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cotton-msg - 10/8/15


Period cotton cloth.


NOTE: See also these files: linen-msg, silk-msg, textiles-msg, fabric-ident-msg, velvet-msg, spinning-msg, weaving-msg, fabric-SCA-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.


Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

   Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                         Stefan at florilegium.org



Cotton in the Middle Ages

Date: Fri, 31 Mar 95 12:25:16 EDT

From: drickman at state.de.us

To: h-costume at andrew.cmu.edu

Subject: cotton


I am not sure if this is of interest to anyone, but recent discussions

about the use of cotton by reenactors led me and others into an off the

list discussion of just what the word "cotton" meant to earlier centuries

and just what forms it may have been used in (i.e. batting, textiles) and

how commonly it was used.


My first indication that this was getting complicated was when Kathleen let

us know that Cromwell ordered shirts of linen and of cotton for soldiers

bound for the Bahamas. I discovered from the respected early textiles

expert, Nathalie Rothstein, that cotton in the 17th century was a word,

much like "flannel," which describes a weave or surface of cloth, and not

its fiber. In fact, in earlier times, "cotton" most often meant a woolen



I spent last night reading through Florence Montgomery's Textiles in

America, 1650 - 1870 and picking Nathalie's brain, and this is roughly what

I came up with. First, Florence defines "cotton":


   A term used to designate certain woolen cloths from at least the

   fifteenth century, so one must be cautious in reading the

   term...the explanation of the use of the word cotton may lie in

   the fact that it had also the sense of nap or down, and the

   process of raising the nap of woollen cloths was called

   "cottoning" or "frizzing"...At the end of the sixteenth century,

   Manchester was "eminent for its woollen cloth or Manchester



An 1822 source quoted by this same author notes that in America and the

West Indies, cottons made of wool were chiefly used as clothing for

slaves...though some were worn in Great Britain by "the poor or labouring

husbandmen." This source speculates that the word could have been a

corruption of "coating" i.e. fabric meant for coats.


The point of this is not to say that what we call "cotton" didn't exist in

the 14th century, but that when we look for evidence of its use in the

written record, we need to know that, until well into the 19th century, the

word probably means wool, not cotton.


So, when did cotton such as we use come in? I don't know, yet. Florence's

book is laid out not as a history, but as a dictionary of early textile

terms. I can, however, report that under "Fustian" she tells us that it was

a cotton/linen fabric, originally a linen/wool (by the way, from here on in

this letter, when I write cotton, I intend the modern meaning of the word).

Fustians were made in Norwich, England as early as 1336, but these were a

wool/linen mixture. In 1554, Dutch and Walloon immigrants to England

brought with them the making of "fustians of Naples" which probably were

cotton/linen, because a 1601 description of fustians says that they were

made "of Bombast or Downe, being a fruit of the earth growing upon little

shrubs or bushes...commonly called Cotton Wooll; and also of Lynnen yarn

most part brought out of Scotland..."


Not mentioned by Florence, but told to me by Nathalie, is the fact that the

reason fustians, as well as any other European textile was not entirely

cotton was because cotton, as a fiber, is quite short, and so does not make

a very strong warp. The warp, of course, is the part of the textile that is

strung on the loom, and the weft is what is woven into it. Linen, on the

other hand, is a very long, and therefore strong, fiber, and makes a very

good warp. Thus, fustian has a linen warp and a cotton weft. Not until 1779

did the English (and thus the rest of Europe) learn how to make a strong

cotton warp, using something called a "mule-jenny." Meanwhile, in 1600, the

East Inda Company was chartered, and began the regular, and rather

high-volume, import of Indian cotton goods (as well as silks) into England

and the rest of Europe. These were not, however, clothing goods until 1670,

but rather coarse cottons, used for sacking, sailcloth and so on. Under

"Indian Goods" Florence Montgomery quotes one source which says that, prior

to 1670, no one apparently wore cotton, but rather "our more natural and

usual wear was cambrics, Silesia lawns, and such kind of fine flaxen

linens, from Flanders and Germany" which the British received in trade in

exchange for their famous woolen goods.


After 1670, "flimsy muslins from India" began seeing use as substitutes for

these just-mentioned fine linens. They were popular because they were

cheap, but they were also shoddy. Cotton used to line a man's coat, for

example, was twelve pence cheaper than linen shalloon, but the cotton wore

out quickly, where shalloon would outlast the coat itself and could be used

to line another.


