All wool and a yard wide

Erin McKean editor at VERBATIMMAG.COM
Wed Jan 7 02:18:50 UTC 2004

Up until recently (and by recently, I mean at least until the 1960s,
according to pattern envelopes) standard width for fabric was 34/35
inches. So a yard wide would be slightly bigger than standard.

Older patterns give cutting layouts for 35 inch wide fabric; modern
patterns give layouts for 44/45 and 54/60 inch wide fabric. Some very
fancy fabrics are still 34/35 inches wide, especially those made on
traditional looms. advertises itself as the home of the 39" yard -- perhaps that
will become lexicalized at some point? Probably not if home sewing
continues to decline ...

Erin McKean

On Tue, 6 Jan 2004, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:

> >A subscriber has suggested that the phrase "all wool and a yard
> >wide", known from the 1880s and which is suspected to be an early
> >advertising slogan, actually derives from a slogan of the J O Ballard
> >woollen mill at Malone, New York. There certainly was a woollen
> >factory in the town in 1855, but I lack the resources necessary to
> >determine whether the story is a folk etymology, or whether the
> >mill's publicists borrowed an already existing expression. Can anyone
> >help?
> "All wool and a yard wide" meaning genuine/excellent occurs as early as
> 1881 according to a quick database search.
> The original reference would be to cloth, and I find many parallel
> instances before and shortly after 1881.
> For example, here's "muslin, yard wide, 10c." from 1878 ("Indiana Progress"
> [Indiana PA], 7 Feb. 1878, p. 5[?]). [The price is usually by the yard of
> length, I believe, so the width must be known in order to determine one's
> requirements.]
> And here's "an excellent Black Cashmere, all-wool, a yard wide, at 45c."
> from 1883 ("Denton Journal" [Denton MD], 22 Sep. 1883, p. 1).
> So I think originally the phrase would have been descriptive ... and
> probably not clearly superlative, since some cloth came in 1.5-yard widths
> etc., and since wool would not be the ideal cloth for all purposes. It
> would not seem appropriate for a company's "slogan" until after it came to
> mean "excellent/genuine".
> I speculate that "all wool" was taken to mean "top quality" (referring to
> cloth) and the "yard wide" was added humorously in imitation of
> advertisements like the above.
> Then there's the later development which I've heard more often myself: "all
> woman and a yard wide".
> -- Doug Wilson

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