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This book traces the dynamic advances in textile technology and changes in the structure of demand that accompanied the rise, in the late Middle Ages, of an Italian industry geared to mass production of cotton fabrics. The Italian manufacture, based on borrowed techniques and imitations of Islamic cloth, was the earliest large-scale cotton industry in western Europe. It thus marked a pivotal stage in the transmission of the knowledge and use of this textile fibre from the Mediterranean basin to northern Europe. The success of the Italians in creating new markets for a wide variety of products that included pure cotton, as well as mixed fabrics combining cotton with linen, hemp, wool and silk, permanently altered the patterns of taste and consumption in European society. Cotton, in various stages of proceeding, was at the heart of a complex network of communications that linked the north Italian towns to the source of raw materials and to international markets for finished goods. In the developing urban economy of northern Italy, cotton played a role comparable in magnitude to that of wool and shared with the latter certain basic features of early capitalistic organization.
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