An Education in Early Textiles

An Education in Early Textiles

This morning I’m working on transcribing pages from a probate file for Abraham Trafford who died in Shrewsbury, Monmouth, New Jersey in 1871. I’m not sure why yet, but the inventory has page after page listing cloth by the yard.

I’ve been sewing since I could treadle a machine (I’m not THAT old; we just had a vintage Singer in the house when I was young) and so I can picture many of the fabrics listed: gingham, linen, “moslin,” and flannel, for example. But what in the world is “jane?” And what about “cottonade” and “cambric?”

It looks like a go-to place for answers to these questions would be this book:

Tortora, Phyllis G. and Johnson, Ingrid. The Fairchild Books Dictionary of Textiles, 8th ed. New York, NY: Fairchild Books, an Imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014.

Many pages are searchable and viewable on Google Books and used copies (at the time of writing) are available for around $15.00. I also see that it’s available at five libraries within an hour’s drive from me and so it’s likely it could be borrowed through interlibrary loan.

So, what have I learned this morning? I think “jane” is another word for “jean” but I also see the word “denim” in the inventory, so I’d better not jump to any conclusions based on modern-day usage.

“Cottonade” is “a heavy coarse twilled cotton fabric made to resemble woolen fabric and used for work clothes.” ( And “cambric” is “a fine thin white linen fabric.” (https://www.merriam-

I’m still not sure about “marine” or about something that looks for all the world like “wiggen,” but with a little bit more detective work I’m hoping to figure out the rest of the list.

Looking at the kinds of cloth that Abraham had is an interesting window into life in the 1870s. I suspect these words come up in other documents from that time period—probate, yes, but also letters and journals?

I love how digging deep into records always uncovers something interesting that just skimming would gloss right over.

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