I have a weakness for early fabrics. The texture from years of numerous washings and the wear of generations can not be easily duplicated today. I not only adore the fabrics themselves but also their names: baize, fearnaught, everlasting, linsey-woolsey, moreen, dimity, diaper, tammy. Such creative names. The list of stuff * is almost endless. But my all time favorite is a simple fabric, homespun linen. I love the feel, the texture and the look of linen. And when I think of all the many steps and the work involved to produce a homespun linen sheet, well I'm in awe. When linen comes off the loom it is brown. It can be dyed or it can be bleached. One would think that after all the work and the many steps involved to get raw flax to a linen sheet, the bleaching process would be easy. Not so in the 18th century. Before 1760, the bleaching process was time consuming and labor intensive.
1. Soak the linen 30 to 40 hours in warm water, rinse and dry.
2. Soak in lye and cow dung for 48 hours.
3. Stretch cloth over the grass in bleach-yard.
4. Wash off the cow dung.
5. Beat cloth with "bat staffs" for 2 to 3 hours.
6. Place cloth into boiling lye and soak 24 hours.
7. Wash cloth. Stretch it over the bleach-green 4 hours.
8. Beat with bat staffs.
9. Repeat the last three steps for 8 to 10 days.
10.Place cloth in buttermilk for 1 or 2 nights.
11.Wash and beat the cloth again and then stretch it over the bleach-green.
12. Sour it again with buttermilk.
13. Repeat the process for another week, until the cloth is white enough.
OH MY GOODNESS!!!! This process takes a month to complete. If I didn't have a respect for our ancestors before I sure do now.
*Textiles in general and especially a lustrous, English fabric of cotton or wool.