Baize and Bay(e)s

… or latterly… “Never mind the quality, feel the width!”

Introduced into England by Dutch Huguenot immigrants in the third quarter of the sixteenth-century, baize is a loosely woven woollen cloth, not to be confused with felt – a randomly matted fabric made from wool or, for hats etc., from the fur of rabbits and beavers.

Matted wool felt.

A little history…

In 1592 an unidentified writer defined the best bayes as “80 Bayes”, the second 60 and ‘ordynary Bayes’ as 40.” [1]

A kind of coarſe open cloth ſtuff, having a long nap ; ſometimes frized on one ſide, and ſometimes not frized. This ſtuff is without wale, being wrought on a loom with two treddles, like flannel.” [2]

It [baize] is chiefly manufactured at Colchester and Bocking, in Essex, where there is a hall called the Dutch-bay-hall, or Raw-hall.

This manufacture was first introduced into England, with that of says,[3] serges, &c. by the Flemings [Flemish], who fled thither about the fifth of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, from the hand of persecution, for their religion.” [4]

Production of the woollen cloth was subject to fierce control to maintain standards in breadth, length and weight.

“If any persons shall weave in Colchester any bay known by the name of four and fifties, ſixties, ſixty-eights, eighties and hundred bays, and ſhall not within two days after ſuch weaving carry ſuch bay to the Dutch Bay-hall called the Raw-hall, to be viewed and ſearched, before the ſaid bay ſhall be carried to be ſcoured and thicked;[5] or if any fuller or thicker ſhall receive any ſuch bay to be fulled and thicked, before the ſaid bay hath been carried to the Raw-hall and ſtamped; every ſuch weaver, fuller and thicker, ſhall forfeit for the firſt offenſe 40 s. to be levied by distreſs and ſale of goods; and ſuch forfeitures, in caſe ſuch bay be made by an Engliſh maſter-maker, to be accounted for to the mayor and commonalty of the town for the benefit of the poor; and in caſe ſuch bay be the bay of a Dutch maſter-maker, the ſame to be diſpoſed by the governors of the Dutch Bay-hall for the uſe of the poor of the Dutch congregation; and for the ſecond offenſe ſhall forfeit 5 l. 2 s. in manner aboveſaid ; and for the third offenſe not to be permitted to work any more in Colchester.” [6]

Edwards makes a distinction between Baize and Bays; the latter having “a worsted warp and woollen weft and a long nap. Not as heavy as baize.[7]

Carding, was a process known in England since at least the twelfth-century (and reinvigorated with the influx of Dutch Huguenots at the beginning of the seventeenth-century) that involved fluffing up the cloth’s fibres with teasels (fulling), making the fabric more substantial and luxurious.

A spent teasel flower head.

The dead and dried flower heads of the Fuller’s Teasel (Dipsacus sativus) – a cultivated variety of teasel (cardère cultivée in French, from whence the term ‘carding’) – were strung, or wired onto small wooden crucifix-shaped frames for hand carding; or affixed to large rectangular frames that were, in turn, attached to the drum of a ‘teasel gig’ over which the fabric to be carded was passed.

Eighteenth-century French engraving illustrating the carding process and related equipment.

‘Fullers’ hand carding baize and ‘preener boy’ reloading carding frames. Illustration by George Walker, c.1814.

Teasels arranged on a teasel gig.

Nineteenth-century teasel gig.

The fine hooked bracts on the teasels’ flower heads gently teased out the woollen fibres over as many rotations of the cloth as was necessary to achieve the desired effect. When sufficiently thickened, the cloth passed to ‘shearmen’ or ‘croppers’ who wielded enormous, heavy shears and skilfully cropped the pile to produce the soft characteristic nap.

Illustration of eighteenth-century Yorkshire croppers by George Walker.

Quality cropped pure wool baize.

That… door!

The term ‘behind the green baize door’ – commonly used to differentiate between the attended and serving classes – relates to actual self-closing doors in many large houses. A baize-covered door denoted the boundary beyond which the house’s family and guests were expected not to stray.

A large house might have had several baize doors through which servants accessed each floor of the house via a domestic staircase for the purpose of conveying meals and cleaning rooms etc. It is often, incorrectly, written that the baize was attached, with decorative brass-headed nails, to the servants‘ side of the doors to provide sound insulation, exclude draughts and filter smells emanating from the kitchen. The reality is that brass nails and baize were expensive commodities to which the staff was unlikely to be afforded the sole visual benefit.

A layer of baize – of any colour – isn’t thick enough to offer effectual sound deadening; if that had indeed been its purpose, thick felt would have been a superior product and considerably cheaper. As a draught excluder and olfactory barrier, the baize fared no better as it didn’t extend to seal the gap between door, floor and architrave. Apart from which, with regard to culinary odours, kitchens were, by design, situated some distance from the dwelling area; often on a subterranean floor. The colourful baize was simply a visual caution to household members and disoriented guests of the domestic realm that unfolded on the other side of the door.

