Tuesday, 19 July 2022
Fabric is one of those things that is so ubiquitous and important for life, and yet is also so ordinary and cheap nowadays that we simply forget about it. The book emphasizes that for most of human history fabric was at the forefront of thought. The amount of time and effort that’s gone into clothing and cloth for other purposes (sails, table coverings, curtains, blankets, etc.) is astronomical.
The book begins with the idea that modern people look at ancient art dealing with women and see a spindle and think, ah, this is a domestic scene. But we forget that the spindle as a means of turning fibres into thread was the start of production, necessary for the home, yes, but also an important industry. Millions of women over the course of history have spun thread and made cloth, whether of flax, cotton, wool, or silk. It was constant work because cloth is always needed. The book also shows how spinning thread was undervalued, partly because it was women’s work, but also because the higher the cost of thread, the higher the cost of cloth. We do the same thing today, keeping the final cost of clothing low so the rich can buy a lot of it, even if that means exploiting the workers who sew the cloth into clothing.
My interests are in ancient and medieval history so I didn’t expect the modern sections to interest me, but they were also fascinating. Learning about how cotton plants were cross bread and a fluke mutation created the cotton plants bred today was neat.
This is an excellent book dealing with a topic that affects everyone, but to which we give entirely too little thought.