linsey-wolsey

Linsey-wolsey  is a type of fabric known as a Union cloth in which two or more different fibres are used. Linsey-wolsey normally has a linen warp and a wool weft.

More recently, the term has been used for a coarse linen fabric or a strong coarse fabric with linen or cotton warp and a woollen weft with the warp hidden by the weft which has a nap finish. (Textile Terms and Definitions, Textile Institute, 9th edition, 1993).

The term was used by visitors to Wales in the 18th and 19th centuries to describe some clothing fabrics and although they may well have seen people wearing fabric of this sort, it has been suggested that it became a generic term for home-made cloth (brethyn cartref in Welsh).

Many of the gowns appear to be of linsey-wolsey with a nap but the linsey-wolsey found on the dolls in the Welsh costume doll project, were in loomstate, without a nap finish.

Linsey-wolsey is sometimes referred to as  linsey, lindsey, wolsey, linsely-woolsey, linsey-woolsey, tilsy-wolsy, winsey, woolsey and in Ireland as drugget.

Welsh terminology
The number of Welsh terms for linsey woolsey show how important a fabric it was.
linsey-woolsey:                                                         Dictionary
not listed                                                                    Evans, 1771 (E-W)
cymmysg-we (mixed web)                                     Evans, 1812 (2) (E-W)
cymmysgwe                                                              Evans, 1852
gwe o lin a gŵlan (web of linen and wool)         Walters, 1828
llinwlanen (linen wool)                                           Evans, 1852

linsey-woolsey                     tenlli                            Walters, 1815, 1828
linsey-woolsey, shalloon    tenlli                            Pughe, 1866-1873 (W-E)
cloth, home spun (coarse) tenllif                           Walters, 1815, 1828
[tenlli = thin coarse cloth, wincey, linsey-woolsey, mixed fabric, wadding, cotton wool (GPC)]
[shalloon = a fabric of tightly woven wool, mainly used for the linings of articles of clothing (Wikipedia)]

Present day textile experts often find it difficult to be certain whether the warp on a union cloth is of linen or cotton, without very careful analysis.

References to linsey-wolsey

about 1747
I will spin our wool and make stockings for Morgan [her son] and myself, and the weaver shall weave us a piece of Tilsy-wolsy [Linsey woolsey?] every year, and the tailor shall make Morgan a suit of clothes and me a gown, and we will sow our own flax and I will spin that into shirts, shifts and sheets, and we will live so well and go so fine as we can.
Broadsheet about a woman and her husband going to London. ‘Unnafred Shones, wife to Shon ap Morgan’, published by William Dicey, London, c 1747

1798 Merioneth
The covering of the females, … was a coarse lindsey bed-gown, scarcely cut in any shape.
Evans, John, Rev., A tour through part of North Wales, in the year 1798, and at other times … (London, 1800), p. 345

1800 (about)
The premiums of the Cardigan Society for promoting cottage industry have called forth uncommon exertions. Some excellent specimens were produced and obtained the promised rewards – cloths of various fineness – and colours – scarlet etc. down to the humble Linsey Woolsey of the milk maid.
Davies, Walter, NLW 1759 Bii, notebook 7 chapter 15 Political economy, second part, f. 403v

1802 Coed Gwili Slate quarries, Llanelli
Domestic manufactures, flannels white and coloured, waistcoat flannels, some of them very neat and serviceable. Linsey woolseys for women’s gowns. Home manufactured cloth generally blue.
Davies, Walter, NLW 1760A, notebook 7, Itinerary 1802, no III, Glamorgan and Carmarthenshire, pp. 3-7

1802
They also make great quantities of linsey-woolsey of different patterns, which they call stuff, for women’s gowns etc.
Williams, William, (1738-1817), Observations on the Snowdon Mountains with some account of the customs and manners of the inhabitants, (1802), pp. 25-26

