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Latterly, Wykys had grown tired, let the business slide. He was still sending broadcloth to the north German market, when – in his opinion, with wool so long in the fleece these days, and good broadcloth hard to weave – he ought to be getting into kerseys, lighter cloth like that, exporting through Antwerp to Italy.

(Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel)

What does "so long in the fleece" mean?

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The word you are in fact asking about is "fleece". Once you understand the meaning of fleece in that sentence, the meaning of the rest is fairly straightforward. Cromwell knows his cloth, and is expressing an opinion about the quality of the wool fiber.

"Fleece", in this context, refers to the length of the individual wool fibers, so "so long in the fleece" simply means that the fibers of wool are particularly long these days. Long fleece wool is better for making clothing in general because it can be spun into a finer fabric - this same quality makes it particularly well-suited for kerseys (a lighter article of clothing), which would presumably sell quite well in Italy.

  • I believe the opinion is expressed by Thomas Cromwell. In his opinion Wykys should get into kerseys instead of broadcloth, but he is going to the wrong direction in his wool business. Is there a particular reason that the length of wool in the fleece can be longer somehow than other season or times? – whitecap Sep 4 '15 at 6:06
  • Sorry - I haven't read the book so I wasn't sure of the context there! Anyway, I'm not aware of the details of wool farming honestly, though I know that generally today the "medium fleece" comes from sheep raised for meat. It's possible that it reflects better technology in terms of shearing, or more selective breeding for fleece length, or anything else... But that's the best I've got - you'd have to ask someone more knowledgeable about sheep and textiles for more! – akedrou Sep 4 '15 at 6:46

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