Weaving fibers, feathers & fur

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach pre-teens about ancient civilizations. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.

Clothes

When we think about textiles for clothing, there are a couple of sources that we tend to fall back on: wool, silk, cow leather, linen, and cotton are the main natural sources. But what about other materials that can make up our attire?

Quick Facts

  • There's only one surviving breed of wooly pig; the Mangalica is indigenous to Hungary and unusually fatty.
  • Wool is superior to fur from a survival perspective because it's more breathable and more easily tailored, which makes it much safer in cold weather because there are fewer gaps for cold air to get to your skint through.
  • The earliest buttons we know of were 35,000-year-old small, pierced circular pieces of stone and bone.
  • Hemp was probably domesticated in China around 10,000 years ago; it used for textiles, foods, paper and medicine.
  • Eurasian steppe nomads wore clothes created from local materials like felts, coarse textiles, & birchbark ā€” but also from imported woolen and silk textiles and embroideries.

Drop Feathers

You can painlessly pluck the feathers of domestic turkeys while they're alive and use the feathers to make blankets. They're a unique bird in that if a predator grabs the feather, the skin opens up and releases the feather instead of having it be a capture hold. It's similar to how some lizards can drop their tails.

Keratin Clothes

Baleen is the comb-like keratin-based structure that blue whales and humpbacks use to filter plankton. Before plastics, it was popular because when soaked in hot water it becomes flexible enough to be bent, and it retains its shape when cooled. Baleen comes in a variety of colors (black, gray, green, cream) and was popular for making baskets, corsets, tea trays, and sword handles.

Delightful Dogs

Salish Woolly dogs were specially bred as an additional source of wool for indigenous people of the American northwest. They lived in packs of 20-30 and were fed a diet of fish and elk fat to keep their healthy enough for textile creation. To keep them from interbreeding with other dogs (and losing their wooly coats), they were often kept isolated on islands.

Tree textiles

Ugandan barkcloth is made from the inner bark of the Mutuba tree. It's the orange-brown color of terracotta. Traditionally harvested during the wet season, it's boiled, then beaten with mallets, then stretched, then left out in the sun to dry. Historically, barkcloth clothes worn by high-status individuals was dyed white or black.


šŸ“— If you found this interesting, you may also enjoy my article about all the things that trees can be, or my plausibility deep dive about herding giant vegetarian spiders for their silk.

šŸ’š If you learned something from this overview, consider forwarding it to a friend and encouraging them to sign up for more overviews of my research into obscure history and science.

šŸ§„ Do you know something neat about the history obscure clothing? Please reach out ā€” I'd love to hear about it, either via email or in a comment where other readers can see.

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