[HNW] cotton in SCA period

Allison263@aol.com Allison263 at aol.com
Tue Jan 17 08:44:43 PST 2006

In a message dated 1/17/06 1:49:08 AM, ianruadh at zonnet.nl writes:

> brought to light that its was made of a outer and an inner lair of 
> material, between which one finds a 'stuffing'  of
> cotton. This is an item used in a high status enviroment (at this point I'm 
> not talking about the way and manner in
> which the garment has been decorated). How do I make this match with your 
> remark.
I'm not sure I understand your question, so bear with me. Are you asking, 
since a king's garment is a high--status/expensive garment, and since cotton 
batting was used to stuff said garment, the how could cotton be a low-class or 
cheap material? 

Cotton wadding/batting *as a stuffing* was used extensively in period for a 
huge variety of items, both for lower and higher class garments. There are many 
extant padded embroideries, for instance, that utilize cotton as a 
layer/filler for things like stumpwork or raised embroidery. I've examined pieces of the 
highest quality and expense (all eccleasiastical) that use cotton batting. In 
fact, a great deal of the lowest-quality cotton was usually used for this 
purpose---since it wasn't good enough to spin into cloth. Cotton was the accepted 
material used for stuffing items and clothing for all classes. It was the 
fabrics used for the outside of the garment (i.e. silk, velvet), not the 
materials used to stuff it, that made a garment fit for the higher classes.

Cotton cloth, used for garments and other items, was generally an inexpensive 
item sold to the lower classes. But in some cases it was made into a better 
quailty cloth for more wealthy citizens. Cotton, like every other fabric, came 
in various grades depending on the quality of the fiber and the weaving. 
Someone mentioned that Egyptian cotton was very high quality. There were literally 
dozens of types of cotton cloth, named for the different cities or regions 
where they were produced and varying in style and quality. Cotton was commonly 
mixed with other fibers (linen, wool, hemp, and silk) to create such fabrics as 
fustian (cotton warp/linen weft) and a very well known medieval fabric called 
mulham (cotton/silk blend). In fact, blended fabrics are incredibly common 
throughout the SCA period. 

For an example of mulham cloth, along with a description, see: 

(also interesting is this piece is an example of period block-printed cloth)

Cotton was utilized by the upper classes, mainly as accessories such as 
coifs, veils, wimples, gloves, purses, and household furnishings such as pillows, 
coverlets, tablecloths, napkins, towels, sheets, mattresses, etc. Mazzaoui also 
says, several times throughout her book, that cotton threads were common in 
embroidery and cotton fabrics a common embroidery ground. I have no reason to 
dispute her findings, other than the fact that so few extant pieces have 
survived. But there are many fragments, particularly in the Middle East, that makes 
me think she's probably right. And she cites numerous period inventory lists 
and wills that describe such items, which further strengthens the case. 
Unfortunately, almost all of her sources are the original extant Italian documents, 
so I'll either have to learn medieval Italian or take her word for it. :) 

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