Although many farm families in Quebec produced their own cloth from at least the early 18th
century, production grows significantly between the beginning of the 19th
century and 1870. Several factors contribute to this rise in activity: the cultivation of flax whose fibres can be used in cloth-making, the raising of sheep for wool, the availability of factory-made cotton warp (the threads stretched lengthwise in a loom) and the establishment of carding and fulling mills where the time-consuming tasks of separating and straightening fibres for spinning can be done, and afterwards where rough cloth can be cleaned and thickened. By 1900, the production of homespun cloth is declining, in large part because rural families can obtain a variety of good quality, factory-made cloth relatively cheaply. However, in remote eastern parts of the province, where economic opportunities for women are limited, the hand-weaving of cloth remains important not only for family use but also for sale.
The cloth woven by farm women is of two types. The most common fabric is a wool-cotton blend that, although coarse and uncomfortable, is very durable and warm. These qualities make it ideally suited for clothing that has to withstand harsh working conditions and the winter cold. Lumbermen in particular prefer this homespun. Linen, the cloth made from flax, is lighter in weight and is used primarily to make summer clothing as well as table cloths, sheets, hand towels and napkins. Weavers produce about two metres of woollen cloth for each metre of linen.
Rural families do not, however, rely on domestic production for all their clothing needs. Women purchase cotton fabric to sew into garments and household items. As well, clothes kept for Sundays and special occasions include store-bought dresses, trousers and jackets.