Cottons were so cheap that, by the end of the 17th century, there were

strong moves by the weavers and linen merchants of England to outlaw their

import, which was partly successful. Of particular threat were the printed

cottons from India, and these were outlawed altogether. People were

arrested for owning them. Meanwhile, by the mid-18th century, Britain had

developed its own textile industry, weaving cotton and printing it in

imitation of Indian goods.


One last point, since "cotton" referred to a weave, similar to a worsted,

one needs to look for names of particular weaves of cotton fabric from

India when seeking evidence of its use in Europe and America. Such names

were legion, and not at all standardized, but look for the obvious ones

such as muslin, calico, and gingham. The less obvious ones can generally be

deciphered with references to Florence's invaluable book.


This, I hope, will not be the end of this discussion. Without a doubt there

are others on this list who know more than I do about this subject. Someone

else told us that there was a cotton industry in Italy in the Middle Ages,

and it would be interesting to know what sorts of textiles they wove, and

whether any of it was used for clothing, other than batting for a poupoint,

I think it was. How did this southern industry affect northern Europe?

There are many facets of this subject I would like to know about, and I'll

continue my search as well. Oh, and if this really is too boring for the

general list, let me know. Thanks.





From: foxd at silver.ucs.indiana.edu (daniel fox)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Period Velvet?

Date: 14 Jun 1996 06:11:57 GMT

Organization: Indiana University, Bloomington


Actually you can tell them the cotton comes from Italy.


See: Mazzaoui, Maureen Fennell, _The Italian Cotton Industry in the Later

Middle Ages:1100-1600._





Date: Thu, 11 Mar 1999 10:06:34 EST

From: <SNSpies at aol.com>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu, h-needlework at ansteorra.org,

       h-costume at indra.com

Subject: Cotton in a European grave


In the recent issue of "Archaeological Textiles Newsletter," (ATN 27, Autumn

1998, 12-14) Penelope Walton Rogers writes about "Cotton in a Merovingian

Burial in Germany."  She points out that cotton rarely enters the picture for

European textile researchers and when it does, it usually can be dismissed as

a modern contaminant.  However, in this case, the identification of cotton

comes from a secure context in a Merovingian burial dated to the end of the

5th century, so it is therefore of rather exceptional interest.


The cotton is a Z-spun thread which was used to quilt some sort of garment or

cover which was made from a wool diamond twill with a padded backing.  This

textile was found over the whole length of a woman's body in a coffin burial

in the Merovingian cemetery at Lauchheim/Ostalbkreis in Baden-Wuerttemberg.


She concludes that the presence of this cotton thread suggests some far-

reaching link with the eastern Mediterranean or western Asia.  It is at

present unknown whether the textile arrived in Germany already quilted with

the cotton thread or whether the thread arrived in Germany on its own and was

then used to quilt the textile.  It is also unknown whether it was unpicked

from another textile, but further research should answer these questions.





Date: Thu, 11 Mar 1999 12:35:23 -0500

From: capriest at cs.vassar.edu (Carolyn Priest-Dorman)

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: Cotton in a European grave


Daveed wrote:

>Wouldn't such a

>thread and/or cloth have been available through Roman trade routes across

>the Med with Egypt?


Upper Egypt did produce some textiles woven of indigenous cotton.  However,

if a cotton textile was purchased during that period in Egypt, then it was

mostly likely that its cotton fibers themselves originated in India.  From a

very early date India had a lively trade relationship in both raw fiber and

finished cotton goods with the Mediterranean via the Arabian Sea and the

eastern coast of Egypt.  The Near East, India, and the Arabian peninsula

also produced indigenous cotton textiles of many sorts, much more than was

produced in Egypt.  The intriguing question is, what species of _Gossypium_

(_arboreum_ or _herbaceum_) will the fibers turn out to be?  That would give

a much clearer signal of where it ultimately originated.


Maureen Mazzaoui (in _The Italian Cotton Industry in the Later Middle Ages

1100-1600_) makes the important point that cotton in the late Roman and

early Byzantine Empire was a luxury textile limited by its high price to the

court and the wealthy landowning classes.  The Arabs were the first to adopt

cotton as the dress of the normal people.  Before that, cotton had been a

novelty textile, even in the areas where it grew readily.


Accordingly, I'd guess the Merovingian woman had some sort of royal

connection. The other Frankish find of cotton in a grave that I know of is

dated seventh century.  The textile in question was a violet overtunic made

from a silk, cotton, and unidentified vegetable fiber blend, perhaps a

_mulham_ from Persia.  That woman was also sporting Byzantine gold-thread

embroidery--a clear sign of high rank.


