Dress of the Rural Woman and Man

Wool and linen were the materials available to all for clothing.
The wealthy would have had very fine wool and linen, and in addition would have had silk and a small amount of Egyptian cotton.

A Field of Flax
Linen is made from a plant called flax. In early summer the flowers turn fields into a hazy, pale blue sea.
It's a tall plant and it's from the stem that the strands are taken to spin linen.
The stems have a tough outer covering making it very difficult to cut, so the plant is pulled from the ground and left to dry out.
It's then put into water, the Tudors would have used a pond or something similar, to soften the outer covering ready to strip it off - retting. This is left to dry out leaving the very fine strands which are spun into linen thread ready for weaving into line fabric.

Linen was used for all the under garments of both Tudor men and women.
It was made into a shift for a woman, and a shirt and braes for men.
Hose (stocking for both sexes) for summer wear could also be made from linen, and many woollen garments were lined with linen, being rather more comfortable next to the skin than wool!
Head coverings, or coifes, were also made from linen. They kept your head covered in the sight of God, protected you from headlice etc, and it was important for a married woman to hide her hair from all but her husband, as Tudors believed a woman's hair would inflame the passions of a man! Next time you see a Tudor painting see if you can pick out any "brazen hussies"!!!

Linen was used for bedding, sheets, and for table covering.
In the raw linen is a biscuit colour, but would have been bleached with urine to whiten it. It would have ranged from a very fine, soft, almost transparent fabric, to a thick, rough, hessian type material. The finer the fabric the longer it would have taken to make, and the more expensive it would have been to buy.
The poorer you were the rougher the linen you wore, but you were still likely to have two sets of under garments, and it was important to keep them washed and clean. A thicker material would also have lasted longer, and kept you warmer, when working out in the fields.
Margaret and Janice in authentic costume lent by the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, after a long evening as serving wenches at a Tudor Supper in aid of the St Mary's Church, Portchester, Restoration Fund
Sheep shearing would have taken place at the same time of year, and for the same reasons, as today. Early summer, after the nights have warmed up and the sheep aren't going to suffer without their woolly coats, and before they become distressed by the heat of the day.

Raw wool has a soft, slightly greasy feel, this is the lanolin in the sheep's coat.
When we stop washing our hair it becomes greasy, so you never see a sheep at the water trough with a bottle of shampoo washing the oil out of their coats, it helps to protect them from the wet and cold. Just as when you spill oil on the work surface when cooking, and water runs off it, so the rain will run down the outside of the sheep's coat.
Today we use this lanolin in handcream and lipsticks.

The fleece would have been cleaned, and the parts not suitable for spinning would have been used in matresses etc.
Southdown sheep
Basket of wool that can't be spun but would be used for matresses etc
Individual fibres of wool have hooks on the end. If you take a small amount of wool, tease it out into a strip, then twist it(just like "twiddling" your hair), or "finger spinning", the fibres will hook onto each other making it strong; try pulling it apart and see.
This is the action of a spinning wheel, twisting the wool, making the fibres hook into each other as they twist and become thread.

The first job for the Tudor housewife was to clean the wool, then just as we do every morning to unknot our hair, comb it.
This was done with a pair of "carders", like wooden paddles with handles, and metal spikes on one side, like a hairbrush. A small amount of wool is pulled over one of the carders' and then, with one in each hand, one carder is pulled over the top of the other. Push too hard and they will stick together, it needs practice to get the right pressure so that the wool is combed, knots taken out and the strands lying in the same direction. The wool is eased off the carder and rolled into a "rolag" ready to spin.
This could possible have been a young child's job, whilst learning from their mother how to spin.

The great wheel, as shown in the photo from Bayleaf Farmstead, is the most likely type spinning wheel in use during the Tudor period. You would have stood to one side of it, taken up the thread already on the spindle, and with your rolag of wool held lightly in one hand with the end of the thread, you'd have spun the wheel. The wheel had linen thread round it connected to the spindle, which in turn spun round, as this happened the movement sent the twists up the thread as you manoeuvred the thread to be popping off the end of the spindle as every turn, and the hooks on the thread and new wool of the rolag would catch together, a join that couldn't be seen! As the two pieces of wool join together so you can start to draw the wool in you hand out to make as thin a thread as you want.

The poorer people wouldn't have had a spinning wheel but would have used a "drop spindle". A length of thin wood, with a circular piece part way up, a hook or notch to catch the thread. It would be twisted to start it spinning round, and let go towards the floor, with the wool again twisting into thread. As the thread got longer, whether on the great wheel or drop spindle, it would be wrapped round the spindle.

With two lots of this thread made it would be put on two drop spindles, and these would then have been spun together, to get the two threads of wool to ply together, two ply yarn.

This yarn would then have to be weaved into cloth and dyed before you could make your clothes.
Little wonder that poorer people only had one set of clothes made of wool.

Great Wheel in Bayleaf Farmstead at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum
Fleece to Fabric Kit for the Classroom

For Pupils Hands-on Experience

A kit that gives a true feel of Tudor fabrics.

3 samples each of wool and linen fabric that the would have been worn by the poor to the rich, plus a sample of silk.
(These have been sourced from suppliers of historic fabrics such as Ruth Goodman.)

Raw (but clean!) silk, linen and wool.
Enough wool for 30 pupils to have a go at 'finger-spinning'.
Silk cocoons - one still rattling with the silkworm!

Natural dyeing material e.g. madder root (pinky reds) and goldenrod (olive)

Pictures and photos of costumes
8 pages of teachers notes.

Cost: - £22 incl p&p

To order: - phone Sally 023 92713515

email : - the.apothecary@ntlworld.com

Cheque made payable to: - S.Murdoch

Ground Floor Flat
34 Derby Road

Schools invoiced to pay in 14 days


Fleece to Fabric Kit. Samples of wool, linen and silk fabrics, raw wool, linen and silk, silk cocoons and dyeing material.

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rebecca | Reply 16.03.2013 15.35


jordy | Reply 30.09.2010 12.55

nice i like the foto's

jim bob | Reply 26.09.2010 19.59


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