August 12, 2020 8 min read

Welsh Blankets - Weaving History in Wales

Introduction

The weaving of Welsh Blankets and throws was historically one of the most important industries in all parts of Wales during the 18th to 20th centuries. However, it was in the river Teifi valley of Ceredigion and its neighbouring counties of north Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire that the wool industry was at its most prolific during the latter parts of the 19th and 20th century. At various times it was Wales' most important industry. However, after the introduction of the railways, it often struggled to compete with the better-funded and more efficient woollen mills in the north of England. After this drastic increase in competition, the Welsh woollen industry almost disappeared during the 20th century.

Welsh Wool Revival

Today, there are only a handful of mills in Wales still weaving on traditional looms but there is a revival in demand for Welsh blankets and also the iconic Welsh tapestry blankets. In a world of mass-produced goods, Welsh wool blankets traditionally hand woven on age-old looms are now synonymous with craftsmanship, heritage, quality and provenance. And, of course, Welsh blankets are made from a 100% sustainable source, predominately sheep and lambs wool. Welsh woollen blankets are a wonderful example of 'fleece to facbric'!

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Welsh Blankets - Early history of the Welsh Woollen Industry

The Welsh wool and yarn industry together with its designs for Welsh woollen blankets and throws, the iconic Welsh tapestry blankets and nursing shawls has a very long history dating from early history to modern times.

There is plenty of historical evidence of sheep farming and the spinning and weaving of wool in the pre-historic period but it wasn’t until the 12th century that wool became an important part of the Welsh economy. It was the establishment of the first Cistercian monasteries in south Wales such as Margam, Neath and Tintern that kick-started this new industry. Subsequently in the 13th century, the introduction of water wheel powered finishing mills by the Flemings enabled the processes of cleaning and thickening the wool to thrive. However, whilst the finishing of wool products benefited from water wheel power, the processes of spinning and weaving the wool remained a ‘cottage’ industry for the next few centuries. It was during the latter part of the 18th century that water wheel power was used to operate the carding and spinning machines for the first time. 

During the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, Welsh woollen industry was slow to mechanise compared to the mills of northern England which became a prime reason for their subsequent downfall. In addition, in the late 19th century when the new railways reached mid Wales, cheap mass-produced products destroyed the local woollen industry. In the prime of the Welsh woollen industry, there were over 300 woollen mills in Wales.  It was in the Teifi valley in what is now Ceredigion and its neighbouring counties of north Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire that the wool industry was at its most prolific during the latter parts of the 19th and 20th century. Sadly, after World War 1, the industry went into steady decline and today only a few mills continue to operate.

See below for a real traditional loom in action (and make sure to turn up your sound) with real people in charge and not a computer program!!!  
 

Teifi Valley and Pembrokeshire Mills

The river Teifi valley became the centre of the Welsh woollen industry for a period of two or three hundred years with many different woollen mills. Between 1860 and the end of the century, there were over twenty woollen mills within a five-mile radius of Drefach Felindre. In addition, there were a further twenty plus woollen mills in neighbouring north Pembrokeshire. In times gone by, Drefach Felindre was known as the "Huddersfield of Wales" at it was at the heart of the woollen industry in Wales, similar to Huddersfield in England. In the early part of the twentieth century, competition from the north of England in the wool industry increased significantly and the industry in Wales began to decline. By the end of the depression in the coal industry in the 1920s and 1930s, few woollen mills remained. Today, sadly there are only a few mills remaining in working order using age old looms together with traditional skills and methods of yesteryear.

National Museum of Wool, Wales

Drefach Felindre is now the location of the National Museum of Wool for Wales. The Cambrian Woollen Mill at Drefach Felindre was acquired by the Welsh Government in 1976 for the Museum of the Welsh Woollen Industry and subsequently changed its name to the National Museum of Wool for Wales. This museum has a working mill on site using traditional looms, methods and processes. The mill weaves blankets, tapestry blankets throws, cushions and many other products, all for sale in the museum. It also records the history of Welsh woollen industry from its beginnings 200 years ago to current day weaving.

FelinFach supports the Welsh Woollen Industry

At FelinFach, we aim to source our wool or yarn from Welsh or British farms and our fabrics from these remaining mills. We aim to be a supporter not only of the Welsh weaving and woollen industries but also of the Welsh and British farming industry. We design our own traditional Welsh blankets and throws and they are woven for us on traditional looms. The wool fabrics from these mills is used to make handmade cushions, quilts and throws and so cosy outdoor blankets. 

Today traditionally woven Welsh woollen blankets and throws are popular in the UK and internationally. The woollen industry is supported by national and international campaigns such as the Campaign for Wool. Sustainability has become an important consumer issue and wool is a natural source of sustainable materials. Wool is a classical renewable resource, a 100% natural fibre; each year, every living sheep produces a new fleece, come rain or shine!. 

Welsh blankets 'vintage' or 'antique'  - All Welsh blankets for sale at FelinFach are made from new wool, they are not used, second hand or 'vintage'.

Campaign for Wool - Why Wool?

Natural

Wool is a protein fibre formed in the skin of sheep, and is thus one hundred percent natural, not man-made. Since the Stone Age, it has been appreciated as one of the most effective forms of all-weather protection known to man, and science is yet to produce a fibre which matches its unique properties.

Renewable

As long as there is grass to graze on, every year sheep will produce a new fleece; making wool a renewable fibre source. Wool growers actively work to safeguard the environment and improve efficiency, endeavouring to make the wool industry sustainable for future generations.

Biodegradeable

At the end of its useful life, wool can be returned to the soil, where it decomposes, releasing valuable nutrients into the ground. When a natural wool fibre is disposed of in soil, it takes a very short time to break down, whereas most synthetics are extremely slow to degrade.

Natural Insulator

Wool is a hygroscopic fibre. As the humidity of the surrounding air rises and falls, the fibre absorbs and releases water vapour. Heat is generated and retained during the absorption phase, which makes wool a natural insulator. Used in the home, wool insulation helps to reduce energy costs and prevents the loss of energy to the external environment,
thus reducing carbon emissions. 

Breatheable

Wool fibres are crimped, and when tightly packed together, form millions of tiny pockets of air. This unique structure allows it to absorb and release moisture—either in the atmosphere or perspiration from the wearer—without compromising its thermal efficiency. Wool has a large capacity to absorb moisture vapour (up to 30 per cent of its own weight) next to the skin, making it extremely breathable.

Resilient and Elastic

Wool fibres resist tearing and are able to be bent back on themselves over 20,000 times without breaking. Due to its crimped structure, wool is also naturally elastic, and so wool garments have the ability to stretch comfortably with the wearer, but are then able to return to their natural shape, making them resistant to wrinkling and sagging. Wool therefore maintains its appearance in the longer term, adding value to the product and its lifespan. Wool is also hydrophillic—it is highly absorbent, and retains liquids—and so dyes richly while remaining colourfast, without the use of chemicals.

 Multi-Climactic/trans Seasonal

Thanks to its hygroscopic abilities, wool constantly reacts to changes in body temperature, maintaining its wearer’s thermophysical comfort in both cold and warm weather.

Easy Care

The protective waxy coating on wool fibres makes wool products resistant to staining and they also pick up less dust as wool is naturally anti-static. Recent innovations mean wool items are no longer hand-wash only. Many wool products can now be machine-washed and tumble dried.

Odour Resistant

Wool is far more efficient than other textiles at absorbing sweat and releasing it into the air, before bacteria has a chance to develop and produce unpleasant body odour.

A Safe Solution

Wool is naturally safe. It is not known to cause allergies and does not promote the growth of bacteria. It can even reduce floating dust in the atmosphere, as the fibre’s microscopic scales are able to trap and hold dust in the top layers until vacuumed away. Thanks to its high water and nitrogen content, wool is naturally flame-retardant, and has a far higher ignition threshold than many other fibres, will not melt and stick to the skin causing burns, and produces less noxious fumes that cause death in fire situations. Finally, wool also has a naturally high level of UV protection, which is much higher than most synthetics and cotton.

 

Welsh Blankets and FelinFach

Our Welsh wool blankets and throws, including baby blankets, picnic blankets, cosy throws and tapestry blankets are woven in limited numbers on traditional looms and are created and made with personal care and attention. They are handmade by 'people' using traditional looms and not computer programs! 'Welsh blankets vintage', is a vague phrase often used in the context of Welsh blankets - all our Welsh blankets are made from new wool and are not vintage, recycled, used or second hand blankets

Welsh Tapestry Blankets - Hiraeth, nothing says hiraeth like an iconic Welsh tapestry blanket

We aim to have a wide selection of Welsh blankets for sale and also throws, cushion, scarves and other hand dyed products which will include

  • Rare Breed, Alpaca and Organic Certified Welsh Blankets.
    These currently include rare breeds such as Jacob, Ryeland, Herdwick, Welsh Mountain Black and also Alpaca wool. When available, we have a very limited selection of organically certified wool blankets.
  • Welsh tapestry blankets and Baby blankets
    Our Collection of Welsh Tapestry is called Hiraeth and nothing says Hiraeth more than an iconic Welsh tapestry blanket. Guaranteed to keep you warm in all weathers, these iconic tapestry blankets are made using a traditional double-cloth construction that hasn’t changed much since the mid-1880s. We also have a selection of Welsh tapestry baby blankets for children.
  • Welsh tapestry and other wool cushions
    We have a large number of different cushions and all are handmade, including grey throws for sofas
  •  Welsh wool blankets and throws
    We have a range of different blankets and throws from Enfys Fach [Approx. size: 150 x 110 cms - [60 x 40 inches]  to Tal y Bont [Approx. size: 265 x 245 cms - [100 x 95 inches] and most sizes in between! We also have the classic and traditional Welsh honeycomb blanket, sometimes known as the  waffle weave pattern, named Gelert [Approx size: 190 x 145 cms - [75 x 57 inches] that are just so cosy 😁

Blankets for your Bed Sizes - How large do you need?

Thinking of using a blanket for bedding? Need to know how large should a blanket be to drape over the sides of a single, double or king-sized bed?

Then check out our UK Bed Sizes for Blankets page to help you choose the correct size. It will depend on whether you want your blanket to drape over the sides of the bed or simply to 'sit' or 'lie' on top of the bed. Tapestry blankets sizes range from throw size up to king size - see this size guide, Tapestry blanket sizes

About FelinFach

Our company, FelinFach Natural Textiles is located in the heart of the Preseli area of Pembrokeshire near to Boncath. We design Welsh blankets, Welsh woollen blankets and throws which are traditionally woven at Welsh mills. We also design and make natural hand dyed yarn, cotton, silk and wool scarves and other handmade products. We are a proud supporter of the Campaign for Wool, Global Welsh and Wales International.

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Last updated 12th August 2020



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