The Cloth Trade in Tudor England

Tudor Wool Trade
Map showing regions where the wool trade was most prominent

The cloth trade was extremely important in Tudor England. Merchants dealt in the import and export of raw materials and  finished products. Cloth merchants were generally very wealthy men.

Although linen was beginning to be produced, it was the production of woollen cloth that dominated the Tudor Period.

The West Riding of Yorkshire, East Anglia and the West Country were the most important areas for the production of woollen cloth. 

Process

The making of cloth in England at this time involved a series of process, each carried out by workers in their own homes. 

Raw Sheep's wool
Raw sheep’s wool

The clothier sent his agents to collect cartloads of fleece from farms. These were then brought back to his barn for sorting into different qualities and sizes. Workers were employed to wash and oil the wool which was then piled layer upon layer so that the oil would make the wool more supple for working. When the wool was ready it was taken by pack-horse to the carders.

Using spiked boards, the carders had to comb the wool into separate fibres. This was very hard physical work and workers frequently worked for twelve hours at a time.

The carded wool was then taken to village women who would spin the fibres into thread using a distaff. The women often sat together and gossiped as they worked.

Spun woollen thread was then taken to the weavers where it was woven into cloth. The finished material was then taken to a fulling mill where it was soaked in water before being beaten with wooden paddles. It was then srcubbed with fuller’s earth (aluminium oxide).

Cloth Dying

The wet cloth was stretched before being bleached and sheared. For most of the Tudor Period cloth was exported in its natural state but towards the end of the sixteenth century it began to be dyed by a local dyer. 

Yellow could be made by dying the wool with onions, cow parsley, nettles, oak bark or privet leaves. Blues and purples could be made by using the fruit of the sorrel tree while shades of grey could be made from alder bark and yellow iris.

The entire cloth-making process could be completed in a few months.