Teasel is an introduced biennial, considered an invasive plant in the U. S. due to its ability to crowd out native species. Nonetheless, the seed head that remains after the three- to eight-foot plant has flowered is strikingly beautiful. It consists of a cone of spine-tipped, hard bracts, or modified leaves. Since the Middle Ages, Europeans have used dried seed heads of the teasel plant to raise the nap on woolen cloth. Teasing wool creates a soft, almost furry texture on one side of the cloth. (Baize, the cloth traditionally used to cover pool and card tables, is a classic example of wool that has been teased.)
Because of the demand for these seed heads, farmers in 19th century New England grew fields of teasel, with each acre yielding up to 150,000 heads. In the autumn, they would be harvested and dried. Teasel heads wore out quite quickly with use, so wool manufacturers needed a constant supply of them. Eventually a machine, the “teasel gig,” replaced the seed heads. Today fine combs with steel wires raise the fibers on teased fabrics, although the consensus is that there is still no substitute for teasel heads in producing the finest cloth.
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