[HNW] cotton in SCA period

Joan Jurancich joanmj at surewest.net
Tue Jan 17 09:35:11 PST 2006

>Cotton was commonly mixed with other fibers (linen, wool, hemp, and 
>silk) to create such fabrics as fustian (cotton warp/linen weft)

Actually, fustian was a linen warp (for strength) with cotton 
weft.  It took a while for Europeans to learn to spin cotton into a 
strong enough thread for warp; weft does not require the same 
strength.  Even long cotton fibers are much shorter and finer than 
short wool fibers.

>In fact, blended fabrics are incredibly common throughout the SCA period.

What is this statement based on? And what geographic area are you 
concentrating on?  I am aware of linen warp/woolen weft 
linsey-woolsey in northern Europe.  And it's easy for this 
spinner/weaver to understand the use of one fiber in warp and another 
fiber in the weft, but actually blending fibers is difficult if they 
are too different in staple length and fineness, so I would not 
expect to find "blends" as we now use them (e.g., mixing cotton and 
linen fibers, or wool and silk, in the individual threads).

>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. :)

Since I mainly deal with upper class English in the 16th century and 
I haven't seen any mention of cotton in those inventories (other than 
as fustian, usually used as linings or occasionally doublets if the 
fustian is very high quality, or as stuffing), this use of all cotton 
fabrics may be an Italian phenomenon, or primarily southern Europe 
phenomenon.  Guess I need to get my hands on that book by Mazzaoui.

Joan Jurancich
joanmj at surewest.net 
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