‘Maent yn fyw, mintai ŵyn falch,
One of the main textiles of the period was wool. The woollen industry had flourished for centuries in Wales, mostly under the control of the abbeys. However, during the fifteenth century, it became an industry on an even larger scale (see Agriculture: Animals). Mid Wales became an especially important area for flannel production due to the rapid development of the woollen industry in towns in the Marches, such as Oswestry and Shrewsbury.
Flannel is distinctive because of its adaptability: it is possible to produce all sorts of items from it. However, home-spun cloth was most commonly used for garments such as tunics, trousers, socks and cloaks. After the farmer had sold his wool it would go through a process of fulling and spinning. Fulling cleaned and thickened the cloth. Beating the cloth several times for a prolonged period (or ‘felting’ the cloth) would ensure that the wool would remain relatively dry in the rain. The quality of the finished flannel or cloth depended on the quality of the raw wool as well as the success of this process.
The poetry reflects all of these stages in the preparing of the finished cloth, and occasionally there are references to the objects used during the process (see, for example, poem 24.43). Guto’r Glyn notes that the ‘fulling was well done’ when he describes the Irish mantle he received from Elen daughter of Robert Puleston of Llannerch (poem 53.62). Indeed, other references to Irish mantles in the poetry indicate that they were particularly good at keeping out the rain.
The poems exchanged between Guto’r Glyn and Tudur Penllyn are also centred on the woollen industry. Guto had been responsible for droving some lambs to England, and Tudur accuses him of keeping the money for the lamb’s-wool belonging to their owner, Sir Benet ap Hywel (poem 44a). Guto explains that the lambs had died and therefore there was no money, but Tudur insists that they are still alive. He goes on to describe their valuable wool:
‘Maent yn fyw, mintai ŵyn falch,
Mae gwlân, defnydd rhag annwyd,
Brethyn llawn brithwyn llwyd;
Mae ’mhell, ei dröell a dry,
A’i gribwraig yn Lloegr obry.’
‘They’re alive, fair host of lambs,
there’s wool, material in case of a cold,
full woollen cloth, mottled white and grey.
He’s far away, his spinning-wheel is turning,
and his carding-maid in England below.’
Woollen cloth of the best quality was smooth and soft, had taken the dye well and had been treated carefully. This type of cloth would be worn by the nobility, often decorated with embroidery.
Frieze was a type of coarse, shaggy cloth, more suited for items such as blankets or winter clothing. This was the material used to decorate the edges of the Irish mantle Guto received from Elen daughter of Robert Puleston (poem 53.50). Frieze was also used to make whole items of clothing. Guto compares the rough fur of the greyhounds he requested on behalf of Sieffrai Cyffin to frieze: Milgwn Ffrainc mal gynau ffris ‘French greyhounds like frieze gowns’ (poem 100.47), and there are many descriptions of frieze by other poets too.
The poorest cloth produced from flannel was called carth in Welsh. It was a rough cloth made of hemp which was associated with the common people. The word carth is often used in satirical poems. To humiliate Dafydd ab Edmwnd, Guto’r Glyn describes him as being dressed in a shirt of carth (see poem 66.53).
Bibliography: J.G. Jenkins, Melinau Gwlân: crynodeb o hanes y Diwydiant Gwlân yng Nghymru, (Llanrwst, 2005)
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