It’s hard for us, in this age of machine-produced cloth, to imagine the excitement generated when mill owner John Coxeter of Newbury, England, produced a coat for Baronet John Throckmorton, from shearing to wearing, in just over 13 hours. An estimated 5,000 people showed up to witness this feat of 1811’s most modern textile technology. A good time was had by all except the unfortunate Southdown sheep who, having given their fleece to the coat, gave their all to the party, being “roasted whole and distributed to the public with 120 gallons of strong beer.” One newspaper commissioned a series of prints illustrating the great weaving event, and a silver medal was struck to commemorate the “singular and unprecedented performance.”
Mr. Coxeter apparently developed a taste for setting records: a few years later he celebrated the Battle of Waterloo by creating a 20-foot-long plum pudding that had to be transported to the public rejoicings in a wagon drawn by two oxen. However, his own weaving record was broken by one hour during a historical re-enactment in 1991, and as recently as 2009, the Gloucestershire Guild of Weavers, Spinners, and Dyers took aim at both records with a “Coat in a Day” challenge at a Cirencester wool fair. So fair demonstration organizers, listen up! Sheep to shawl is great, but for real wool cred, you’ve got to have tailoring.