The term bombazine is used to refer to a type of fabric that is manufactured by a twilling or cording process using silk, wool, or cotton as raw materials. Bombazine is said to have originated in the United Kingdom in the early 18th century but quickly spread across Europe and eventually called bombazine from the old French word bombasin. Interestingly enough, it first found use as a cloth ideal for mourning widows although subsequent growth of the fashion industry allowed it to flourish towards other uses.
Among the most important and interesting facts about bombazine are as follows:
• Bombazine used to be exclusively made from silk. However, the subsequent need to make it affordable to the masses necessitated the shift from silk to cotton and wool. In many societies in olden times, the price of silk was too exorbitant to merit buying bombazine. However, because bombazine cannot compete with velvet as a luxury material, it was forced to find another niche in a more affordable price range.
• Twilling or cording are the only known methods known for making bombazine. Twilling is process of weaving where cloth strands are pushed through other cloth strands positioned lengthwise on a weaving machine. The resulting cloth has a characteristic diagonal pattern that is highly resistant to ordinary wear and tear. More modern incarnations of twilled fabric include denim which is used for making jeans.
• The use of bombazine as a mourner’s cloth was precipitated by the observation that the fabric has just enough sheen and sparkle for a mourning widow. Too much sparkle would have been construed as a blatant display of disrespect to the dead while cloth with less shine would have been a symbol of low status in society which was not ideal in an era where Victorian affluence was the prevailing theme.
• While bombazine can be made in a variety of colors, it is predominantly manufactured and sold in black. This is consistent with its status as the cloth of choice for mourner’s dresses.
• Today, bombazine no longer has the same status as it once had in Victorian times. Bombazine is still sold in many shops but in substantially lower volumes. The values of the modern times has pushed the material to relative obscurity so much so that not many people are familiar with this type of fabric.
• Modern applications of bombazine include lining material in caskets and jewelry boxes. The next time you see a casket, check out the inner lining so you’ll know firsthand what bombazine looks like.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see bombazine slowly disappear from shelves as its use continues to diminish. Still, its place in history as a mourner’s cloth is secure. No doubt, it will continue to command attention as a historical artifact even when its modern uses have faded to oblivion. Not surprisingly, its status symbol will be worth more than its actual value and for that reason, it will always be a source of interest from fabric enthusiasts and historians alike.