Carolyn Priest-Dorman              Thora Sharptooth

capriest at  cs. vassar. edu         Frostahlid, Austmork



Date: Thu, 11 Mar 1999 17:04:44 EST

From: <SNSpies at aol.com>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: Cotton in a European grave


<< Wouldn't such a thread and/or cloth have been available through Roman

trade routes across the Med with Egypt? >>


Let me quote further from the article:


"Cotton and cotton-union fabrics circulated within the Roman empire, although

they seem to have been regarded as a luxury and are comparatively rare in

the European archaeological record.


J.P.Wild (1970, "Textile Manufacture in the Northern Roman Provinces") cites

the following findings of cotton in Roman Europe:  a single S-spun thread from

an early 4th-century well near Chew Stoke in Somerset, England (possibly a

modern contaminant - Wild, pers.comm.);  a cotton-wool union fabric used to

wrap a 4th-century mummified woman's body buried near Aquincum-Budapest,

Hungary; and a cotton winding sheet from another mummified body in a tomb

on the Via Cassia near Rome."


There are also a couple of examples of fibre capsules from cotton plants found

in 6th-7th century France, but such objects are thought to have been brought

back from the Holy Land by pilgrims.





Date: Thu, 11 Mar 1999 17:21:01 EST

From: <SNSpies at aol.com>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: Cotton in a European grave


<< I have never heard of the "ATN" before.  Can you tell me how I may obtain

a subscription?  >>


Subscriptions to "Archaeological Textiles Newsletter" are available by

writing to:


Dr. J.P. Wild

Department of Art History and Archaeology

University of Manchester

Oxford Road

Manchester M13 3PL



Payment is 20 pounds for a 2-year subscription (4 issues) and is accepted

only in pounds sterling.  Payment should be made in the form of a bank check.





Date: Thu, 11 Mar 1999 19:38:45 -0500

From: capriest at cs.vassar.edu (Carolyn Priest-Dorman)

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: Cotton in a European grave


Ingvild asked:

><< I'd guess the Merovingian woman had some sort of royal

> connection.  The other Frankish find of cotton in a grave that I know of is

> dated seventh century.   >>

>Thora, could you please post your reference for this? =20


The reference for this is:


   France-Lanord, Albert. "La fouille en laboratoire:

   Methodes et resultats."  _Dossiers de l'Archeologie_

   32 (January-February 1979), pp. 66- 91.

   Details of the burial textiles in the so-called

   Aregond grave, that of a seventh-century

   Merovingian royal woman. Includes evidence for

   silk, linen, hemp, wool, and cotton!  Frustratingly

   vague on weave details in some cases.


The gist of the article's information on textiles can be found in Chapter 6

of Marieke's and my _Compleat Anachronist_, #59.


Carolyn Priest-Dorman              Thora Sharptooth

capriest at  cs. vassar. edu         Frostahlid, Austmork



Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999 20:06:06 EST

From: <SNSpies at aol.com>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: Cotton in a European grave


<< Oooh!  Are there any pictures, or detailed descriptions, available??

This sounds like something that would be fun to duplicate! >>


Sorry. The only picture with the article is a x400 magnification of the

cotton fibres.  I will see what I can find out.  From the article, it appears

that the quilted garment is still being analysed, etc. by Johanna Banck-

Burgess, she who did the Hochdorf chieftain textiles (so you can believe that

the end result of her analysis will be very good indeed).  I will pass on

anything further that I can find out.





Date: Sat, 24 Jul 1999 00:06:48 +0000

From: "Plastic for better taste. <plastic at codenet.net>" <plastic at codenet.net>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Cotton was (Re: Textiles)


I've recently began researching Indian Textiles and somewhat Cotton.  So, I

don't have all the answers yet, and I may not have this quite right.  But here

goes . . . off the top of my head.


Cotton in period was predominantly exported from India by caravan to the

Middle East, then into Egypt and Europe.  Once the Dutch established colonies

in India (about 1540's) it was shipped all the way back to Europe.  However it

was not from the cotton plant as we know it, but rather from the cotton tree.

It seems that it gives the cloth a different texture.  In period, Egypt was not

cultivating cotton, but linen.  I think I recently read that cotton fibers have

been found in Viking and Tudor excavations.  From the earliest times, Indian

cotton gauzes were well known in Roman times as "woven air", haven't read

anything on the Greeks, but they were also well known in ancient Babylonia.  I

think that the nomadic tribes of the middle east were the first people outside

of India to begin wearing predominantly cotton clothing.  Cotton fabrics were

available resist dyed, block printed and painted.  Resist dying was probably

the most common method of ornamentation and painting was mostly used for temple

hangings and such.






