Wool and Woollen Fabrics

From A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland 1906

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Manuscript ornamentation



SECTION 1. Wool and Woollen Fabrics.

Letter S

hearing and Carding.—The wool—called in Irish olann—was taken from the sheep with a shears, which, from the manner in which it is mentioned, must have been much like those used at present. The usual old Irish name is demess (meaning 'two edges'—mess, 'an edge'), which is still used, in the modern form deimheas (pronounced deeas). The shearing appears to have been done by men: but after this the whole work up to the finished cloth was regarded as specially pertaining to women: except fulling, which was often or mostly men's work. After being sorted, the wool was scoured to remove the oiliness: then teased or mixed: next combed or carded twice, first roughly, and a second time more carefully and finely. The carding (cirad, pron. keera: from cir, 'a comb') was done by hand: the woman sitting down while at work, and using a pair of cards, much the same as those in use for hand-carding now. The second carding turned out the wool in the form of soft little loes, locks or rolls (lo, 'a lock of wool') fit for spinning, just as wool-carders do at the present day.

Spinning.—In those times spinning was done, in Ireland as elsewhere, by the distaff and spindle; for the spinning-wheel was not invented till the fifteenth or sixteenth century. The wool or flax in preparation for spinning was wound and fastened loosely on a rock or distaff called in Irish cuigéal [quiggail]. From the distaff the material was drawn off gradually, with the help of the left hand, by the spindle or spinning-stick, which was held in the right hand and manipulated dexterously so as to twist the material into thread, and wind it on the spindle according as spun. The abras or thread ready for weaving was rolled up in balls, on which it was wound from the spindles according as these got filled.

Weaving.—The thread was woven into cloth in a hand-loom, nearly always by women: and like the rest of the cloth-making process, it was a cottage industry. The complete weaving machinery or loom had two beams: the larger one called garmain (and sometimes gae-mathri), and the other lu-garmain or 'smaller beam' (lu, 'small'). The principal beam must have been large: for we find the massive spear of a hero sometimes compared—in Irish tales—to a weaver's beam, like that of Goliath. What were called the "swords" (claidim), or weaving-rods, were long laths used during the process of weaving, which were nearly or altogether as long as the beam. The warp was called dluth [dluh]: and the weft or woof innech. While the woman was weaving she used a feith-géir [feh-gair], "which put a smooth face upon her weaving": and which is represented by the sleeking-stick or "rubbing-bone" still used by hand-weavers.

Portions of antique woollen clothing

FIGS. 187 & 188. Portions of antique woollen clothing found on the body of a woman. (From Proc. Royal Irish Academy).

The piece of woven cloth had usually a border or fringe (corrthar: pron. curher), which was sometimes woven with the whole piece and formed part of it: and sometimes separately, and afterwards sewed on. In this last case it was woven with a short light claidem or lath, altogether apart from the loom, something like the crochet or netting or meshing work of modern times: and weaving ornamental borders or long scarfs in this manner was practised by ladies of the higher ranks as they practised embroidery.

Fulling.—A fuller of cloth was called ciormhaire [keervara], literally a comber (from cior, a comb); or fúcaire [fookera], or úcaire, from fúcad or úcad [fooka, ooka], 'to full,' and there were persons who practised this as a distinct trade. When the fuller was ready to begin, he sent out his man to blow a horn at the door, as a signal for the people to bring in their cloth. The custom of tradesmen blowing a horn for such purposes continued to a period almost within our own memory.

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