyed linen.

A look at the comparitive industry of Fustian (being classically cloth
made from a linen warp & cotton weft ... but it varied ... as did the
quality & degree of finishing). In Ulm in 1424 there were 3
qualities of Bleached Linen (Ox - 3 gulden, Lion - 2 gulden 19
schillings, & Grape - 2 gulden 18 schillings) whilst dyed linen cost 2
gulden 17 schillings & raw/unfinished cloth 2 gulden 16 schillings
...net result ... dyed linen appears to have been the poorer quality
linen (because the dying covered the poorer quality cloth whilst wasn't
up to the bleaching process ??? Any thoughts ?). In the 1480 Weissenhorn
was producing red, white & black fustian ... & in the 16th they produced
white (bleached) & coloured fustians ... coloured in this case being 2/3
Black & 1/3 Grey.

The Black cloth was often cheaper than bleaching ... cheap because the
dyeing would normally be by using wood chippings, oak galls etc. rather
than the higher quality woad based blacks. The result is a poor quality,
not particularly colour fast black which will rot the cloth ... wonderful!
Similarly Grey is not necessarily GREY as such but, at least in woollen
cloth, could be produced by using a very weak woad solution.

In conclusion ... I would suggest you keep the use of dyed linen to a
minimum ... but when you do use it you use pale grey/blues, blues & blacks
(but bad quality ones) by preference. Although I wouldn't recommend dyed
linen for linings .... it is probably better used there than for the outer.
Don't use it as a 'status' symbol ... I hope the above shows that dyed linen
could often by equated to poor quality linen.

I'd appreciate any other views on this subject. My apologies
for the extremely hasty reply. I hope it makes sense/is readable.

Remember, Gunnora is NOT the author of these comments.  If you wish to ask
questions or make comments, use the author's email address (in the text above).


Gunnora Hallakarva
Ek eigi visa (th)ik hversu o(dh)lask Lofstirrlauf-Kruna
heldr hversu na Hersis-A(dh)al

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