Shoddy lives on!

_DSC6454 Maze of Life, Shoddy SamplersFaye Waple’s Shoddy Samplers greet visitors when they arrive at the exhibition. They came about as she contemplated the different meanings of “shoddy” and asked others what they knew – or didn’t know – about the word. I wasn’t aware that there was a mining connection.

What else did she find out…?


Shoddy what does it mean to you? Rubbish? Poor quality? Or does it have more in common with a removal blanket?

As a textile artist and enthusiast I perhaps took it for granted that the original meaning of shoddy was widely known; when I read the brief for the Shoddy Exhibition I asked a few people what the word meant to them – I was shocked that not one person knew that shoddy had any connection to the textile industry.

An idea was born – shoddy samplers to simply show the original mostly obsolete meaning of the word and the latter more widely known incarnation of shoddy.


victoria-mill-ossett-sorting shoddy
Sorting rags for Shoddy 1917, Victoria Mills, Ossett. Image from

First cited in 1832, however goes back to at least 1813, the word is thought to be a derivative of SHOAD/SHODE which was a term used in mining; meaning vein material (the good stuff) mixed with rubbish.

In 1861 there were at least 30 shoddy mills operating in Batley, producing over 7,000 tones of shoddy a year.




The change in meaning of Shoddy came about in 1862 during the American Civil War. Uniforms needed to be made quickly and cheaply to supply demand. SHODDY (noun) fabric was used – the uniforms quickly began to fall apart or fray; the adjective SHODDY was born, meaning inferior, badly made of poor quality.

“Each soldier will carry one greatcoat, one blanket, one forage cap, one woollen shirt, one pair of drawers, one pair stockings, one towel, two handkerchiefs, one line and one coarse comb, one sewing kit, one piece of soap, one toothbrush…”

General Orders 1862. General Orders, Headquarters. Dist. Of Southern California, No. 3. J Los Angeles, February 11, 1862.

Soldiers sewing kit Minnesota Histrorical Society
Kit used by Private Marcus Daniels during the Civil War (image from Minnesota historical society)

Shoddy became such a problem that men were sent away with a ‘Housewife’ (or ‘Hussiv/Hussif’ depending on dialect used)- a small pocket-sized sewing kit made by wives, girlfriends or soldiers’ mothers for emergency field repairs to kit.






Piles of colour-sorted rags
Image: Tim Mitchell. For

Up to 15% of worn clothing collected in the UK has no re-use value and is sold on as fibre for recycling. The town of Panipat, North India is the new Batley – there are over 300 mills processing the imported 100,000 tones of used clothing each year into Shoddy, which is then transformed into shawls, fabric and the world’s supply of emergency relief blankets.

Shoddy lives on!

Faye Waple, April 2016.


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