Historical fabrics

An earlier version of this list was handed out as part of my workshop Breathing Life into History, presented at the New York Conference of RWA in July 2003.

This is a very rough guide. The appearance or interpretation of some fabrics has varied over the centuries, e.g. fustian. Others, such as muslin, came in different varieties. Many fabrics were named after the place where they were first made. Names were also spelt in a variety of ways. Where a date is given, it refers to an early mention of that fabric being used in England.

Wool, the backbone of English prosperity in the Middle Ages, is not mentioned in the list as such, but many of the fabrics mentioned below were the result of experiments in combining wool with other natural fibres.

The information is garnered from:

  • The Coronation of Richard III by A.F. Sutton and P.W. Hammond (London: 1983)
  • Oxford English Dictionary
  • The Lisle Letters, ed. Muriel St Clare Byrne (London: Secker & Warburg, 1983)
  • A Dictionary of English Costume by C. Willett Cunnington, Phyllis Cunnington and Charles Beard (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1960)
  • a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, UK

14th century

Attaby (later tabby) .. buttons, use of, 1340 .. cambric 1350 .. camelhair .. cameline 1400 .. candlewick .. flax .. fustian (coarse) 1200 .. gauze 1261 .. lawn .. linen .. perse .. ray .. satin .. silk 880 .. sparkles 1330 .. taffeta 1373 .. tissue 1366 .. twill 1329 .. velvet 1320

15th century

Baldekin .. branched velvet .. blanket .. broadcloth .. buckskin gloves .. buckram .. busk .. camlet .. canvas .. cendal .. cered cloth (waterproofed) .. champagne .. damask (italian) 1430 .. doeskin leather 1457 .. felt .. flannel .. frieze .. fustian .. holland .. imperial cloth .. kendal .. knitting .. mechlin (black cloth) .. muslin .. musterdevillers .. rennes .. russet .. samite .. sarsenet .. scarlet (wool) .. serge .. tartaryn .. ticking .. tissue .. watchet .. worsted

16th century

Baize .. bomabasine 1572 .. brocade .. calico (term from india) .. cypress .. flannel .. frisado .. jean .. lace (bobbin) .. linsey-woolsey .. lutestring (taffeta) 1661 .. manchester cottons .. net .. plush .. sackcloth .. spangles 1548 .. tinsel .. whalebone in garments

17th century

Atlas .. bengal .. bomabazine .. burlap .. chintz (term from india) .. cottons, indian .. crepe .. denim .. dimity .. holland linen .. knotting .. mohair .. morocco leather

18th century

Bombazet .. buckskin leather breeches .. chenille .. corduroy 1774 .. doeskin fabric 1710 .. genoa velvet .. gingham .. lutestring (silken) .. mechlin lace .. nankeen .. pompadour .. quilting .. seersucker (term from india) .. swansdown .. stockingnette .. tulle .. by 1800, printed cottons were being manufactured in Britain

19th century

Alpaca .. angora .. bedford cord .. brocatelle .. byzantine .. cashmere .. chambray 1814 clementine .. chiffon .. crepe de chine .. elastic (india rubber) .. flannelette 1876 .. duck .. gabardine 1879 .. gingham (chequered) .. imperial velvet .. jersey .. kersey .. lustre .. madras (muslin) .. merino (early 19th) .. mirror velvet .. mousselaine .. muscovite .. organdy .. peau de soie .. pekin .. percale .. petersham ribbon 1848 .. polkadot pattern, use of .. radzimir 1849 .. satteen 1838 .. shantung .. tarlatan .. tricot .. tweed .. voile