A GLOSSERY OF 1800s FABRICS
When Adam and Eve after they sinned in the Garden of Eden God had compassion on them, and offered them garments made of fig leaves. Ouch! The underside of the leaves were like rough sandpaper. Later they made garments from something more sturdy: animal skins.
Fast-forward to the early 1700s. One of my ancestors, Patrick Googins, tradition says, came from Ireland at an early age, about 1720 A woolen weaver by trade he entered the service of William Pepperrell, at Kittery, Maine.
Fast-forward again to the late 18th century and early 19th century. By this time the assortment of garment fabrics had proliferated.
The Diary of Martha Ballard, 1785-1812* mentions many of the fabrics used in Maine during this time period. A glossary at the end of a modern-day reproduction of Martha Ballard’s diary lists many—if not all—the different fabrics Mrs. Ballard mentioned in the 27 years of her written history. How many of these fabrics have names that are foreign to you? I was surprised to find 15 fabric names I never heard of, even through my many years of sewing.
The terms below, most frequently used by Mrs. Ballard, was compiled through a variety of printed sources.
FABRICS MENTIONED BY MARTHA BALLARD IN HER DIARY
- black wool: black fleece.
- calico, (callico): cheap cotton cloth printed with a figured pattern – U.S.
- calamanco, (callamanco/callimanco/callomanco): a European woolen fabric of satin weave and plain or striped design imitating camel’s hair cloth; a garment of this stuff.
- cambleteen: camleteen – a stuff of “mixed wool & goat’s hair, thread or cotton”. A slight camlet, thinner and woven of coarser fibers and yarns.
- cambric, (cambric): a fine, thin, closely woven white fabric made of linen.
- check: a fabric having a pattern in squares; woven in a design resembling the pattern of a checkerboard.
- chintz, (chints): now, cotton cloth printed with flowers and other device in a number of different colors, and often glazed.
- diaper, (diapor): a sort of figured cloth – a fabric of linen or cotton, usually white and having a simple pattern of the same name.
- dimity, (dimmity): a cotton fabric with raised stripes or cords – it is of many patterns and occasionally in colors.
- duck: a linen or cotton fabric, finer and lighter than canvas, but similar to it.
- durant: a glazed woolen stuff; called by some ‘everlasting’
- flannel (flanel): a soft woolen cloth of loose texture, nappy on one side or both sides, or with no nap, and differing widely from fine to coarse; sometimes a cloth having a cotton warp and wool filling.
- fustian: formerly, cotton and linen cloth; now twilled cotton stuff, including corduroy, velveteen, etc.
- gauze (gaus/gause): a very thin, slight, transparent material of silk, cotton, or linen; any similar fabric.
- huckaback: a strong fabric of linen or linen and cotton, sometimes figured, having an uneven surface – produced by alternately crossing the filling threads. It is much used for towels.
- lawn: a fine, sheer, plain-woven linen or cotton fabric, thinner than cambric; used for dresses and handkerchiefs.
- linen (lining/linnen/linnin): thread or cloth made of flax or (rarely) of hemp – used in linen warp a general sense to include articles made of linen, cambric, shirting, sheeting, tablecloths, book cloths, etc.
- lutestring (lubstring): a plain, stout silk, much used for ladies’ dresses.
- muslin: any of various cotton cloths; U.S., any of various coarser and heavier cotton goods.
- sarsnet: sarsenet/sarcenet – a soft silk material of plain or twill weave 2 formerly a firm, heavy cotton cloth calendared to give it a high gloss.
- shalloon: a woolen fabric of twill weave, used chiefly for linings.
- tabby: any of several fabrics in plain or taffeta weave. A silk in plain weave now called taffeta; esp. a watered, waved or striped taffeta. A worsted fabric in plain weave, specif. a moreen. A gown or dress of this material.
- web (webb): a textile fabric, esp. one on a loom, or coming from a loom; as, a length cut from a web; also (rare) cloth; a kind of cloth or weave; an article, as a garment, made of textile fabric.
- wildbore (wild boar): a woolen fabric for women’s dresses – popular around 1800.
- worsted: Originally a kind of fine wool textile fabric made at Worsted, England, or one resembling it in texture and quality; now any fabric woven from a certain type of yarn. A smooth surfaced yarn for weaving, knitting, etc. spun from long stapled pure wool combed so that its fibers lie parallel to each other.
How many fabric names are new to you? Share in the comment box at the end of this post, if you dare.
Ballard, Martha Moore, 1735-1812, The Diary of Martha Ballard, 1785-1812. McCausland, Robert R. and McCausland, Cynthia MacAlman, ed., (Picton Press, Rockport, ME, 1992).