The ancient fabric that no one knows how to make
The ancient fabric that no one knows how to make
In late 18th-Century Europe, a new fashion led to an international scandal. In fact, an entire social class was accused of appearing in public naked.
The culprit was Dhaka muslin, a precious fabric imported from the city of the same name in what is now Bangladesh, then in Bengal. It was not like the muslin of today. Made via an elaborate, 16-step process with a rare cotton that only grew along the banks of the holy Meghna river, the cloth was considered one of the great treasures of the age. It had a truly global patronage, stretching back thousands of years – deemed worthy of clothing statues of goddesses in ancient Greece, countless emperors from distant lands, and generations of local Mughal royalty.
There were many different types, but the finest were honoured with evocative names conjured up by imperial poets, such as "baft-hawa", literally "woven air". These high-end muslins were said to be as light and soft as the wind. According to one traveller, they were so fluid you could pull a bolt – a length of 300ft, or 91m – through the centre of a ring. Another wrote that you could fit a piece of 60ft, or 18m, into a pocket snuff box.
Dhaka muslin was also more than a little transparent.
While traditionally, these premium fabrics were used to make saris and jamas – tunic-like garments worn by men – in the UK they transformed the style of the aristocracy, extinguishing the highly structured dresses of the Georgian era. Five-foot horizontal waistlines that could barely fit through doorways were out, and delicate, straight-up-and-down "chemise gowns" were in. Not only were these endowed with a racy gauzy quality, they were in the style of what was previously considered underwear.
In one popular satirical print by Isaac Cruikshank, a clique of women appear together in long, brightly coloured muslin dresses, through which you can clearly see their bottoms, nipples and pubic hair. Underneath reads the description, "Parisian Ladies in their Winter Dress for 1800".
Meanwhile in an equally misogynistic comedic excerpt from an English women's monthly magazine, a tailor helps a female client to achieve the latest fashion. "Madame, ’tis done in a moment," he assures her, then instructs her to remove her petticoat, then her pockets, then her corset and finally her sleeves… "‘Tis an easy matter, you see," he explains. "To be dressed in the fashion, you have only to undress."
Still, Dhaka muslin was a hit – with those who could afford it. It was the most expensive fabric of the era, with a retinue of dedicated fans that included the French queen Marie Antoinette, the French empress Joséphine Bonaparte and Jane Austen. But as quickly as this wonder-cloth struck Enlightenment Europe, it vanished.
By the early 20th Century, Dhaka muslin had disappeared from every corner of the globe, with the only surviving examples stashed safely in valuable private collections and museums. The convoluted technique for making it was forgotten, and the only type of cotton that could be used, Gossypium arboreum var. neglecta – locally known as Phuti karpas – abruptly went extinct. How did this happen? And could it be reversed?
A fickle fibre
Dhaka muslin began with plants grown along the banks of the Meghna river, one of three which form the immense Ganges Delta – the largest in the world. Every spring, their maple-like leaves pushed up through the grey, silty soil, and made their journey towards straggly adulthood. Once fully grown, they produced a single daffodil-yellow flower twice a year, which gave way to a snowy floret of cotton fibres.
These were no ordinary fibres. Unlike the long, slender strands produced by its Central American cousin Gossypium hirsutum, which makes up 90% of the world’s cotton today, Phuti karpas produced threads that are stumpy and easily frayed. This might sound like a flaw, but it depends what you’re planning to do with them.
Indeed, the short fibres of the vanished shrub were useless for making cheap cotton cloth using industrial machinery. They were fickle to work with, and they’d snap easily if you tried to twist them into yarn this way. Instead, the local people tamed the rogue threads with a series of ingenious techniques developed over millennia.
What is flannel fabric?
Essentially, flannel fabric simply refers to any cotton, wool, or synthetic fabric that fulfills a few basic criteria:
Softness: Fabric must be incredibly soft to be considered flannel.
Texture: Flannel has either a brushed or unbrushed texture, and both textures are equally iconic.
Material: While many materials can be used to make flannel, not all materials are suitable for this fabric. Silk, for instance, is too fine to be made into flannel, which is supposed to be both soft and insulative.
Flannel in history
It’s believed that the word“flannel” emerged in Wales, but we know for a fact that the term was in common usage in France in the form “flannelle” as early as the 17th century. While flannel was periodically popular among the French and other European peoples throughout the Enlightenment era, interest has waned elsewhere while Welsh flannel use has only increased.
These days, types of flannel are often known by their association with certain Welsh towns or regions. Llanidloes flannel is very different from Newtown flannel, for instance, and Welsh flannel varieties vary significantly from all other European flannel types.
