Broadcloth, also known simply as ‘cloth’ in historical documents, is a plain weave woollen fabric which is characterised by it’s dense texture, firm handle and blind finish. This density cannot be achieved in the loom, as the yarns rub past each other whilst being raised and lowered to allow the insertion of the weft. The required density is achieved by milling the cloth (also known as ‘fulling’, a deliberate shrinking process which brings all the yarns and fibres close together). The cloth is woven very wide so that it’s still a usable width when milled, and it is this factor that gives Broadcloth its name, not the width it is when finished.
Produced in a huge range of qualities dependant on the grade of wool used, the number of threads per inch and the thickness of the yarns employed, all of which have an impact on the weight and finess of the surface finish.
Superfine Broadcloth. High quality cloth woven from fine Merino quality wool, and subjected to a high quality finishing regime of raising, cropping and dressing. The fabric of choice for gentlemens’ coats, breeches, waistcoats etc, it allows the tailor to sculpt the cloth into the rolls and shapes required in the production of elegant garments.
Common Broadcloth. A solid, workmanlike cloth manufactured to the specifications used for British soldiers’ coats of the 18th & early 19th C. Using coarser English wool, still heavily milled to give a stout fabric it has the weight and density which means it doesn’t need to be hemmed, since the fibres are felted and the cut edge of the cloth won’t fray.
Drap d’Elbeuf. Currently under development this is a good quality French broadcloth somewhere between the Superfine and the Common Broadcloth. The Elbeuf region in Normandy produced cloths from Merino wool and these were the qualities preferred by the Garde Imperial for the production of their Soldiers’ uniforms during the Premier Empire.
Federal Frock Cloth. Currently under development, this is the cloth defined by United States Quarter Master’s department in the 1860s for the manufacture of the Soldiers’ Dress Frock Coats. A surprisingly fine cloth, it is light weight but sufficiently milled to give a firm drape suitable for the structured tailoring of the mid 19th C.