From: nweders at mail.utexas.edu

Date: September 21, 2006 11:10:43 AM CDT

To: ansteorra at lists.ansteorra.org

Subject: [Ansteorra] cotton in period


I found an article on "The Cotton Industry of Northern Italy in the Late

Middle Ages: 1150-1450" by Maureen Fennell Mazzaoui, (The Journal of

Economic History, Vol 32, No 1. The Tasks of Economy History. (Mar 1972)

pp. 262-286.  The author has also written a book, since I found numerous

reviews on it as well bt I have not had a chance to find a copy.


Anyway, the article talks about the development of the cotton fabric and

thread industry in Italy.  She states " In the European climate, cotton and

linen represented seasonal alternatives  to the heavier silk and wool

cloths suitable for winter wear.  She does say later that cotton was often

combined with linen, hemp, wool and silk to produce more diverse fabric



During this time period, vast amounts of cotton fiber and fabrics was also

imported from Egypt and comprised of canvas to fine dress weight fabrics

(sorry no description or names of said fabric). however, the use of the

fabric as clothing is quite extensive.


It is a myth that cotton was not used for clothing or wool was used more

than cotton in some countries.  During the 12th through 15th centuries,

cotton was used in the Mediterranean area for the same reasons why we use

it... it is cooler than wool in the summer, it took some dyes better than

linen, it allowed more diversity in fashion.  I would also note that during

the 16th century, a severe dip in the weather caused a change in clothing

that made it more important to wear wool and furs rather than cottons.


Clare St. John



From: mikea <mikea at mikea.ath.cx>

Date: September 21, 2006 11:25:34 AM CDT

To: "Kingdom of Ansteorra - SCA, Inc." <ansteorra at lists.ansteorra.org>

Subject: Re: [Ansteorra] cotton in period


On Thu, Sep 21, 2006 at 11:10:43AM -0500, nweders at mail.utexas.edu wrote:

> During this time period, vast amounts of cotton fiber and fabrics was also

> imported from Egypt and comprised of canvas to fine dress weight fabrics

> (sorry no description or names of said fabric). however, the use of  

> the fabric as clothing is quite extensive.


In addition, the Arabs introduced the cotton plant into Sicily, before

1100, according to what I've been able to find. Since all this is pre-

cotton-gin, the fiber would have been separated from the seeds by hand,

making the cloth more expensive then in terms of labor than it is now.


Mike Andrews, W5EGO



From: Maridonna <maridonna at maridonna.com>

Date: September 21, 2006 1:21:18 PM CDT

To: "Kingdom of Ansteorra - SCA, Inc." <ansteorra at lists.ansteorra.org>

Subject: Re: [Ansteorra] cotton in period


mikea wrote:

> In addition, the Arabs introduced the cotton plant into Sicily, before

> 1100, according to what I've been able to find. Since all this is pre-

> cotton-gin, the fiber would have been separated from the seeds by hand,

> making the cloth more expensive then in terms of labor than it is now.


Yes. :)  The Arabs introduced cotton to Sicily (circa 827).  A

source says that the reasons why cotton spread throughout the

western Mediterranean between the 9th-12th centuries is because of

the popularity of cotton among Muslims and their advanced knowledge

of irrigation techniques. Cotton came to rival flax in Sicily.


The source I have says Fustians may have been imported to Sicily up

to the 13th century.  Fustian production was significant because

Sicily did not import the cloths, but there is no mention of what it

was made.  S. Epstein, "An Island for Itself", pp.182-190.


Andrea / Maridonna, who moved her persona to Sicily so she could

wear cotton.



From: Claude Anthony Penny <cpenny at swbell.net>

Date: September 21, 2006 2:22:53 PM CDT

To: "Kingdom of Ansteorra - SCA, Inc." <ansteorra at lists.ansteorra.org>

Subject: Re: [Ansteorra] cotton in period


I remember reading that the Arabs had a primitive type of a cotton gin.

