Wool, cotton, and flax were the raw materials used in the Thracian textile industry, which played a major part in local cultural and economic life from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century.
Wool and the coarse woven woollen cloth known as abas were the primary product manufactured by the average rural family. Growing demand for woollen textiles in the expanding Mediterranean market from the 16th century onwards led to the establishment of centres of production and trade. The most important guild was that of the abadzides (manufacturers and merchants of abas) of Philippopolis (Plovdiv; 1685). At the end of the 18th century, during the industrial revolution, woollen fabrics from the West, together with increasing use of cotton, suppressed local production. Ever since ancient times, wool has been processed at home in the following stages: washing, scalding and carding, willowing, teasing, and spinning.
From 1828, increasing demand for cotton in the expanding European market gave an impetus to cotton production in Thrace. By the end of the 19th century, many areas were noteworthy production centres of first-class cotton. The women used a tsikriki (spinning wheel) to separate the cotton fibres from the seeds, and then cut the cotton with a bow, a similar process to the carding of wool. They then spun the cotton into yarn using a distaff and a spindle. Homespun cotton yarn was very soon replaced by commercial yarn, known as felimeni. Proud women of Skepasto, worn out from processing flax, Beauties of Sofides, lazy and spoilt.
Until 1900, flax was one of the most profitable crops in Thrace. The farmers took their flax to the bezirhanades, who extracted beziri (linseed oil) from the seed and linen yarn from the fibres of the plant. The processing of the flax, from the field to the making of the yarn, was carried out by organised groups of women headed by the dragomana. Before the seeds were fully ripe, the plants were uprooted, the seeds were harvested, and the vrohiasma or ‘wetting’ followed. Having soaked the bundles in special pits for 10-15 days until the woody part had rotted, the women dried them in the sun and beat them to remove the linoxylo (flaxwood). A second beating removed the xyloriza, from which they made krokidi or second-rate yarn; while a third beating produced the sodyma, another grade of yarn for underclothes. The best-quality yarn was produced by pressing the flax through a kind of mangle (meliga, melkia, or mangano), and the yarn was brushed with a brush of pig hair. The relentless effort required to get yarn from flax is reflected in the popular expression ‘to suffer the travails of flax’ (= ‘to be put through the mill’ or ‘to lead a dog’s life’).