In premodern times, in temperate or colder climates, clothing was orders of magnitude more expensive than today and textile production made up a large percentage of total economic activity. I'm interested in getting a feel for the actual numbers involved.

To take something concrete: in the Middle Ages, how many hours of labor did it take to make a woolen sweater?

But I don't mean starting with a ball of wool. I mean starting with a sheep. I'm interested in the total labor cost.

As I understand it, there were several steps: shearing the sheep, cleaning the wool, spinning it into thread, then weaving or knitting the thread into clothing, but they were not equally time-consuming; spinning thread, took considerably more time than all the other steps put together.

The spinning wheel improved things significantly, but the Middle Ages was before that, when distaff and spindle were the relevant tools. (And as I understand it, would have been substantially unchanged since at least the Bronze Age.)

A good starting point, then, would be if there are figures available for how long it took to spin a certain amount of thread with distaff and spindle, given an experienced worker.

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    Tell us what research you did... Also the Middle Ages was quite a long time, and technology changed constantly. Perhaps you could specify a century?
    – RedSonja
    May 4 at 10:58
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    Hmm. Relating the "labor" of raising a sheep to an itemized per-sweater amount of time seems like it would be a challenge by itself (what was the productive life-expectancy of a sheep in medieval Scotland?). And would you divide that by the number of sheep in a flock, since the shepherd is taking care of more than one animal at a time?
    – T.E.D.
    May 4 at 14:43
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    Keep in mind that no one person would be doing all the jobs. In some cases, this may even involve multiple countries. Also that knitting was uncommon, so the results were rarely what we'd see as a "sweater". May 4 at 16:08
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    A good number to start with is 'How many feet of yarn in a sweater' fine tuned with typical sweater size and diameter of yarn used at the time. This would give an approximation of the volume of wool needed/number of sheep to be sheared. The length would also give you a start on the number of hours for spinning and knitting.
    – BobT
    May 4 at 16:41
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    Here is a step by step discussion of what went into it, without the times:acoup.blog/2021/03/05/…
    – Mary
    May 5 at 0:10

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