1802, Bangor
Nothing can be more droll than to see a number of Welch people on such occasions whose utmost finery never exceeded a bed-gown of lindsey wolsey of a deeper blue than ordinary …
Mary Anne Eade, National Library of Wales, MS22190B

1803 [Pembrokeshire]
The Flemmings … appear determined to exhibit their different origin in their mode of dress. That of the women in the Welsh [north] part is a jacket and petticoat of checked worsted, or lindsey wolsey stuff, … while that of the women of this part of Pembrokeshire [the south] is a thick, heavy cloth gown and petticoat, with a hood hanging from it behind, generally of a dark colour, p. 257
Evans, John, B.A., 1768-1812 (Jesus College, Oxford) Letters written during a tour through South Wales, in the year 1803, and at other times … (London, 1804)

1808, Cardiganshire
The women’s dress is made of wool and flax, which they call linsey-woolsey.
Meyrick, S. R., The History and Antiquities of the County of Cardiganshire, 1808, pp. cci-ccii; 2nd edition, 1907, p. 91

1815 [near Bridgend]
… the domestic manufactures of the country : consisting of cloths, flannels, blankets, hosiery, linseys of flaxen warp and woollen woof [weft] or cotton woof, or a mixture of woollen and cotton woof, etc for home use.
Davies, Walter, General View of the Agriculture and Domestic Economy of South Wales, Vol 2., (London, 1815), p. 441

1828 Breconshire
There would you see the young woman of Breconshire, … Her long linsey gown is pinned up behind …
T. J. Llewelyn Prichard, The Adventures and Vagaries of Twm Shôn Catti; (1828), pp. 45-49

1833 Bangor
The dress is generally dark linsey woolsey check or stripe
Fashions at the Bangor Fair by Martha Rushbody, Milliner, and Dress-Maker and Barnaby Bodkin, Tailor. North Wales Chronicle, 25.6.1833

1833 Caenarfonshire
The manufactures and commerce of Carnarvonshire are various, … They also make great quantities of striped linsey-woolsey, of different patterns, which they call stuff, and which is used for the women’s gowns.
Lewis, Samuel, Topographical Dictionary of Wales, 1833, ‘Caernarvonshire’. Part of this is based on Williams, William, (1738-1817), Observations on the Snowdon Mountains

1834 Flintshire
In Flintshire, and the parts of Wales bordering upon England, these garments are made entirely from a mixture of flax or cotton and wool, called linsey Woolsey.
The Rev John Blackwell, (Alun, 1797 – 1840), curate of Holywell and Rector of Manordeifi (Pembrokeshire), On the Advantages Resulting from the Preservation of the Welsh Language and the National Costumes of Wales.’ This was published in English, as a translation form the Welsh in Beauties of Alun; being the Literary Remains, in Welsh and English, of the late The Rev John Blackwell, B.A., Ruthin and London, 1851, edited by G. Edwards (Gutyn Padarn), pp. 253-266 which states thatThis essay was intended for the Cardiff Eisteddfod, [1834] but sent in too late for the adjudication.’ The English translation was also published in The Cambrian Journal, (Cambrian Institute), Tenby, 1861, pp. 26-38,

1835 [location unknown]
The women … have worked collars and cotton dresses, but they do not look near so well as the stuff of linsey.
Webber, Mary, & Webber, Charles, Tour to Wales, 1835     , Bodleian Library, Top Gen, E59

(1836) [Derived from earlier sources]
The common dress of the females in South Wales consists of a jacket, made tight to the shape, and a petticoat of dark brown or striped linsey-woolsey, bound with different colours.
Charles Augustus Goodrich, The Universal Traveller: Designed to Introduce Readers at Home to an acquaintance with the Arts, Customs and Manners of the Principal Modern Nations of the Globe, … derived from the researches of recent Travellers, 2nd edition, 1836, p. 227 (subsequent editions: 1838, 1842, 1843, 1845). Repeated in Blake, A View of the World, 1841, p. 86

