Textiles, Threads, London Beer

When I spoke at Castro’s Lounge on the weekend, I was asked to give a simple example of threads and porter in a textiles context.

In The Art of Weaving, by Hand and by Power (1844) by Clinton G. Gilroy (image below via HathiTrust), we see a discussion of striped cloth where thread is used in relation to porter (aka portee, portie, portee).

Here, three threads per dent (also called split) was used, presumably a typical application. For various fabrics the definition of porter could be different, e.g., for jute it was 40 threads to define the basic type (20 splits x 2), which makes sense given the looser construction of jute or burlap. Better qualities used more threads per split, e.g., tarpaulin.

But the basic principle is the same. All the threads of a porter helped form the fabric. I believe that each thread-type for mixed beers – two threads, three threads, up to six – were a porter, just as a two-thread striped cloth and three-thread striped cloth were. It was all porter, the cloths and the mixed beers. Finally the amalgamated (entire) beer was a porter too – hence the name – only it was prepared by the brewer, ready-made – the weaving was done so to speak.

Consider too that the term loom was also used at the time to describe a brewery. I documented this in earlier writings here.

Thread counts in the length were a way to grade cloth. The variables were the numbers of splits in the porter, the number of threads in the splits, and the number of porters in the reed length. Dents is from French, for teeth. It’s the idea of a gap to be filled with thread, the same for split of course. Porter as a textiles term is from the French portée, the idea of an entry or space again.

All this technology was understood in the late 1600s in Spitalfields, London, and used for all cloths. The only difference was, looming later became more automated. Silk manufacture had some particularities as well but they are not relevant to the aspect being discussed.

This is the first new theory on the origin of the names porter and three (etc.) threads for hundreds of years. I think, of course, I’m right, as further discussed in my 2015 postings referenced in my blog post yesterday.

Oh, a top grade of silk in this period was black silk, used for hoods and parts of the dress of prosperous women. That’s what a good strong porter tastes like, eh?



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