Sheet, usually of heavy woolen, or partly woolen, cloth, for use as a shawl, bed covering, or horse covering. The blanketmaking of primitive people is one of the finest remaining examples of early domestic artwork. The blankets of Mysore, India, were famous for their fine, soft texture. The loom of the Native American, though simple in construction, can produce blanket so closely woven as to be waterproof. The Navaho, Zu?i, Hopi, and other Southwestern Native Americans are noted for their distinctive, firmly woven blankets. The Navahos produced beautifully designed blankets characterized by geometrical designs woven with yarns colored with vegetable dyes. During the mid-19th cent. the Navahos began to use yarns imported from Europe, because of their brighter colors. The ceremonial Chilcat blanket of the Tlingit of the Northwest, generally woven with a warp of cedar bark and wool and a weft of goats' hair, was curved and fringed at the lower end. In the 20th cent., the electric blanket, with electric wiring between layers of fabric, gained wide popularity.
How to Properly Use a Bath Mat
Whether you’ve just remodeled your bathroom or you’re looking to spruce up your existing space for the season, accessories like a handsome bath mat, perfectly patterned shower curtains, or the plushest of bath towels will take the room from everyday necessity to serene spa destination. While just as important as the others, the lowly bath mat can get overlooked. But don’t make the mistake of opting for the first white terrycloth style you see. The right bath rug won’t just help you avoid the unpleasant shock of stepping onto bare tile after a shower. It will give your floor—and the whole room—an extra hit of much-needed personality. Here, we’ve gathered bath mats that are soft, absorbent, and beautifully designed. Think geometric prints, cheery stripes, even a cheeky banana-shaped option—plus many more.
First off, everyone had some great suggestions as to why we use bath mats at all. They soak up water, yes, but they also keep us from slipping and smashing our heads through the toilet, and act as a temperature buffer for our toesies between the hot shower and the ice cold floor. Gee, bath mats are pretty swell!
When it came to usage, the general consensus was that this is the wrong way to do it:
Step out onto mat
Then dry off
It leaves the bath mat soggy and wet for whoever showers after you. It also makes you much colder during the drying process.
Most people seemed to agree that this is the right way to do it, though:
Grab towel from inside the shower
Dry off inside the shower
Then step out onto the mat
But you all suggested a few excellent additions, like keeping your towel within arm’s reach of the shower so you don’t have to get cold to grab it, squeegeeing your hair and body to remove excess water before you dry with a towel, keeping the curtain or shower door closed while you dry off to stay warm, drying off from the top down (hair first), and hanging up the mat over the edge of the tub or shower when you’re done so it can dry without looking like a random wet towel on your floor.
What is the Difference Between Fleece and Flannel?
As you already know, the main difference between fleece and flannel is what they are made of. Fleece has synthetic fibers, and flannel features loose cotton threads. But because of their different fibers, these fabrics and finished products have several unique characteristics.
Take a look at this in-depth comparison of key features such as warmth, softness, and sustainability for each type of fabric.
Most of the time, fleece has a thicker nap and also provides more warmth than flannel. Now, flannel is quite a cozy and warm fabric in its own right! But in comparison, fleece usually wins the warmth contest.
The exception to this rule is that some high-quality types of flannel contain wool fibers, and these types of flannel provide intense warmth!
What makes fleece so warm? Its many tiny, raised polyester fibers trap heat and hold them in the loose, velvety surface of its pile. If you have ever stuck your hand into your dog’s fur in the middle of winter, you know how all those tiny hairs hold immense warmth against your pet’s skin! Fleece fibers work the same way when you wear them against your skin.
Fleece is often softer than flannel, but if you have sensitive skin, you may find that its synthetic fibers also have a slightly plasticky feel. Of course, you will find exceptions to this rule, especially in flannel made with silk fibers. This will probably feel much softer than even the softest fleece!
Because both types of material go through a napping process, they both feature an incredibly soft texture on at least one side of the material. Fleece usually has a thicker, deeper pile, while flannel has a faint fuzziness on top of its woven surface.
If you rest your hand on top of the fleece, you feel as if your fingers can sink into the thick surface, at least a little. When you rest your hand on a piece of flannel, you typically feel a cozy fuzziness.
Both fleece and flannel make excellent blankets and throws! You can find soft, pretty fleece and flannel blanket in pretty much any color or design you want.
That said, you should probably go with flannel for a baby blanket, as synthetic materials can sometimes cause allergic reactions.
If you plan to sew a blanket, though, you will want to use fleece. Flannel unravels super fast due to its loose weave, making it challenging to cut and sew. Fleece does not unravel when cut because it has a knitted construction with threads looped over each other.