The Fabric on our Skins



I don’t know about you, but my skin is quite sensitive. It matters what I wear. In fact, my clothes have to be soft. I can’t stand anything itchy or scratchy.

Nope, I cannot wear wool.

I would have been so lost in the Middle Ages.

It’s funny how clothes either get no description in Fantasy, or they get overdescribed. I’m sure you’ve read those pages and pages about the amazing dresses the queens wear. (I tend to skip those, though.)

I sometimes wonder if authors actually know how those fabrics were made and where they come from.

Wool, no problem. Everyone knows that. It comes from sheep, maybe goats, maybe rabbits. Easy peasy. But to turn wool into a shirt? Not so easy. And that stuff is practically always scratchy. Ugh.

Silk? Well, you need to know about silkworms and the mulberry tree, their only food source. And how to unravel those silk cocoons. That’s why it was so expensive.

Cotton? Not available in the European Middle Ages. (Cotton only grew in the Americas.)

Linnen? That’s flax, and it’s quite a chore to prepare it. It also often contains little wooden pieces of the flax stem – quite itchy, actually.

Jute – ever heard of that? It grows in warm and wet climates, and was used to make burlap sacks. Very rough… although treated well, it can be nice.

And then you need to spin and weave those materials to turn them into fabric.  Then you have to cut the fabric and sew it into clothes. Or knit or crotchet what you want to wear.

And we’re not even talking about color yet.

There is a reason clothes were really expensive in the Middle Ages. And why people generally only had two or three shirts max. New clothes were an absolute luxury.

How’s that for adding some real-life touches to your stories?

About Hannah Steenbock

Hannah Steenbock is an author, dreamer, and coach. She has published several short stories in English and German, as well as one novel in German. In 2013 she started self-publishing her work. In 2014, she has won two awards for her short story "Sequoia".
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