Renowned for its resilience and deep green colour, loden cloth has been produced in the Tyrolean Mountains since the Middle Ages. It was said to have a strength and resilience that would protect the wearer from everything; from severe mountain weather to sword blows, and accidentally rolling into the fire when wrestling! Legend has it that in the 8th century the Emperor Charlemagne dramatically demonstrated the value of loden cloth when he had his nobles wearing their court finery ride out across country for a day’s hunting. When they returned at twilight their silks and brocades were sullied and torn; only Charlemagne in his loden cloth remained unscathed. So committed to the cloth, his sumptuary laws permitted his peasants to wear nothing but grey loden, save for feast days when they could wear blue wool cloth.
Derived from the Old High German ‘lodo’ meaning coarse cloth, loden cloth was woven in Nuremburg from the 14th century and has become such a mainstay of Austrian and German culture that the Jewish name ‘Lodener’ means weaver of loden cloth. To make it, wool from the Tyrolean mountain sheep is loosely woven into a coarse, rather fuzzy cloth before it is shrunk, brushed and sheared. It is the lengthy fulling process that felts the fibres giving its characteristic texture. Bruno Kreisky describes the process in The Struggle for a Democratic Austria whilst visiting a loden textile factory in Jadersdorf during 1937: ‘the damp pieces of cloth 30 metres long were stretched on frames outside in icy weather… you always ended up frozen to the bone but the loden cloth acquired a beautiful sheen when the cold had driven the dampness out and you had knocked off the ice with a little stick.’…
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Illustrations by Nina Fuga