Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Narratives & Conversions: Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, October 11–14, Toronto, Ontario


Copyright 2006 by the author.



The fabric of flags is inextricably woven into our cultural heritage. Throughout civilization flags have heralded national identity in war and peace, as symbols of both victor and defender. Research into the origins of early 1800 flag fabrics wove a fascinating tie to England, where the wool fabric was made, and why it survived while the weaving industry was mechanized during the industrial revolution. Bunting fabric provided the canvas for the flag as a symbol of a nation and its people. This makes the history of bunting and its struggle for survival into the nineteenth century, an integral facet of our history.

In England the fabric trade was being driven by the new economics and scale of production brought about by the industrial revolution. Bunting was used almost exclusively for flags, and its survival through this period was aided by the very structure of the fabric itself. Heavier fabrics were woven by men, but the lightweight character and smaller dimensions of bunting meant it could be woven by women and children. This provided not only a welcome but a necessary contribution to the economic wellbeing of working class households. The manufacture of bunting was a cottage industry based in the region around the village of Sudbury in Suffolk, a manufacturing town dating back to medieval times. With changes in transportation and the availability of new routes, the proximity of Sudbury to London allowed local clothiers easier access to principal buyers of bunting, and consequently close access to import trade in bunting.

Textile Manufacture in Early Modern England

While the woolen industry had been prevalent in England for centuries, a colony of Flemish worsted weavers settled in Sudbury, Suffolk during the reign of Edward III (1312-1377). The Flemings also introduced the jersey tammy that was being made in Norwich in the 1570s. Jersey bunting was a variety of tammy suitable for flags as its wool yarns were opaque even in the strongest light. The first unequivocal record of worsted tammy manufacturing was in Norwich, Norfolk in 1605. There was a gradual spelling change from estamet to tammy to tamett, and by 1633 this became tammett. A stammet or tammy yarn was one that had been shrunk and smoothed by scouring and a tammy cloth the cloth woven from these yarns. The worsted tammies were lightweight, plain-weave fabrics, thinly warped so they were strong and stringy. They were often highly glazed by hot pressing and other means. A special form of the tammy called bunt or bunting was sold for making flags.