The History Of Wool Cloth

Sometime back in the eons of prehistory, a hunter killed a sheep and brought it home to make a mean mutton stew. His little family liked it so much that he decided he’d try to catch a few of those wooly critters and keep them around, so there would always be an ample supply of meat. His days of hunting pretty much over, he settled into a nice comfortable life as a shepherd. His wife soon discovered that sheep’s milk was pretty tasty, too, and began to make cheese. Then, some time later, her man needed a new cloak to protect him from the cold and rain as he sat and watched his sheep. Being an enterprising woman, she decided t give the wooly hide of last night’s stew-giver a try. And what she discovered was that the wool not only kept her man warm on those cold mornings, but it also kept him cool in the heat of the day. His new wool cloak also kept him drier than any other she’d made, as the wool seemed to whisk the moisture away. Aha! She thought, “This is fine stuff!” She began to pluck the wool from the sheep while they were still above ground and out of her stew pot. She twisted the tough fibers into long threads, which she then wove into cloth and dispensed with the idea of the hide, dead sheep and mutton stew to get a new cloak altogether. And the wool cloth industry was born!

Now, it wasn’t really as simple as all that. It took thousands of years for all the “technology” of primitive wool cloth to be developed. Sheep were bred for the thickness of their wool, finally producing breeds with predictably useable, valuable fleeces. Shears weren’t invented until sometime in the Iron Age, so generations of sheep herders wives did actually have to pluck the wool from the sheep. By 1500 BC, though, wool cloth was the staple of European fashion, being worn by high and low-born alike, as the sheep were plentiful and the fabric easy enough to make and care for.

The Romans somewhat perfected wool cloth, as they perfected so many other existing technologies, specifically the breeding selection needed to produce Tarentum wool, the finest quality wool in the known world. Roman soldiers marched off to conquest wearing wool cloaks, carrying wool blankets with woolen socks, underclothes and other garments in the packs or on their bodies. Many of the ancient people they conquered (or tried to anyway) also wore wool. The Celts dyed their wool and wove their cloth into the forerunners of the tartans beloved by their Scottish and Irish descendants today.

The spinning wheel arrived sometimes between 500 and 1000 AD, doing away with the time-consuming hand spindle, and allowing for much finer even yarn to be produced.

Medieval Europe saw the expansion of the wool trade, with many countries’ economies carried on the backs of sheep, such as the Medici’s of Florence and the entire economy of England. The mechanization through water mills of one of the most time-consuming tasks in wool making – fulling or felting – also occurred sometime in the Middle Ages. England’s raw wool was the finest to be had, and until the Black Death, kings and their kingdoms flourished on the taxes earned from its export. Eventually, England developed its own wool textile industry, and exporting of English wool was even made illegal for a time. Weavers from Flanders and France arrived to add their expertise and English wool cloth began to be exported in greater quantities than the raw fleeces. Tweeds and worsteds were invented at this time. After the Restoration in 1666, English wool cloth was considered so fine, it began to compete with silk on international markets. One of the complaints among the American colonies against the Crown was that they were not allowed to trade their wool with anyone else. In 1797, 13 Merino sheep were exported to Australia, and that country’s wool industry was born.

The Industrial Revolution brought about the end of many traditional wool cloth practices, and introduced many new ones. Mills could be run by water, and the mechanized factories could turn out cloth faster and more efficiently. The mechanized looms could produce even more intricate patterns than the traditional hand looms, and with wool’s quality to take dyes quicker, better and “truer” than other fabrics added to the expansion of available patterns and styles. The spinning jenny could allow one spinner to operate as many as 120 spindles at one time, greatly increasing the amount of yarn produced. Powered carding machines and other mechanized tools soon replaced every portion of the labor-intensive hand preparations, and many of those skills were nearly lost.

Wool cloth continues to develop, both in usage and in manufacturing processes. The astronauts wore woolen suits to combat the freezing temperatures of space. A new type of woolen suit has been developed in Japan that allows the owner to shower it down in his bath at home, hang it to dry for a few hours, and then wear it again without need for dry cleaning or ironing. Sheep selection and breeding are also continuing their development, providing the future of wool fabric with new, endless possibilities.

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The US Constitution, 18th Amendment, Differing Views of Intent

In 1966, Lyndon B. Johnson lauded that “it is the genius of our Constitution that under its shelter of enduring institutions and rooted principles there is ample room for the rich fertility of American political invention.” This leeway for “political invention” is what makes the US Constitution a living document, since not only do its contents change with the years, but also its interpretation.

Of the over 8,000 words in the Constitution today, only about 4,500 of them are from the original 1787 document. The first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, weren’t added to the Constitution until 1791 and an additional seventeen have since been added. That being said, the fact that the US Constitution is not only the supreme law of the land, but also an extremely powerful symbol of America makes it extremely difficult to know when, why, and how to amend the dang thing.

In 1856, Abraham Lincoln – the go-to president for great quotes and warm, fatherly feelings – warned: “Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.” Which is more than a little ironic coming from a guy who not only suspended the writ of habeas corpus (which protects citizens against illegal imprisonment) just five years later, but also added the 13th Amendment to the Constitution during his short presidency. Lincoln clearly didn’t believe that maintaining the integrity of the Constitution meant serenading it to the tune of “Don’t Go Changin’.” This opens up the nasty can of worms that is the letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law. Those who interpret the Constitution strictly argue that it was written by some of the brightest and best minds in American history, who thought long and hard about their exact word choice so that future generations wouldn’t have to. Those in favor of a more elastic interpretation, however, cite the document’s various instances of "historical flavor" to argue that the Constitution must be interpreted in accordance with the times; for instance, up until it was stricken from the document after the Civil War, part of Article I Section 2 of the Constitution referred to a slave as 3/5 of a person for census-taking purposes.

Of all the amendments added to the Constitution, only one was ever considered a bad enough idea to merit annulment. Passed in 1917 after years of hard campaigning by the temperance movement, the 18th Amendment legalized prohibition nationwide. Not only was the ban on alcohol completely ineffective, but it actually fueled a powerful underworld of crime and bootlegging (à la Great Gatsby) that give rise to mafia criminals such as Al Capone. Nevertheless, it took over 14 years before the 18th Amendment was repealed via the 21st Amendment.

In general, the more contentious parts of the Constitution are altered not through sweeping written changes, but through differences in interpretation. In 1907, New York mayor and future Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes famously said that "the Constitution is what the judges say it is." Pretty hard to argue with, considering the historical context; since the 1880’s, the Supreme Court had been interpreting the word "people" in the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment to include corporations, thereby severely restricting the government’s ability to regulate the abuses of big business.

The Supreme Court’s huge influence over constitutional law is the reason why all Supreme Court nominations undergo such harsh and prolonged scrutiny before being accepted to the bench. Perhaps Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black best expressed our ongoing concern over judges when he insisted in 1970 that the "Constitution was not written in the sands to be washed away by each wave of new judges."

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