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Cotton Flannel

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March 5, 2013 by Ville Raivio

The Random House Dictionary has this to say: ‘Flannel, origin 1300–1350; Middle English flaunneol,  perhaps dissimilated variant of flanyn, sackcloth; Welsh;  compare Welshgwlanen, woolen article, equivalent to gwlân, wool + -en suffix denoting a single item. Flannel was born in the 17th century Wales, and was originally made of wool and without a nap. Most woolen fabrics have a slightly raised and fuzzy surface, called a nap, but with flannels the weave is made up of loose yard and the weft is raised with mechanical combing to make a kind of nap. Thanks to its brushed surface, flannel grabs and retains the body’s warmth more effectively than plain fabrics. During the 20th century, cotton flannel grew in popularity as an alternative to wool.

Like its woolen cousin, cotton flannel is a warm and durable fall and winter option. Unlike said posh cousin, cotton flannel is still a bit burly. Generations of lumberjacks, prisoners, farmers, sportsmen and ultimately grungeheads have placed their trust in flannel shirts or trousers over alternatives. Most cotton flannels are woven with a plaid or tartan pattern, making them quite a loud option. Jackets and jumpers are the answer. When any loud pattern is kept mostly covered, they are subdued. The Duke of Windsor often applied this maxim in his Fair Isle sweater vests, which screamed only moderately under tweed jackets. For those seeking warmth purged from hyperactivity, monochrome flannels are the best option. Due to cotton flannel’s thickness and fuzzy surface, it is best left for leisure wear in autumn and winter. In the land of the shivering, the flannel man is king.


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