1837 Llandovery
Large town, fair day, our broad street full of people, women all in hats & caps with full borders, linsey bed gowns, striped petticoats & aprons all different colours the latter generally plaid.
Aberavon dirty village, children without shoes and stockings, women with hats & linsey gowns.
Louise Charlotte Kenyon, Shropshire Records and Archive Centre, 549/285

[1837] [Cardiganshire]
The Women’s dress is made of wool and flax or … Woolsey which is woven into pretty chequers of blue and [?] stripes on a blue ground, [.]
Williams, Richard, [Doctor of Aberystwyth], ‘Observations on Parturition amongst the Poor In the Upper District of Cardiganshire’ (N.L.W. 12165D), p6 folio 9r – p. 7 folio 11r.

1842
The women wear close fitting jackets, and dark brown or striped linsely-woolsey petticoats.
William Chambers and Robert Chambers, Chamber’s Information for the People, 1842, pp. 588-9.

1849-1851 Gorn Mine, near Llanidloes
All were single women whom I saw working the jiggers. They were dressed, some in linsey-woolsey garments, of a cut peculiar to the country with straw hats, others in cotton gowns and bonnets.
Ginswick, J., (1983) Labour and the Poor in England and Wales: Letters to Morning Chronicle, 1849-1851, p. 223-224; The Morning Chronicle (London, England),  June 14, 1850

1853 Bangor
It happened to be market day and we therefore had an excellent opportunity of seeing plenty of country girls in their national costumes; … the dress was made of a coarse flannel or linsey-woolsey kind of stuff.
[Bailey, Walker], A Journal of a short walking tour in North Wales 1853, NLW MS 12044, 28.7.1853

1853, (novel). [Description of a maid in a Welsh village]
The Square, stout, bustling figure, neat and clean in every respect, but dressed in the peculiar, old fashioned costume of the county, namely a dark-striped linsey-woolsey petticoat, made very short, displaying sturdy legs in woollen stockings beneath; a loose kind of jacket, called there a ‘bedgown’, made of a pink print …
Gaskell, Elizabeth, ‘Ruth’ 1853

1853, Abergavenny
In October, Spencer, Carry and I went to Llanover to Sir Benjamin and Lady Hall for the Eisteddfod at Abergavenny … just as Carry and I were putting on our things to go to Abergavenny, there was a knock at the door and Lady Hall’s maid entered carrying two frightful linstey [sic – linsey] petticoats and bodices, two Welsh chimney-pot black hats with coarse mob caps and said, ‘If you please, her Ladyship wishes you and Miss Lucy to wear the Welsh costumes today at the Eisteddfod’ …
Mrs Lucy of Charlecote (1803 – 1889), Mistress of Charlecote, The Memoirs of Mary Elizabeth Lucy, (London, 1985), pp. 95-97

1858 (novel)
Lisbeth Bede loves her son with the love of a woman to whom her first-born has come late in life. She is an anxious, spare, yet vigorous old woman, clean as a snowdrop. Her grey hair is turned neatly back under a pure linen cap with a black band round it; her broad chest is covered with a buff neckerchief, and below this you see a sort of short bedgown made of blue-checkered linen, tied round the waist and descending to the hips, from whence there is a considerable length of linsey-woolsey petticoat.
Eliot, George, Adam Bede (1858) chapter 4.

1858
A series of questions by ap Morris, answered by the editor.
It would require more space than we can afford to enter into the minutiae of Welsh female costume, suffice to say that the beaver hat and linsey gown are among its main characteristics.
Anon, The Cambrian Journal, 1858, pp. 365-366

[1859], Llanrhyddiog, (a coal mining town)
The dresses of the women were very warm and comfortable, composed of linsey; nearly all being of the same pattern of black and red stripes, on a brown ground,
Anon, In the Land of the Eisteddfod, The Cornhill Magazine: Vol. I, January to June, 1860, pp. 478-487

1861 [South Wales]
The red linsey petticoat, usually both made and dyed at home, is still common …
Hall, Mr and Mrs, The book of South Wales, the Wye, and the coast, (1861), pp. 186-7

