Posted by: travelrat | December 13, 2015

Travel Theme: Fabric

This takes me back quite a few years:

‘On your feet, Mr. Kellett! Two minutes, please; subject is FABRIC!’

Errr …!!

I suppose it would be fairly easy to dig up a few photos of market stalls, and enthuse over the bright and varied colours displayed. But, I thought I’d go back a bit … about 4000 or 5000 years.

I’ve learned a bit about this period mainly by osmosis, for, one day a week, I work as a volunteer at the Stonehenge Visitor Centre. Part of the display are the replica Neolithic Houses, where they’ve tried to work out how people lived around the time the Great Stones were erected. Some of what’s to be seen is based on archaeological evidence, with some experimentation thrown in. In other words, they’ve worked things out just as the Ancients did; tried various methods considering the technology and materials available to them, and picked the one which worked best.

A question we’re often asked is ‘What did they wear?’ Of course, there’s no definite answer to that; there are no written or pictorial records, and only scanty archaeological evidence. Probably the most likely material would have been animal skins … because they’d have to kill the animal anyway, if they wanted to eat. But, animal skins can be uncomfortable if worn next to the skin, so it’s probable that, for better padding and insulation, some form of fabric was devised at a very early stage.

But, what did they make it from? Not wool, for it’s thought that they hadn’t got around to domesticating the sheep at this time. Cotton still had to reach these shores. But, they had available to them plants which are still used in making fabrics to this day. Hemp and flax!

In fact, it’s possible to make thread from just about any plant under the sun. We’ve produced thread from blackberry plants and rushes, and evidence has been found that they knew how to weave. In fact, one of our ladies has produced a couple of shirts woven from the fibres of the stinging nettle, and visitors often marvel at how soft and wearable they are.

The jury’s still out on whether work this fine was actually produced … but the lady who did the shirts used only the materials and techniques that would have been available at the time … so, as they used to say on TV, they certainly ‘had the technology’.


Neolithic House at Stonehenge. The ‘Nettle Shirt’ is top right of the picture.

For more colourful fabrics, visit Ailsa at



  1. Amazing that they used stinging nettles. Some of these marvellous old traditions have been lost, or take many years before they are re-discovered.

    • When the bast has been stripped out, the nettles don’t sting … but I don’t envy anyone the job! When we did the blackberry fibre, we wore heavy industrial gloves … which, of course, they didn’t have in the Neolithic. People are continually surprised at the quality of the shirts, though … I think they might sell if they were ever produced commercially.

      • That is interesting information! Blackberry shirts could catch on

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: