Publication: ‘The Rise and Fall of the Spinning Jenny: Domestic Mechanisation in Eighteenth-Century Cotton Spinning’, Textile History, 51 (2020), 1-42. Available on Open Access at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00404969.2020.1812472 Abstract: The spinning jenny is an icon of British industrialisation. Characterised as the Industrial Revolution in miniature, it figures prominently in recent studies of mechanical innovation which stress high British wages and low British capital costs. This article disputes the high wage economy explanation for invention of the jenny. It emerged from material and technical divisions of labour that were peculiar to domestic hand cotton spinning in Lancashire. The inducements that propelled its invention were primarily local, specifically Lancashire’s use of long-staple New World raw cotton, a trend towards finer, higher quality cotton yarns, and a high degree of specialisation by task, both for hand spinners and their tools. The jenny was conceived as a domestic machine, to be worked by women and children. Nevertheless, it was rapidly re-engineered for installation in workshops, often operated by men. Its use in domestic settings was in steep decline from the mid-1780s.
Publication: ‘Fibres, Fashion and Marketing: Textile Innovation in Early-Modern Europe’, in Kim Siebenhuener, John Jordan and Gabi Schopf (eds), Cotton in Context: Manufacturing, Marketing, and Consuming Textiles in the German Speaking World (1500-1900) (Böhlau, Cologne, 2019), 35-60. Abstract: Between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries, Europe witnessed a tide of novelty in textiles. There were two principal trends. First, a shift towards lighter, more colourful and more highly patterned fabrics, used both for clothing and for furnishings. Second, the dissemination of textiles employing new or unfamiliar techiques, such as knitting, lacemaking, printing and new world dyestuffs. The impact of these innovations can be observed across the whole range of textile fibres, including wool, linen, cotton and silk. The changes went hand-in-hand with an intensification and systematisation of fashion, culminating in the emergence of an annual fashion cycle for some textiles during the seventeenth century. They were also associated with new forms of marketing, in particular selling by sample and the use of pattern books. Recent studies of these developments in Britain and its Atlantic colonies have accorded a key explanatory role to imports of Asian textiles, especially painted and printed cottons from India. Yet these studies fail to acknowledge that cottons represented only one component in a much wider early-modern transformation of European textiles. This chapter locates the impact of Indian cottons in the wider context of European textile innovation.
Publication: ‘Innovation and Obsolescence: European Textiles for the Body and Household, 1400-1800’, in Gerhard Jaritz and Ingrid Matschinegg (eds), My Favorite Things: Object Preferences in Early Modern Culture (Taschen, Cologne, 2019), 5-16.
Publication: John Styles, ‘Fashion and Innovation in Early-Modern Europe’, in Evelyn Welch (ed.), Fashioning the Early Modern: Dress, Textiles, and Innovation in Europe, 1500-1800 (Oxford, OUP, 2016), 33-55. Abstract: The origins of the European fashion cycle in textiles can be traced back to the fine silks that began to be made in Italy during the later Middle Ages. However, its most significant refinement came in the 1660s and 1670s. It was in these decades that the French systematized the accelerated turnover of fashions associated with new, lighter luxury textiles by introducing annual changes in the design of woven silks made at Lyon. Why did an annualization of the fashion cycle emerge in France in the late seventeenth century? This chapter argues that three developments were especially important. The first was the mercantilist economic policy adopted by Louis XIV’s finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert in the 1660s and 1670s. The second was Louis XIV’s remodelling of appearance at the French royal court, where court dress began to be regulated according to an annual cycle. The third was the seventeenth-century emergence of the printed periodical press, which provided a new vehicle for intervening in the temporal relationship between production of fashion and its consumption. Fashion news, like other kinds of news, came to be subject to a periodic routine, which increasingly dictated the design and production of luxury silk fabrics.
Publication: John Styles, ‘An Ocean of Textiles’, William and Mary Quarterly, 73 (2016), 531-7. Abstract: A review essay on Robert S. DuPlessis, The Material Atlantic: Clothing, Commerce, and Colonization in the Atlantic World, 1650-1800 (Cambridge, CUP, 2015).
