Great Moments in Weaving

The Newbury spinners and weavers at work

Weaving is a product of time and place, and there are as many perspectives on it as there are weavers. Last week Madelyn talked about the pleasures of slow weaving. But slow weaving wasn’t always appreciated as it is now. According to “The History of the Newbury Coat,” by J.R. Wade, a record was set for weaving speed in 1811 that stood for 88 years. At a dinner party that year, Mr. John Coxeter, a well-known cloth manufacturer, and the owner of Greenham Mills in Newbury, remarked to Baronet Sir John Throckmorton, "So great are the improvements in machinery I have lately introduced into my mill, that I believe that in twenty- four hours I could take the coat off your back, reduce it to wool, and turn it back into a coat again." Sir John was apparently persuaded by this boast (but not to donate his coat to the cause), and he bet 1,000 guineas to the other dinner guests that on June 25th, at 8 p.m, he would sit down to dinner in a coat made from wool shorn at 5 a.m. that morning.

  The shearing of the Southdowns

An English newspaper reported that at 5 a.m. on the appointed day, two Southdown sheep were presented to Mr. Coxeter. They were shorn, the wool was sorted and spun, and the cloth was woven and finished (“burred, milled, rowed, dyed, dried, sheared, and pressed” ) and handed over to the tailor by 4 o’clock. The tailor finished the coat just after 6 p.m., and Sir John made his dinner appointment with time to spare. The instantly famous coat was “a hunting kersey of the admired dark Wellington color,” (from the photos, a squared-off tailcoat in a purplish brown), and its fame was so great and lasting that it was shown in the great International Exhibition of 1851.

Few of us would want to rush our weaving process. Most of us struggle for weaving time as it is, and our great moments are any moments we can spend at the loom. But it’s fun to share a picture, a story, or a fun fact that keeps us connected even when we’re not weaving. If you like the story of Sir John’s coat, you can find more fun facts to know and tell your weaving friends in the 2011 Handwoven Wall Calendar and in the ever-growing archives of our BeWeave It blog.

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