10 December, 2012

Montaillou


I read Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error (New York: Vintage Books/Random House, 1979) in order to find out about handspinning and wool in France in the 1300s.  The cover had a picture of a flock of sheep.  Those sheep must stand more for a flock in the sense of a group of adherents to a religious sect, in this case Catharism, rather than actual sheep.  I say this because the bulk of the book was concerned with what the people believed, what they did, how they differed from others around them, and the influences on their lives.  However, there was some information about textiles.  
They certainly would have grown hemp.  It was the women's job to swingle and comb it during the winter.  At that altitude and at that time, it is more than likely that flax to was grown.  [Livestock included] hundreds of sheep.  This did not include the large flocks which the migrant shepherds used to lead every year to and from the winter pastures of Lauragais and Catalonia.  (p. 4)
"Swingle" is another word for scutch.  Scutching is part of the processing method for hemp or flax where you strike the bast fibres with a piece of wood, shaped like a large knife, down the side of a board stood on end.
The women span around the fire in the evening, of course, either at home or with neighbours; and even in prison when the Inquisitor sent them there.  But local weaving was clearly intended only for local wearing; there was just one weaver, Raymond Maur, in Montaillou.  He plied his trade (it probably called for a certain amount of humidity) in a deep, wood-lined room, a kind of half-underground cave, specially fitted up in his house.  But he also reared sheep, and his children became shepherds....In this part of the world, everybody worked with his hands, and often very skilfully too.  (p. 6)
There was a brief reference to sericulture near the end of the book which I cannot find now.  I think it said that silk was raised in the region.

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