Broadcloth is a dense, plain woven cloth, historically made of wool. The defining characteristic of Broadcloth is not its finished width, but the fact that it was woven much wider (typically 50 - 75% wider than its finished width) and then heavily milled (traditionally the cloth was worked by heavy wooden trip hammers in hot soapy water in order to shrink it) in order to reduce it to the required width. The effect of the milling process is to draw the yarns much closer together than could be achieved in the loom and allow the individual fibres of the wool to bind together in a felting process. This results in a dense, blind face[i] cloth with a stiff drape which is highly weather-resistant, hard wearing and capable of taking a cut edge without the need for being hemmed.
It was made in several parts of England at the end of the medieval period. The raw material was short staple wool, carded and spun into yarn and then woven on a broad loom to produce cloth 1.75 yards wide. It was then fulled, usually in a fulling mill. When fulled, the fibres of the cloth would felt together, resulting in a smooth surface.
In the United States, broadcloth can be an alternative name for a specific type of cotton or cotton-blend poplin, which was first introduced to the States from Britain in the early 1920s, and renamed broadcloth for the American market.
Poplin is a fabric weave, so a cotton poplin shirt is a cotton shirt with a poplin weave. When people refer to poplin shirts, they usually aren’t referring to a type of material. Instead they are talking about the kind of weave in the shirt. Typically, poplin shirts are made from cotton or cotton and polyester.
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