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Beginnings: Early times to 1560

Industry and Technology

Textile and Leather

By John R Hume

Because evidence is scanty, this account is based on probabilities rather than on firm evidence, but is probably reasonably accurate as far as it goes. Early humans are believed to have clothed themselves in skins, but these were presumably cured rather than tanned. By the time of serious settlement in what is now Glasgow however, the making of textiles and the tanning of leather were both embedded in western European life.

The textile fibres in use by the time Govan, and then Glasgow, became urban settlements, were flax and wool, products of local agriculture. Both would have been spun, using spindle and whorl, by the women of the families, often while they were walking (spindle whorls have been found in archaeological excavations of mediaeval sites in Glasgow). The cloth would have been woven on handlooms, possibly vertically set, as loom-weights have been found in archaeological excavations. Woollen cloth would have been "waulked" by hand to felt up the surfaces and make it more windproof. Leather, made from the hides of animals slaughtered for food, would have been tanned (turned into leather) using oak bark, and made into shoes, belts, shields and scabbards, horse and possibly ox harness, and the sides of bellows, all by local craftsmen.

Not all of the textiles and leather used in the town would, after the formation of the burgh, have been locally made, as the periodic markets would have allowed goods made outside the burgh to be bought in. By 1560 it is probable that the "muckle wheel", a hand-operated spinning wheel, and the horizontal loom were in general use. It is also possible that water-powered fulling had to some extent replaced hand waulking of woollen cloth. Waulking and fulling were the processes which made cloth compact through shrinking and/or pressing.

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