Visitors to our showroom often do not realise that this jar standing proudly next to our bunch books and swatch cards contains one of our most important tools: the humble teasel, responsible for adding the distinctive finishing touch to our luxurious cashmere.
The teasel plant, or Dipsacus sativus, bears resemblance to the thistle with its spiked crown at the end of a long stalk. The spikes protect the seeds, and the dried seed heads have been used in Europe since medieval times to brush woollen fabrics to create a raised finish . The teasels can be used individually by hand, but methods of clamping several teasels together in a brush-like frame quickly developed from the Middle Ages onward and speeded up the rate of production. Nowadays, mechanised processes have moved on, although the basic principle remains the same.
Here at Joshua Ellis, we use a teasel gig (left) to run the fabric over the teasels to achieve the desired level of raise in the fibres. Mounted horizontally onto the drum of the gig are rods (below), which are long frames that hold the teasels tightly in place.
The teasels are packed into each rod in the densest arrangement possible. To achieve this, our Finishing Manager orders our teasels in two different sizes: P size (larger) and button size, shown to the right. As they become worn, they are rotated three times through 90 degrees in the rod so that each side of each teasel is used as much as possible. Once all four sides have been used, the teasels are replaced. The teasels we use come from Portugal – the last teasel suppliers in the UK stopped trading some time ago.
The teasel plant itself does still grow in this country, and is easily recognisable in summer by its bright purple or dark pink flowers that cluster around the seed head. The seed head remains on the stalk into autumn, and can provide an important food source for some native birds until well into winter .
 Just teasing! A teasel frame from the Museum of Early Trades and Crafts. The Meanings of Things blog. Murtha, Hillary. Published on: 21 Dec 2012. Available at: http://themeaningsofthings.org/wordpress/?p=125 Accessed: 9 Feb 2016
 Wikipedia entry, ‘Dipsacus’. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dipsacus. Accessed 9 Feb 2016.