What is the history of Moleskin?
The exact origin of Moleskin is unknown, but it is considered part of the family of fabrics known as fustian; to understand the history of Moleskin, we must look at the development of fustian fabrics.
Fustian is a variety of sturdy cotton cloth woven with a heavy weft. It is believed the cloth was named after the Egyptian city of Fustat, near Cairo, that produced this material. In medieval times, fustian referred to any sturdy woven cloth produced with a cotton weft and linen warp. Throughout the ages, fustian began to refer to a broader category of fabric, including those made from wool and linen. Eventually, by the 1860s, the family generally encompassed any cut weft or heavy weft cloths.
A notable part of the manufacturing process of early fustian is the amount of time it takes to produce a yard of fabric. Before the highly mechanized loom arrived, a single fustian weaver could only produce a single yard in a 12 hour day. The labor did not end there; it was common to perform additional brushing and cutting techniques to develop unique characteristics in the fabric. It was these varying finishing techniques that gave us some of the premium fabrics we know today.
Corduroy is one of those fabrics; a fustian with a cut rib and brushed nap, it required the specialized dexterity of laborers who walked along a stretched length of fabric while threading a long thin knife through the floated wefts and cutting them with a sweeping motion. When the cutting was complete, the fabric was brushed and napped for an even finish. As production matured, mills produced different varieties of Corduroy, each with a distinct set of characteristics, specifically the number of ribs. Vintages such as Genoa, Constitutional Cord, Thicksett, Twill Back, Jean Back and Needlecord all emerged at this time.
Another fabric was the highly popular Moleskin; a fustian which did not require tedious rib cutting. A finished Moleskin was brushed and sheared on the weft-face for an even nap, creating a supple appearance and soft handle. It is believed this finish, and its likeness to the fur of a mole, is where the fabric earned its signature name. As with Corduroy, distinct varieties emerged, known by various terms such as Imperial, Swansdown, Patent, and O’Neil.
By the 19th century, the majority of the fustian production originated out of the East Lancashire and West Yorkshire districts in England. The hard-wearing durability, warmth and windproof characteristics made these fabrics a favorite among the working class. Around this time the fabric was very common in Australia, known then as Baragan Fustian.
Eventually, the demand for imported cotton goods and other alternatives became more popular. The following decades saw the doors close at nearly all of the companies involved in producing fustians. Nowadays, only a few historic stalwarts, such as Brisbane Moss, remain.