Publication: John Styles, ‘Fashion, Textiles and the Origins of Industrial Revolution’, The East Asian Journal of British History, 5 (2016), 161-189. Available on Open Access at: https://www.history.ac.uk/publications/east-asian-journal-of-british-history. Abstract: This article outlines an argument about the origins of the Industrial Revolution in textiles. It arises from the research project Spinning in the Era of the Spinning Wheel, 1400-1800, a study of spinning in England from the introduction of the spinning wheel during the later Middle Ages to its eclipse by the powered spinning machine early in the nineteenth century. A focus on hand spinning in the centuries before the Industrial Revolution enabled Spinning in the Era of the Spinning Wheel to address issues frequently ignored by economic historians. They have typically dismissed hand spinning as a low-skill, low-productivity, feminised bottleneck to be overcome in the forward march of technological progress, devoting much more effort to understanding the new, mechanical technologies of the Industrial Revolution than the hand techniques they replaced. To avoid this pitfall, the project researched the fibre content of surviving early-modern yarns and fabrics, and explored the relationships between their materiality and their markets. Applying this approach to eighteenth-century linen and cotton textiles generated new perspectives on the origins of the British Industrial Revolution, which challenge currently influential views. The article offers a re-interpretation of the key textile inventions of the early Industrial Revolution. It critiques influential recent interpretations, particularly those offered by Robert Allen, Joel Mokyr and Joseph Inikori. It presents new evidence about the geographical distribution of hand spinning in the north of England, the fibre content of ‘cotton’ fabrics, and the markets for eighteenth-century Lancashire ‘cotton’ textiles. That evidence is used to develop an alternative approach, emphasising the technical and commercial challenges Lancashire manufacturers faced during the 1750s and 1760s in matching the quality of printed Indian calicoes in a key market – the British North American colonies. Richard Arkwright’s water frame of 1769 emerges as the decisive macro-invention. It met the quality challenge and laid the foundations for a mass market in cottons. Ironic, then, that the technological precursors of Arkwright’s invention were in the luxury silk textile industries of medieval and early modern Europe.
Thesis: Alice Dolan, ‘The Fabric of Life: Linen and Life Cycle in England, 1678-1810’ (PhD thesis, University of Hertfordshire, 2016). Available to download at: https://uhra.herts.ac.uk/handle/2299/17196. Abstract: ‘The Fabric of Life: Linen and Life Cycle in England, 1678-1810’ is structured around the human life cycle to draw out the social and cultural importance of linen for all ranks of society. Human and object life cycles are juxtaposed in the thesis to analyse co-dependent activities and processes rather than focusing on one facet of daily life. For thousands of years flax was a staple fibre, used for textile production in many parts of the globe. Cotton only overtook linen as the most popular textile in England at home and on the body during the nineteenth century. This thesis examines the preceding century to reveal why linen remained a daily necessity in England between 1678 and 1810, a period which encompassed a series of significant changes in the production, trade and use of linen. Linen was ubiquitous as underwear, sheets, table linens and for logistical purposes therefore it provides a unique insight into the early-modern world; a means of understanding the multifaceted experiences of daily life, of integrating understandings of the body, domestic, social, cultural and commercial activities. This thesis is social history through the lens of linen, reading a society through its interactions with a textile.
Publication: John Styles, ‘Objects of Emotion: The London Foundling Hospital Tokens, 1741-60’, in Anne Gerritsen and Giorgio Riello (eds), Writing Material Culture History (London, Bloomsbury, 2015). 165-171. Abstract: The chapter examines the textiles left with babies at the London Foundling Hospital in the mid-eighteenth century in order to consider how mundane things could be deliberately made, elaborated, or customized to express profound emotions. It argues emotional meanings are elusive. The emotional charge attached to objects – even tokens of love such as ribbons or fabric hearts – was contextual and impermanent. In addition, these objects raise questions of authenticity. Do they tell us how poor mothers felt about giving up their babies, or do they tell us how poor women thought a wealthy institution would expect them to express emotions about separation and loss?
Conference: Textiles and the Origins of Industrial Revolution: Linking Markets and Technique, 15-16 April, 2015, University of Hertfordshire, Pasold Research Fund and Clothworkers Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion, Victoria and Albert Museum. The late Eric Hobsbawm famously remarked ‘whoever says Industrial Revolution says cotton’. Yet recent refocussing of eighteenth-century history of technology on to the role of enlightenment science and ‘useful knowledge’ has drawn attention away from the mechanization of textiles towards technical innovation in metalwares and ceramics. Nevertheless, innovations in eighteenth-century technologies were intimately bound up with changes in product markets, as were changes in skillsets, the organisation of work and the intensity of labour. New work in textile history has greatly expanded our understanding of the markets for British textiles and the types of textiles consumed, not just cottons, but also silks, linens and woollens. Yarn was the focus of eighteenth-century textile mechanisation, but it was also a crucial element in the ways textiles were marketed and their quality judged by consumers. The conference explored the relationship between innovations in textile manufacture and changes in textile consumption during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The focus was principally on Britain and the British Atlantic, but with comparisons elsewhere. By exploring the links between markets and technique across the textile fibres, the conference re-evaluated the orgins and significance of the classic eighteenth-century innovations in cotton spinning.
