Recently I made a new tunic for myself, circa 1300AD design.
The fabric isn’t quite right, it has a thread count of under 10 per cm, whereas according to various sources, the usual one is more than 10, let alone questions of whether it’s a tabby weave, 2/1 or 2/2 twill. It’s slightly fulled, enough to mostly hide the threads from casual inspection.
But what I noticed wearing it was that the breeze blew through it well, keeping me cool when I was warm or in the sunshine. You wouldn’t get this in a tightly woven or well fulled and napped cloth.
So when I was reading the Perth high street excavation fascicules, I was interested to note that there are some loosely woven woollen cloths mentioned, and the authors weren’t sure what they could be used for.
My answer is – cheap summer clothing!
And the tunic stays quite warm when you put a supertunic on top of it, because of the air trapped between the threads.
So I have an idea, based on my own experience of stuff in use.
But the other option is that such cloth wasn’t used for clothing by the 13th century, or, maybe it was rough home made cloth, made using the old type of loom of 2 or 300 years earlier, and thus a cheap product. Of course people lived well enough with the less tightly woven cloth earlier in the medieval period, so why switch to better woven cloth?
You can see how practical concerns, economic and physical, are intertwined, as well as the simple fact of how something looks. And it is difficult to decide what the correct answer is.
By contrast there’s another costuming point that doesn’t work out that way.
I once sewed a pair of 15th century hose using woollen thread. But this broke under the stress and I had to re-sew it in linen.
Obviously this suggests that increased use of linen thread occurred because of more tightly tailored clothing.
Only according to the MoL book on textiles and clothing 1150-1450, sewing with wollen thread was common in the 10/11th century in London, but by the 14th century,judging by the records and finds wer have, it had fallen out of use. But the 14th century is when clothes really started to get more fitted, so the changeover seems to have occurred before that imperative time.
So that’s one hypothesis not really supported by the evidence. But why change to linen anyway? Was it cheaper, stronger, easier to use?
The final one, which is a puzzle to everyone, is why the most expensive, fashionable rich persons’ colour changed from being the bright red made from kermes insects (later known as scarlet) to black, in the 15th century and stayed that way for 200 years and more.
A most interesting paper on the subject can be found here:
It turns out that black isn’t more expensive than scarlet, has no obvious economic, or practical means in its favour, so we still don’t know why black became so popular. Perhaps it was just fashion.
Or in other words, the old idea that black was most expensive to dye wasn’t the reason it took over, because the red was just as expensive to dye. And anyway the actual cloth was very important and expensive too, with silk velvets etc being expensive and many sorts of wool much cheaper, and the dyeing not being that much of the cost.
So the idea based simply on practical/ economic considerations is wrong.
The moral of this is that ideas based on physical stuff and how it works can be useful, and sometimes they can’t, but this isn’t clear until you’ve thought them up and tested them!