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Under its widest acceptation the word “textile” means every kind of stuff, no matter its material, wrought in the loom. Whether, therefore, the threads are spun from the produce of the animal, vegetable, or mineral kingdom; whether of sheep’s wool, goats’ hair, camels’ wool, or camels’ hair; whether of flax, hemp, mallow, or the filaments drawn out of the leaves of plants of the lily and asphodel tribes of flowers, or the fibrous coating about pods, or cotton; whether of gold, silver, or of any other metal; the webs from all such materials are textiles. Unlike these are other appliances for garment-making in many countries; and of such materials not the least curious, if not odd to our ideas, is paper, which is so much employed for the purpose by the Japanese. A careful reference to a map of the world will show us the materials which from the earliest ages the inhabitants of the world had at hand, in every clime, for making articles of dress.
In all the colder regions the well-furred skins of several families of beasts could, by the ready help of a thorn for a needle and of the animal’s own sinews for thread, be fashioned after a manner into various kinds of clothing.
Sheep, in a primitive period, were bred for raiment perhaps as much as for food. At first, the locks of wool torn away from the animal’s back by brambles were gathered: afterwards shearing was thought of and followed in some countries, while in others the wool was not cut off but plucked by the hand away from the living creature. Obtained by either method the fleeces were spun generally by women from the distaff. This very ancient daily work was followed by women among our Anglo-saxon ancestors of all ranks of life, from the king’s daughter downwards. Spinning from a distaff is even now common in many countries on the continent, particularly so all through Italy. Long ago the name of spindle-tree was given in England to the Euonymus plant, on account of the good spindles which its wood affords: and the term “spinster” as meaning every unmarried woman even of the gentlest blood is derived from the same occupation. Every now and then from the graves in which women of the British and succeeding epochs were buried, are picked up the elaborately ornamented leaden whorls which were fastened at the lower end of their spindles to give them a due weight and steadiness.
A curious instance of the use of woollen stuff not woven but plaited, among the older stock of the Britons, was very lately brought to light while cutting through an early Celtic grave-hill or barrow in Yorkshire: the dead body had been wrapped, as was shown by the few unrotted shreds still cleaving to its bones, in a woollen shroud of coarse and loose fabric wrought by the plaiting process without a loom.