Last week we visited Europe, and all the cities and countries and valleys there that gave their names to the fabrics that we wrap ourselves in.
This week let’s head to the Middle East and North Africa, which have been a major trading and production area of cloth for millennia.
There I would visit:
Gaza in Palestine, the fabric centre famous for gauze, which began to be imported into Europe in the 13th century.
I'll happily go just about anywhere that has a nice beach
Historically gauze was made from silk, but today it is usually cotton
Mosul in Iraq, may be the origin of the word muslin. Marco Polo describes the fabric being sold by salesmen known as musolini.
It looks like a beautiful (if smoggy) city. I'd love to visit Iraq and Iran - I hope this becomes possible soon.
White muslin evening dress, 1800-1810, V&A Museum
Damascus, in Syria, was among the first places to create damask in the early Middle Ages, and carried the name with the fabric up into Europe.
I feel uplifted just looking at it.
Silk damask, Italy, ca. 1680 to 1690, V&A Museum
The El-Fustat district of Cairo, Egypt produced a strong fabric of linen and cotton which came to be known as fustian.
Pots, El Fustat, Old Cairo
Block printed fustian, France, 1685-1725, V&A Museum
I could also tour the rest of Egypt to commemorate Egyptian cotton, which is not cotton that is grown in Egypt, but a particularly long-staple cotton, and (rather loosely) the fabric made from it.
Egypt, it's not all about pyramids (though having made it to Egypt it would be inexcusable not to go all the way and see them too!)
You are so soft and fluffy!
After the Middle East, our tour will take us to India, which donated a plethora of names, all of which I will tell you about…next week.
This is this weeks pogey bait:
It’s a ball of carpet fluff. The stuff you get off of a newly cut wool carpet.
No, I’m not kidding. I’m really showing you carpet fluff.
This is special carpet fluff though. It is carpet fluff that is dyed with gold.
Yep. It turns out that if you dissolve gold into miniscule nano sized particles with strong acid it is an excellent dye.
A group of scholars at Victoria University of Wellington are doing groundbreaking research on dyeing with gold.
They can dye wool and silk – anything keratin based because the sulphur particles in keratin form a strong bond with the gold.
In addition to being just flat out cool, dyeing stuff with gold has numerous practical benefits as well.
It is environmentally friendly – the process uses nothing but wool, water, gold and a very small amount of acid. At the end of the process the water has far less chemicals in it than the water coming out of your dishwasher.
Wool dyed with gold is also antibacterial and antimicrobial, and moths can’t live in it. And, unlike items treated with silver, the gold-wool bond extremely strong, so the gold doesn’t wash an wear out.
Finally, gold dyed wool is anti-static, great for cars and airplanes and medical textiles.
And because the gold is broken down into nano particles, it reflects the light in a completely different way, so comes in a whole range of colours, from yellow, to mauve (like my fluff) to blue and grey.
At this point I think the aim is to use gold-dyed wool in high fashion.
You can read more about it here.
I have my own personal dustbunny of gold dyed wool because one of the scientists involved with the project was a guest lecturer in a course I teach. She passed around examples, including a square of carpet covered in the fluff, and I asked to keep the ball of fluff at the end.
I’d better put it in a jar with a label so it doesn’t get mistaken for an ordinary dustbunny!
Have you noticed how many fabrics are named after locations?
Some fabric names taken from places go back to Roman times, and we are still naming fabrics after the places where they are made today (Thai silk for example).
I’d love to do a tour of the world, visiting all the cities and locales that have fabrics named after them. It would make a good documentary.
Starting in Europe, I could go to:
Paisley in Scotland, which produced so many boteh patterned shawls in the 19th century that the cities name became synonymous with paisley fabric.
Paisley, Scotland. Looks pretty!
The fabric is also pretty…
Argyll in Western Scotland, the seat of Clan Campbell, whose traditional tartan pattern inspired the argyle pattern.
If this is Argyll, I'm in!
The best use I have ever seen of the argyle pattern
Tweed, through a misreading of the Scottish spelling of twill (tweel) is named after the Tweed River on the Scottish/English border. And of course, this gives us an excuse to visit Harris and Donegal to see the tweeds named after each of those locations.
Is all of Scotland this beautiful?
Donegal tweed and Harris tweed, respectively
Bedford England is an obvious choice, having given us Bedford cord (a fabric similar to corduroy, hence the second part of the name).
The bridge at Bedford
Oxford England through the oxford shirt, supplied a name for the distinctive 2 warp, 1 soft weft oxford cloth weave.
Do you think Mr Dreamy would be mad if he came home tonight and found a note saying “gone to Oxford, see you in a few weeks?”
The Channel Island of Jersey produced such excellent knits that it gave its name to jersey knit.
All of Britain looks fabulous when the sun shine
Jersey knit drapes so beautifully
The Via Gellia valley in Derbyshire was the location of the Viyella factory, and gave it’s name to the first branded fabric in the world.
Lizzie Bennet might have passed through Via Gellia in the Peak District and seen this cottage
All of Ireland, for Irish linen, which used to be flax grown, spun and woven in Ireland, but became flax imported from Europe and spun and woven in Ireland, and these days is flax yarn imported from China and woven in Ireland. How much further can they go while still calling it ‘Irish’?
Not quite the highest sea cliffs in the world, but still spectacular
Irish linen lace, circa 1907
Just about anywhere in the Netherlands, as the whole country gave its name to holland cloth.
Some pretty impressive aqua-scaping in Friesland, my ancestral homeland
A Medieval Hollander with a holland cloth cap and shawl
Nîmes, France, to see the birthplace of denim. (from serge de Nîmes) The name denim has been used in the US since the 18th century.
Nimes, home of aqueducts and denim. How awesome is that?
Is this denim map of the world AMAZING or what? Check out the full size image.
Laon, France, was a major producer of linen lawn, and gave the fabric its name.
Why don't I live somewhere where there are cathedrals?
An exquisite linen lawn doily
Jouy-en-Josas, France, of course, gives us toile de jouy, the fabric that was produced in the area from the mid-18th century.
Fittingly, the scenery at Jouy-en-Josas is more pretty than striking, rather like the fabric named after it.
A subversive contemporary interpretation of toile de jouy
Marcella is usually known as piqué in the US, but its British name reveals the fabrics origins as an attempt to imitate the distinctive corded Provençal quilts which were made in Marseilles beginning in the 1700s and imported into England.
An 18th century Marseilles quilted petticoat
Fancy patterned pique/marcella fabric
Marseilles is as beautiful as the petticoat
Cambrai, France, managed to supply two names for fabric, cambric and batiste, after the Baptiste of Cambrai. Batiste and cambric are sometimes described as the same fabric, and sometimes batiste is used to describe the thinner, softer, finer version of the fabric, and cambric (or chambray) the heavier version.
It turns out that Cambria isn’t a very picturesque city these days. At least it looks good in old images!
Genoa, Italy gives us jean, which originally referred to a lighter fabric than denim. The name is actually because the first denim trousers were made in Genoa, not because of the fabric, but I think it is close enough.
And with that, I leave you, because it turns out that it is nearly impossible to source images of jean fabric (rather than denim fabric). Next week I’ll take you on a tour of fabric in the Middle East and North Africa