Ancient Roman Cloth
Source of Wool
• Most Roman
garments were made
of wool. Wool, of
course, comes from
sheep. Shepherds
tended flocks of
sheep on the
mountains of Italy,
assisted by sheep
dogs, just as happens
in modern times.
• In the spring, before
the sheep were taken
to the summer
pastures, there
occurred the annual
sheep shearing.
Shears used for
sheep shearing have
remained unchanged
over the centuries.
• After the wool has
been shorn from the
sheep, it is thoroughly
washed. Then begins
the process of
“carding”, which
separates the fibers
of the wool, so that it
can be turned into
• To make thread, the
raw wool must be
spun. In ancient times
this was done by
hand, using a wooden
spindle. The bottom
of the spindle is
weighted with a stone
called a whorl. Many
ancient whorls have
been discovered.
The Fates
• All Roman women and
girls knew how to spin
wool. In Roman
mythology, there are
three women, called the
Fates, who spin the
thread of a person’s life.
One plies the spindle,
another measures the
length of the thread, and
the third cuts the thread.
• Often the wool thread is
dyed a certain color. In
ancient times, various
plants and flowers were
used to supply the
colored dye. The wool
was soaked in hot tubs of
water that contained the
dye, and was then hung
on racks in the sun to dry.
The Loom
• Roman women wove the
wool thread into cloth
upon a very simple loom.
The loom consisted of a
wooden frame, from
which the vertical strands
of thread would be hung.
These threads were
weighted by stones to
make them hang straight.
The vertical strands are
called the warp, and the
stones are warp-stones.
• Wool thread was then
attached to a long needle
that would serve as a
shuttle, The thread would
be woven under and then
over the alternate threads
of the warp. By using
different colors of thread,
a pattern could be woven
into the cloth. Women
would memorize songs to
help them remember how
many strands of each
color would be needed to
make the pattern.
Finishing the Weaving
• The thread attached to
the shuttle that goes over
and under the warp is
called the woof. In order
to make the threads of
the woof fit very tightly
together, a special comb
is used to push the woof
upward. The tighter the
threads are pushed
together, the better the
quality of the cloth.
• The goddess Minerva
was the patron of
household arts, and
Roman women would
give thanks to her for
any skill at weaving
which they