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Friday, August 19, 2011

Colonial Era Clothing

Colonial Era Clothing
(Fairfield Mag - We’ve Got Answers column – Sept Oct 2011)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Q: Did Fairfield families make their own clothing in Colonial times?

Though all Fairfield landowners in the 1600s and 1700s were growing flax, which was commonly refined on a spinning wheel to produce linen, few Fairfield families were making their own clothing. Flax was primarily grown simply to produce the seed, which was then exported to Ireland, or used to make linseed oil.

A key reason is that few average Fairfield families had the room in their homes to accommodate a big loom, so they bartered for their clothing. And while some wealthier women made their clothing, the linen end-product was not very fine. Some wool fabrics were made in Fairfield as well, though a huge amount was imported from England, as it was better quality. Textiles came in through seaports in Boston and New York and were brought to Fairfield by merchants.

The expense of wool (and silk) was so great at the time that it was advisable to have someone knowledgeable about clothing construction do at least the cutting out of the material. Men’s greatcoats were meant to last a very long time, so their manufacture was an investment. Likewise, skilled dressmakers were often employed to make garments if expensive fabric was involved. Silk gowns would be updated many times over the years as fashions changed.

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