Monday, February 7, 2011
Regular readers know that I consider flannel, a woolen cloth with a soft, felt-like surface, the best type of cloth for cool weather tailored clothing (like the suit worn by the man in the photograph). But for all those complimentary words, I have never actually defined the stuff, probably because I do not have words that do it justice.
Flannel you see is woven from yarn that is spun from wool fibres of varying lengths, which are mixed together so that they lie across each other in all directions. A fibrous, compact, but rather uneven thread is produced that bonds together when milled, making a comfortable-to-wear cloth with an uneven surface. That surface traps air against the skin where it is warmed by the body and in turn helps keep the body warm. It also tends to absorb light instead of reflecting it, so after dyeing its colors are soft and rich.
Medium English wools are used for ordinary flannel, and merino for the best quality stuff, known as Saxony after the area where it was first produced. Either may be mixed with 5-10% cashmere to make it softer still, though in my experience the cashmere mixes are less desirable for trousers as they have a harder time holding a crease.
Flannel is woven into solid colors of course, with mid-gray being the most familiar. Stripes of the wider sort like the ones in the photo, known as chalk stripes, are classic, as are glen checks in grays or browns.
The combination of the process and the mixed wools used to produce flannel mean that it cannot be produced in weights lighter than 12 ounces, or about 360 grams. The lighter cloth that goes by the same name is actually a worsted that neither looks nor wears exactly like the woolen versions but has its place in warmer weather.
And that is flannel.