It was compsed of knots on ropes that was pulled through the cotton

bolls. If I remember, a lot of the cotton was used as weft fibers,

because spinning strong, tight cotton thread was difficult. I believe

that the mixed fabric was used as cheap blanket-type material in Italy.



who has entirely TOO much info about way TOO many fields



From: Giraude Benet <giraude at WEDCRAFT.COM>

Date: January 19, 2011 12:36:46 PM CST

To: CALONTIR at listserv.unl.edu

Subject: Re: [CALONTIR] Late Period Garb


On Wed, 19 Jan 2011 13:43:28 -0400, SPaterson <sjpaterson at EASTLINK.CA> wrote:

> Cottons? What time & place?  (Inquiring minds want to know)


Not sure of every place, but definitely Italy, mid to late period.  You can

browse a good book on the Italian cotton industry via Google Books here:



Giraude :)



Date: Fri, 4 Feb 2011 16:35:54 -0800 (PST)

From: wheezul at canby.com

To: "Cooks within the SCA" <sca-cooks at lists.ansteorra.org>

Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] goats milk cheese recipe


I wonder why the author would not take Scappi at his word on the cotton?

It was common in Italy by then (and indeed had been for centuries).  I've

been on a 'cotton binge' reading the latest academic works.  "Le commerce

du coton en M?diterran?ee ? la fin du Moyen Age" part of Bill's The

Medieval Mediterranean (2007) by Jong-Kuk Nam leaves no doubt.  I am still

chuckling over the German scam of putting the Venetian trademark on their

fustian because it was of a higher quality than theirs and the resulting

Venetian bruhaha.




helewyse wrote:

<<< It should also be uploaded to my webpage soon (courtesy of Doc) -



and pass it again through the stocking of cotton stuff[ii].

[ii] - bombasino is an alternative spelling of bombagino and means cotton

stuff, bombicino is silk paper.  What may be called for here is a type of finely

woven wool or silk strainer, similar to those used in the production of

hippocras. >>>



To: Authentic_SCA at yahoogroups.com

Subject: Cotton use in Italy, elsewhere  in period (Re: printed fabric)

Posted by: "gianottadallafiora" christianetrue at earthlink.net gianottadallafiora

Date: Thu Oct 27, 2011 9:31 am ((PDT))


Yes, there is a lot of crossover for Arabic culture in Italy and

Spain: but what's the actual evidence? Evidence always trumps

speculation, especially in era with lots of iconography.


I agree with this. Gregory, I can't speak to the use of imported printed fabrics in garments; all I know is that printed cotton fabrics from India were being imported into Europe and Egypt throughout the medieval period, with Sicily and Italy seeing the stuff earlier than England did.


Personally, I don't think that the imported printed stuff was used in clothing. I don't think it would have worn very well, it was expensive (if you go by statements in the Geniza documents) and people were mad for silk - plus trying to argue for a native printed cotton industry before the late 17th century is kind of futile. The imported printed stuff probably would have made great luxury cushions, bedding, curtains, etc. I'd love to see what's in the Ashmolean collection, though, to determine that. And get more looks at dowry lists from Italy.


And as Urtatim already pointed out, the modern printed fabric being discussed isn't even appropriate for 16th century Ottoman anyway ...


There are some references to women in Italy wearing cotton cotes in this article I found, but it's native-grown, or at least native-woven from imported raw cotton stuff:




And now here's a book I must get hold of (grin):


The Italian Cotton Industry in the Later Middle Ages 1100-1600

Maureen Fennell Mazzaoui

Cambridge, Cambridge University Press (c) 1981

ISBN: 0521230950


David Abulafia, in his "The Two Italies: Economic relations between the Norman Kingdom of Sicily and the Northern Communes," talks about the importation of Sicilian raw cotton by Genoese traders as seen in trade agreements from the 1150s and 1160s. This means the cotton-wearing northern Italian ladies were using stuff made from Sicilian or other imported fibers, woven and dyed locally - and again, not printed.


Adelisa Salernitanum



To: Gleann Abhann (mail list)

Subject: Re: Japanese Question

Posted by:  btheilman at comcast.net

Date: Wed Sep 4, 2013 7:20 pm ((PDT))


Vegetable Lamb of Tartary. The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary (Agnus scythicus or Planta Tartarica Barometz) is a mythical plant of central Asia, believed to grow sheep as its fruit. The sheep were connected to the plant by an umbilical cord and grazed the land around the plant. When all the grazing material was gone, both the plant and sheep died. In the medieval period, the plant was said to explain the existence of cotton.




From the Facebook SCA group on 10/14/13:

Dawn Malmstrom

For anyone curious about European use of cotton starting around 1100ce please read "The Italian Cotton Industry in the Later Middle Ages, 1100-1600" by Maureen Fennell Mazzaou.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org