What is Broadcloth?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Broadcloth is a type of densely woven fabric that is extremely sturdy and very soft. Although its not as widely used as it once was, it still has a place in the manufacture of clothing, upholstering, and in crafts. Most sewing stores carry broadcloth in a variety of colors, although it tends to be costly because of the high quality. Garments made with the cloth can also be found for sale, especially in cooler regions, where heavy insulating fabrics are extremely useful.

Broadcloth is useful in large seamless upholstering projects.
Broadcloth is useful in large seamless upholstering projects.

The roots of broadcloth can be found in medieval England, where weavers began to refine their techniques with the assistance of skilled craftspeople from Belgium. The original English broadcloth was made from wool, a textile material which was readily available, and the process of making the fabric was perfected with the assistance of Flemish weavers, who had limited materials to work with in their own country. Much of the fabric manufactured in England was exported undyed to Belgium, where it was finished in dye vats.

Broadcloth is available in many colors.
Broadcloth is available in many colors.

To make broadcloth, an extra-wide loom is used. The cloth is tightly woven before being dipped in water while being stretched on tenters, special racks that keep up the tension in the fabric. The water causes the wool to shrink when it is pulled out to dry. Next, the cloth is rubbed with fullers earth, and beaten with a wooden hammer. The result is a soft, almost felted cloth that is supple, smooth, and very soft. It is also not greasy, which sets it apart from many other wool products.

While wool is the traditional material for this fabric, cotton varieties are also manufactured. Some cotton broadcloth has a very narrow, subtle rib, causing it to resemble poplin, another densely woven textile. Synthetic fibers are not generally used to make this fabric because they do not behave like wool and cotton do when specially treated. A cotton broadcloth is much lighter than a woolen, although it has the same sturdy properties.

Other weaving techniques started to replace broadcloth in 1700s. In addition, English law was changed, forcing broadcloth to remain in the country for dyeing. The art of making it was fortunately retained, as the high quality fabric certainly has value for consumers still. It is often still sold in the traditional larger size, which makes it very useful for large seamless upholstering projects. Historical reenactors also use it to make uniforms and medieval clothing.

A broadcloth shirt.
A broadcloth shirt.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon251005

I was doing a costume design for a Shakespearean play and this information was really helpful in helping me choose fabrics! Thanks a bunch!

anon27951

1. What is the fabric construction and description of broadcloth?

2. What is the difference of broadcloth & poplin?

sewandsew

What happens if you wash cotton broadcloth? Have some material for curtains and it says dry clean only, which would be very inconvenient for these curtains, and me.

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