Tradecloth’s quality and characteristics

Broadcloth and Devonshire long ell making involved many stages of manufacture by different skilled workers, as described by Thomas Fox in 1813: ‘Woolsorters, Washers, Scourers, Combers, Spinners, Spoolers, Warpers, Weavers, Quillers, Millmen, Burlers, Packers, Helpers &c.’

Wool was sourced locally or imported, particularly from Saxony where merino sheep of Spanish origin had been bred to achieve a finer quality fleece. The wool was sorted according to fibre type. Longer, straighter fibres were more suitable for combing for worsted warp of serges or Devonshire long ells. Softer, crimped wool was carded for broadcloths and wefts of serges.

Broadcloth came in different qualities ranging from coarse to medium, fine and superfine and was generally exported dyed. The cloths were dyed after weaving; ‘piece dyed’ rather than ‘yarn dyed’. The edge of the cloth, known as the selvedge or ‘list’, was usually ‘saved’ by binding it in canvas before dyeing so that it would remain white or undyed. Sometimes the border would be folded and bound twice to achieve double stripes of undyed sections. These stripes economised on the amount of dye required and provided a distinguishing marking to the cloth. These ‘saved lists’ would be cut away or hidden in the seams of most European clothing. However they became a desirable feature to the Native Americans who were using the cloth, and the stripes became a design feature in clothing or artefacts that the cloth was incorporated into.

The Devonshire ‘long ells’ had worsted or combed warps which made them harder wearing. They were twill woven rather than plain weave. These cloths were dyed and finished in London, which meant that Exeter benefited little from this Devonshire trade. Long ells initially made up a smaller fraction of the East India Company’s costs on export commodities than broadcloth, but dominated the company’s expenditure from 1786.