Brass-studded red baize door at Uppark, West Sussex. (NTPL/Geoffrey Frosh)

Apart from supplying furniture to many grand houses, Chippendale – as an upholsterer, as well as a furniture-maker – also supplied related items to his clientele. He invoiced Sir William Robinson for “a large door cover’d with Blue Bays & brass nail’d with a spring a handle a brass bolt & hanging it complete £2.17.0.” [8]

Other uses…

Black-, blue-, green- or red-dyed baize was used for, amongst other things, covers for protecting furniture, sedan chairs and horse drawn vehicles etc. that weren’t in regular use; for lining looking glass cases; for garment linings and wall linings etc.

On 12th November 1767 Chippendale invoiced Nostell Priory for “… a large mahogany clothes press with sliding shelves covered with marbled paper and bays aprons“. The aprons were tacked along the back of the sliding shelves and laid over the contents to protect them from dust.

Bays is used by cabinet-makers, to tack behind clothes press shelves, to throw over the clothes.” [9]

“… and staid at home discoursing and doing things in my chamber, altering chairs in my chamber, and set them above in the red room, they being Turkey work, and so put their green covers upon those that were above, not so handsome.[10]

“This morning my brother’s man brought me a new black baize waistecoate, faced with silke, which I put on from this day, laying by half-shirts for this winter.” [11]

15th January 1680, “Roger Benison was Indicted for Fellony, the Warehouse of Anthony Harrison being broke open, about a fortnight before Christmas, and from thence stolen one hundred Yards of died Bays…” Not guilty.[12]

17th July 1690, “David Williams of St. Martins in the Fields, was Tryed for stealing 2 yards of Bays-Cloth value 2 s. on the 11th of this instant July, from one Robert French, which was found upon him, as he was stopt in the street.” Sentenced to be whipped.[13]

11th September 1734, “Robert Barber was indicted for privately stealing 8 Yards of Baize, value 8 s. the Goods of Catherine Goodwin, in her Shop September 8.” Sentenced to transportation.[14]

28th April 1742, “Elizabeth Allwright, was indicted for stealing 2 Yards of blue Baize, value 2 s. the Goods of Philippia Carrington, March 1“, for which she was fined 10 d. Sentenced to be whipped.[15]

7th September 1768, “William Stuart was indicted for stealing a green baize cover for a chariot, value 10 s. the property of Robert Marley and Edward Berry, August 3.” Sentenced to transportation.[16]

24th April 1805, “George Spikes was indicted for feloniously stealing, on the 9th of March, thirty yards of blue baize, value 3 pounds, the property of William Busby, privately in his shop.” Sentenced to transportation.[17]

1st April 1818, “Mary Saunders, Rebecca Reeves, and Margaret Rowley were indicted for stealing, on the 24th of March, one baize table-cover, the goods of Henry Dean and Thomas Dudley, privately in their shop.” Not guilty.[18]

Baize-covered table. Bernhard Role, self portrait, c.1745.

The John Bacon Family (with baize-covered table in background) by Arthur Devis, c.1742.

During the eighteenth-century baize was used extensively for lining carom (billiards) tables and card tables; instrument and gun cases etc. Flour paste (wheat flour boiled in water, cooled and diluted to a creamy consistency) was – and still is – the preferred adhesive for laying baize onto card tables and for lining boxes etc.

George II faded baize-lined card table, c.1740. (Ronald Phillips)

The Remy Family (with carom table in background) by Januarius Zick, c.1776.

Baize-lined pistol case, c.1780. (Christie’s)

Modern baize

Pool and snooker table manufacture now dominates the demand for baize, with the majority of modern baize typically containing between 5% and 30% Nylon to resist wear. The Nylon content adds a synthetic feel and look to the cloth and also thwarts attempts at fading and ageing it for restoring antiques.

Blended wool and Nylon snooker table baize.

As a result of the proliferation of synthetic blends, quality wool baize suitable for restoring antiques is increasingly difficult to source – especially the flat finished variety – however, a few specialist firms still produce 100% pure wool baize (Hainsworth’s Doeskin, Hainsworth’s Superfine and Simonis’ 4000 etc.) up to 78″ wide. The baize used on snooker tables has a long nap which isn’t suitable for all antique applications. Be prepared to pay between $60 and $200 (£40 and £125) per metre for pure wool snooker baize.

Flat finished pure wool baize is much sought after by restorers for relining antique tables etc. as it most closely resembles the surviving cloth of many extant examples. Billiards and pool tables use ‘faster’, flat cloth, but, as with snooker cloth, it is invariably blended with Nylon.

Pure worsted wool ‘flat’ baize.

Occasionally one can find pure wool worsted suiting that is a good substitute for flat baize, but the width can sometimes be problematic.

Jack Plane


[1] Janet Arnold, Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d, W.S. Maney & Son Ltd, 1988, p. 360, cited by Geoffrey Beard, Upholsterers and Interior Furnishing in England, 1530-1840, Yale University Press, 1997, p. 317.

[2] Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language, London, 1785.

[3] A lightweight woollen or silk twill. Clive Edwards, Encyclopedia of Furniture Materials, Trades and Techniques, Ashgate Publishing, Aldershot, 2001, p.190.

[4] Thomas Sheraton, The Cabinet Dictionary Containing an Explanation of all the Terms Used in the Cabinet, Chair and Upholstery Branches, W. Smith, London, 1803, p. 40.

[5] Thickening was the essential process of matting non-worsted wool fibres together (felting) to increase the cloth’s strength. The process is the likely cause of the confusion between napped baize and felt.

[6] John Cay, An Abridgement of The Publick Statutes in force and use from Magna Charta, in the ninth year of King Henry III to the eleventh year of his present Majesty King George II Inclusive, Vol. I, London, 1739, CCXXXIII. Sect. 2.

[7] Clive Edwards, Encyclopedia of Furniture Materials, Trades and Techniques, Ashgate Publishing, 2001, p. 17.

[8] Christopher Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, Tabard Press, 1978, p. 48.

[9] Thomas Sheraton, The Cabinet Dictionary, W. Smith, 1803, p. 40.

[10] The Diary of Samuel Pepys, October 11th 1663.

[11] The Diary of Samuel Pepys, November 1st 1663.

[12] The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London 1674 to 1913.

[13] ibid.

[14] ibid.

[15] ibid.

[16] ibid.

[17] ibid.

[18] ibid.

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About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
This entry was posted in Materials and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Baize and Bay(e)s

  1. Ron says:

    Jack,
    Thank you kindly for the well written and thoroughly informative post. I think a light blue baize on a drop front desk to look quite smart. Does your next piece feature the material?
    Regards,
    Ron Jones

    Like

    • Jack Plane says:

      Ron, thank you for your kind words.

      I have no immediate plans for any furniture that will include the use of baize. In fact the weather has been so hot of late that I haven’t been able to make any furniture. Bring on the autumn!

      JP

      Like

  2. Marsh Jim says:

    Wonderful article. Thank you so much for posting it.

    jim

    Like

  3. Jeff Peachey says:

    Very interesting, great post. The use of the teasel flower head is amazing!

    Like

  4. Michael Dooley says:

    I believe teasels were once used as tooth brushes too. I’ve got a question about butting baize up to veneer. I’m making some boxes that are veneered in the top half and the lower half might have sometimes been baize (I think you know the ones ;-) ). I’m wondering how the junction between fabric and veneer might have been treated?
    Thanks
    Michael

    Like

    • Jack Plane says:

      Michael, I wouldn’t like to put a teasel in my mouth! Personally, I use an ivory and hog bristle toothbrush.

      I can’t think of any instances – other than card tables and writing slopes – where baize is butted up to veneer. In those instances, the perimeter of the area the baize is to be laid on is fielded so the fragile cut edge of the baize isn’t damaged by objects being slid from the veneered area onto the baize.

      JP

      Like

  5. Perhaps I should lift off the excess veneer that remains on the lower box after I cut off the lid and baize the whole bottom section.

    Like

    • Jack Plane says:

      I wouldn’t lay baize in the interior, just on the base.

      If you draw a pencil line on the glue face of the baize and brush a 1/2″ wide strip of thin horse sauce (not too thin or it will bleed all the way through) along the pencil line, then when it’s set, you can cut along the pencil line without the baize fraying. Lay the baize with flour paste. The horse sauce will stick well with the paste and the edges will remain stable.

      Like

  6. Per says:

    Hello

    I’ve been trying to find information on wool baize as my local fabric store sells it in four different colours in the dressmaking department and I have been using it to make hats and bags. But all I can find on it suggests that it is for soft furnishing use. It’s quite an expensive fabric and definitely not felt, the tag does say “wool baize”, and the colours are teal, scarlet, and two purples this year. Does that sound about right?

    Like

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  8. Eric R says:

    Very informative and enlightening article Jack.
    Thank you for going through the trouble to prepare it.
    Eric

    Like

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  13. Bob Norton says:

    Jack,
    Thank you for your articles they are very enlightening to a beginner like me.
    Regards
    Bob, the beginner

    Like

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  16. Sean says:

    17th & 18th C Bay was a coarse, cheap fabric made with a worsted warp and woollen weft.

    The fine, smooth, short cropped cloth available since the 19th C and used for Billiard tables etc known today as ‘Baize’ has a woollen warp and weft and is more akin to Superfine Broadcloth. The name has changed from one sort of fabric to another sometime in the mid 19th C

    Fabrics with worsted warp and weft are very different in character to true Bays or Baizes, both of which require woollen content to provide the nap. Worsted fabrics have a ‘clear’ finish where the weave can be clearly seen. Hainsworth’s Doeskin is a 2/2 twill, whereas both Bay and Baize are plain weave cloths.

    Reproduction 18th C Bay is available from Kochan & Phillips Historic textiles
    http://www.historicaltextiles.com

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