Workshop: Yarns and Spinning in Early-Modern European Textiles, 14 November, 2014, Clothworkers Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion, Victoria and Albert Museum. The purpose of the workshop was to analyse the types of yarns used in a variety of early-modern textiles, how they were made, and the challenges they posed for spinners, weavers, designers and consumers. We examined fabrics in the V&A collection made from all the main European textile fibres of the period 1600-1800 – linen, wool, cotton and silk. A USB microscope was used to facilitate close examination of yarns in the textiles. The event brought together an invited group of about 40 – hand spinners, weavers, curators, conservators, historians and graduate students in various disciplines. Hand spinners at the workshop demonstrated spinning techniques employed in the textiles.
Publication: John Styles, ‘Asian Textiles and European Fashion, 1400-1800’, in Toshio Kusamitsu and Shinobu Majima (eds), Yokubō to Shōhi no Keifu [Genealogies of Consumption and Material Desire] (NTT Publishing, Tokyo, 2014), 25-60.
Publication: Alice Dolan, ‘The Fabric of Life: Time and Textiles in an Eighteenth-Century Plebeian Home’, in Home Cultures: The Journal of Architecture, Design and Domestic Space, 11, 3 (2014), 333-374. Available on Open Access at: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/175174214X14035295691238. Abstract: This article presents a new methodology that brings together the life cycles of people and linen with seasonality to explore how these factors affected domestic practice. This juxtaposition enables an exploration of the temporal nature of the home: life cycle and seasonality influenced the work that people did, when they did it, and how much time they spent on a particular task in a year. Temporal patterns are explored through the analysis of linen, an eighteenth-century daily necessity for rich and poor alike. The provisioning and care of linen was an essential domestic task; the whiteness of a shirt signified its owner’s respectability. The account book of Richard Latham, a plebeian farmer, is used to develop the approach. Latham, from Scarisbrick, Lancashire, kept an account book from 1723 to 1767. The impact of life cycle and seasonality on the Lathams’ domestic practice is explored through the growing, dressing, spinning, bleaching, and washing of linen.
Publication: John Styles, ‘Spinners and the Law: Regulating Yarn Standards in the English Worsted Industries, 1550–1800’, Textile History, 44 (2013), 145–170. Available on Open Access at: https://tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1179/0040496913Z.00000000026. Abstract: The Worsted Acts, passed between 1777 and 1791, established semi-official industrial police forces in nearly a third of the counties of England, charged with detecting and prosecuting fraudulent reeling of worsted yarn by hand spinners. The Acts have been interpreted as the response of late eighteenth-century employers to new and growing problems of labour discipline associated with the putting-out system. But frauds by spinners in reeling yarn were not new. They had characterised the worsted industry since its rapid expansion began at the end of the sixteenth century. Over the subsequent two centuries, employers addressed the problem repeatedly. How they tackled it depended crucially on the way the different regional worsted industries were organised and on dramatic changes in the willingness and capacity of the state to regulate manufacturing. The Worsted Acts emerge as the product of a distinctive eighteenth-century approach to industrial regulation, reactive and particularistic, but bureaucratically innovative.
Conference: Emotional Objects: Touching Emotions in Europe, 1600-1900, 11-12 October 2013, Institute of Historical Research, University of London. Emotional Objects aimed to stimulate interdisciplinary debate concerning what objects can tell us about emotions, and what emotions contribute to material culture. In particular, it explored the way the materiality of objects – the very stuff of which they were made – has performed emotional work. In the early 2000s, an emotional turn and a material turn were both identified as key developments in historical scholarship. Yet the emotions and material culture had rarely been considered in combination. Emotional Objects brought them together. The majority of papers were podcast.
Publication: John Styles, ‘Indian Cottons and European Fashion, 1400-1800,’ in Glenn Adamson, Giorgio Riello and Sarah Teasley (eds.), Global Design History (London, Routledge, 2011), 37-46.