1873
The dress of the Welsh women who came to Tenby Market generally consists of a high-crowned hat, a full quilled cap, a linsey plaid petticoat …
Mason, R., A Guide to the Town of Tenby and its Neighbourhood, (1873)

1887 LLANASA. GLYN CASTLE CHORAL UNION
This young choir performed at the Eisteddfod at Caerwys last year, intend to perform at the London Eisteddfod. They held a benefit costume at Birkenhead (and elsewhere). The lady members of the choir, numbering about 50 were dressed in the National Costume of Wales. The costumes were the gift of Mrs T H Jackson, Glyn Castle. The linsey for the skirts was ordered direct from the celebrated manufactory of Mr Pryce Jones, Newtown and the material for the bodices etc were purchased at Messrs G.H. Lee and Co., Liverpool.
North Wales Chronicle (Bangor, Wales), January 29, 1887

1890 Amlwch. Dorcas Society – Annual Distribution to the Poor
290 articles were given away [including] 45 linsey petticoats
North Wales Chronicle (Bangor, Wales), Saturday, November 22, 1890; Issue 3285

ISLE OF MAN
The women wore a petticoat, of oanrey, of eglhinolley, or linsey-woolsey, which was usually dyed dark-red
Arthur William Moore, The Folk-Lore of the Isle of Man, 1891, from the Introduction

1840S, IRELAND
… 200 freze jackets for men, in 3 sizes 100 pair of freze trousers in 3 sizes 75 waistcoats in two sizes 100 shirts for boys in 2 sizes 75 worsted caps for boys in 3 sizes 100 Linsey Wolsey petticoats for women 150 shifts for girls and women in 5 sizes 100 cotton bedgowns 75 girls
M Quinn, Enniskillen Poor Law Union (1840-49), Clogher Record, (1971)

ENGLAND

1720s
Daniel Defoe records at Worcester that There are three or four especial manufactures carried on in this country, which are peculiar to itself, or at least to this county with Chester and Warwickshire. [no 4] Kidderminster stuff called Lindsey woolseys, they are very rarely made anywhere else.
Defoe, Daniel, A Tour Through the whole Island of Great Britain Abridged. Edited by P.N. Furbank and W.R. Owens, Yale Univ Press, 199 (based on the first edition of 1724-1726), p. 187

1805 Yorkshire, (Luddenden, near Halifax) [The writer’s account of his own birth according to his father.]
[The midwife] was dressed in Woolsey petticoats, and short bedgown, a large pair of unsightly clogs decorated her feet, while over her head and shoulders was thrown an old scarlet cloak, which might have seen the better half of at least eighty summers.
Heaton, William, The old Soldier, The Wandering lover and other poems with a sketch of the author’s life, (1862), p. xv

1841
[The Farmer’s daughters] are born ‘old fashioned’. They have an old head on young shoulders … There is Dolly Cowcabbage … She is generally to be seen in a linsey-wolsey petticoat, a short striped bedgown or kirtle, and a greenish- brownish kerchief carefully placed on her bosom.
Howitt, William, The Farmer’s daughter in Meadows, J.K., Heads of the People: Or, Portraits of the English, (1841) p. 322

AMERICA AND CANADA
The women’s clothing figured little in pioneer history. The linsey-woolsey petticoat and bed gown are mentioned, the bodice, the homespun kerchief at the neck and sunbonnets “of six or seven hundred linen.” Some wore shoe packs instead of moccasins. The children wore diminutive models of the adult dress.
Robert S. Cotterill, History of Pioneer Kentucky (Cincinnati: Johnson & Hardin, 1917), p.248; Henry Howe, Historical Collections of the Great West (Cincinnati: Henry Howe, 1873), 215-217; Maude Ward Lafferty, Destruction of Ruddle’s and Martin’s Forts in the Revolutionary War; The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Vol. 54, October, 1956, No. 189