In modern times, the term homespun refers both to fabrics made entirely in the home and factory-made cloth with similar characteristics. To appreciate the definition of homespun fabric you need a basic understanding of the associated cloth-making processes.
Originally, homespun referred to fabrics entirely made in the home. From collecting and processing fibers to weaving or knitting fabrics, all the steps of the process were done in a home setting.
Washing, Carding and Spinning
After collecting the fibers, the first two processes are washing and then carding, which involved removing any remaining debris or foreign materials and smoothing out the fibers. Next, a spinning wheel is used to spin the processed fibers into yarn or thread, hence the term homespun.
Knitting and Weaving
Once the yarn or thread is spun, a craftsperson can make a whole, flat cloth or a garment. Thicker yarns are knit with needles to become a finished garment, such as a sock or scarf. To make a whole cloth, threads are woven on a loom, which tightly interlocks vertical and horizontal threads. The cloth is then cut and sewn into garments or other items.
Modern homespun fabrics are primarily factory-made but resemble traditional homespun cloth through the incorporation of certain characteristics.
Source fibers for both traditional homespun cloth and modern homespun are natural fibers. Most commonly, the source fibers are either cotton or wool.
Characteristics of Modern Homespun
Characteristics of modern homespun fabric include an imperfect finish. Homespun fabric also has no distinct front or back. Designs are created by weaving colored threads together. Further, with homespun cotton fabric, the material tends to fray in a way that lends itself to rag-style quilts.