Monday, February 2, 2015

What is teasel brushed wool?

The word teasing is derived from the teasel (or teazel) plant, Dipsacus sativus. The teasel has a thistle-like seed head, with sharp spikes surrounding the seed casings. Since the Middle Ages, Europeans have used the dried seed heads of the teasel plant to raise the nap on woolen cloth, and in the eighteenth-century the plant was introduced to the American colonies. Teasing wool creates a soft, almost furry texture on one side of the cloth. Baize, the cloth traditionally used to cover billiard and card tables, is a classic example of wool that has been teased.

The following image, an English print, shows how the teasel hands were used in raising the nap on the wool. The cloth was stretched over a frame, and hand workers methodically brushed the teasel hands across the surface of the wool, working from one end to the other, until the soft wool fibers were loosened and a shaggy surface hid and softened the weave. Since the nap did not raise evenly, after teasing the wool, another worker had to go back over the cloth and shear the fibers close to the surface so that the finished product had an even, velvety texture.
At that time the heads were then used extensively to tease or bring up the nap on woolen fabrics, a process known as "fulling" or "brushing". A woolen blanket that has been brushed is said to be "warm". This brushing of the nap produces air pockets that provide added insulation and a softer surface that is also more resistant to spills and stains. In addition it softens the colors for a pleasing visual effect. By 1956 commercial steel carding cloth had largely replaced Teasel and it was no longer grown commercially in the USA. The superior effect produced by Teasel is still valued and used on a small scale for such fine woolen fabrics as cashmere and hand woven items.

Lore: Teasel was secretly brought to the USA continent in the early to mid nineteenth century from Europe were it was a guarded crop. The first crops in the U. S. were in upper New York. Later farms were also established in Oregon by a member of the same family that cultivated Teasel in N. Y.

But, wherever this is true or not, it seems quite possible that the teasel seed heads themselves were grown in this country.  Across New York and New England, nineteenth-century farmers grew fields of teasels alongside crops of corn, oats, potatoes, vegetables and tobacco.It has since naturalized as a weed, and it is surprising to discover how much care went into the growing of teasel plants. After preparing the soil and sowing the teasel plants, the plants had to be thinned to about one foot apart. Fields of teasels had to be diligently weeded and fed. The plants didn’t develop seed heads until their second year. The farmer harvested the seed heads as they turned brown in the autumn, and then dried them thoroughly in the sun. A farmer growing teasels could expect a yield of 150,000– 50,000 heads to the acre. Since teasel heads wore out quite quickly with use, and wool manufacturers needed constant supplies of replacements, growing teasels could be quite profitable.
Modern wool manufacturers use fine combs with steel wires to raise the fibers for baize and other teased fabrics. It is universally admitted, however, that there is still no substitute for teasel heads in producing the finest cloth.

Teasel flowers open in an unusual pattern. A band of flowers opens first around the middle of the head then the blooms progress both up an down and eventually form two bands. The cultivated variety differs from this wild version in having stiffer spines on the head with more pronounced hooks on the ends.
Medical Uses: In some Teasels the upper leaves join around the stem forming a cup. The rainwater that collected there was once considered an eyewash and a cosmetic for the face thought to clear the skin. A common name for this Teasel is Venus' Basin. The Greeks thought the root a cleanser that could remove warts. A root tea was once used as a diuretic and to stimulate appetite. There is no scientific evidence to support any medical use.

Similar Species: Dipsacus fullonum L. ssp. Fullonum, Fuller's teasel, is the species used in fulling.


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