From the Peasantry to the Habsburg Court
Loden wool clothing originated centuries ago in the Alpine region of Tyrol, Austria, where it was exclusively worn by the peasantry. In fact, by imperial decree, the peasants could only wear Loden wool, linen or leather. Back then the Loden wool fabric was designed to serve a purpose: to keep the people of the high Alps warm and dry through the freezing, wet winters. So the loosely woven thick yarns of the mountain sheep were “walked “ (German), a wet finishing process using heat, tension and soap that shrinks and thickens the fabric by up to 66% resulting in a dense impermeable fabric. Some consider it the first performance fabric.
But in the early 19th Century the much-adored Habsburg Archduke Johann, brother of reigning Emperor Franz II, would change the image of Loden forever. In 1800, after leading the Habsburg army in a disastrous defeat against French revolutionary forces at Hohenlinden, he was posted to Tyrol to represent his brother. There he fell in love with the mountains, their inhabitants, and their culture. He went so far as to adopt their local dress--especially Loden and marry a commoner. Back at the Habsburg Court in Vienna, his sartorial style aroused suspicion he was too close to the people, but also praise. It was, after all, the age of romanticism, and eventually the style caught on in the aristocracy. Later, his nephew and the last Emperor of Austria, Franz Josef, would wear hardly anything but Loden.
More than a fashion trendsetter, Archduke Johann is still celebrated in Austria today as a champion of the common people. The region of Styria, where he would spend most of his years, benefited from many civic and industrial projects sponsored by the so called “Styrian Prince.”
Today the Loden fabrics of the remaining Austrian Loden mills are experiencing a resurgence in popularity as the benefits of pure natural wool are being rediscovered. What’s old is new. However, Loden today is not the Loden of centuries ago. By using more advanced carding and spinning techniques and finer wool fibers from Merino Sheep, Alpaca or Cashmere the fineness of the Loden has improved dramatically. Also spurring the surge in popularity are the environmental and wellness benefits of Loden, especially when compared to synthetic fabrics. Loden is a fabric in harmony with the Alpine lifestyle.
Authentic Loden when kept clean can easily last a lifetime and even be passed down to the next generation. The pictures here are from the Loden Steiner weaver in Mandling, Austria and show the carding, spinning, preparation of the warp, weaving, fulling and finishing steps.
1. Dyed wool ready to be carded
2. Metal 'combs' carding the raw wool
3. Carded wool makes a fleece ready to be separated into filaments
4. Carded wool separated into filaments and coiled on spools - still no strength yet
5. The spinning process spins and spools the coiled filament - now it's thread
6. Preparing the warp (threads that run the length of the fabric) for weaving - every warp thread has to be individually attached
7. Preparing the loom
8. Tying each individual warp thread to the loom
9. Old fashioned fulling machine pounding the woven wool with wooden hammers
10. Removing fulled wool fabric from traditional hammer 'valker'
The hours of pounding hooks the microscopic barbs on the wool fibers to each other like velcro, making the fabric dense and strong.
11. Every inch of fabric must be carefully inspected
12. Tiny knots or fiber clumps are removed
13. Tiny metal brushes brush up fiber ends on fabric surface
Loden can also be brushed specifically for water resistance by brushing all the fibers ends in one direction resulting in something like short fur. This method is used in our overcoats.
14. Finished Loden wool fabrics
For more on the history of Loden:
"From shepherds to politics: the history of loden"
"My Austrian Jacket"
"Tracht or Austrian Traditional Costumes Part 1"
Johann Archduke of Austria: