OED Definition which gives an idea of the usage at different periods below. I will try look at the Stuart Press pamphlets and a couple of other books for usage statistics later. The advantage of worsted cloth is that the combing aligns the long-staple wool fibers much better than carding, the thread has a higher twist on it and these both mean that you produce a finer cloth without losing durability. A friend has been a Kempster in the woolshed at Kentwell using traditional English wool combs (completely different from the viking type with much longer teeth) and the difference in the prepared wools are very marked even before they are spun. The leftover can be carded to produce a second grade wool.
Forms: α. ME worth-, ME wurthstede, worthested(e, wortestede; ME wr-, ME wurstede, 15 wursteede, ME–15 wursted (ME wurstet); ME wirsted, 15 wyrsted, ME werstede; ME–15 worstede (ME wore-), ME– worsted (ME worseted, 15 worstedd, worstyd; ME worstet, 15 worstett; 15 vorsted), ME worsteyd, 15 worsteid; 15–17 worstead; 15 woorstred, 16 woorsted, woorstead. β. ME–15 wolsted(e, 15 wullstid, ulsted, 16 wolsteed, 15, 17 woolsted. γ. ME–15 wusted, ME–16 wosted, 15–17 woosted. δ. Sc. and north. dial.ME, 15–16, 18 worset, ME, 15–16 worsett, 16 worssett; ME–15 worsat, 15 worsatt, worsait, 18 wurset, wursit, wossat, wusset; ME wirset, ME wirssat, 15 wirsait; ME wersed.(Show Less)
Etymology: < the name of a parish in Norfolk, north of Norwich, originally (Old English) Wurðestede, later Wurthstede, Worthsted, etc., and now written Worstead.(Show Less)
†1. (Anglo-Latin) pannus, (Anglo-Norman) drap, de Wurthstede, etc.: = sense 2. Obs.
1296 Close Roll, 24 Edw. I 24 Apr. (P.R.O.: C 54/113) m. 9v, Pannum de Worthstede.
1301 Let. Pat. 4 Oct. in Northampton Bor. Rec. (1898) I. 59 De quolibet panno de wurthstede qui vocatur coverlit.
1328 Rolls of Parl. II. 28/1 Ses poueres..Overours des Draps de Wurthstede en le Counte de Norff.
1347 Rolls of Parl. II. 168/2 Pur Draps de Worstede une novelle Custume levee.
1350 in J. T. Fowler Extracts Acct. Rolls Abbey of Durham (1898) I. 173 In 11 pannis de nigro worseto.
1402–3 in J. T. Fowler Extracts Acct. Rolls Abbey of Durham (1898) I. 182 In tribus pannis de wirsted.
1442–3 in J. T. Fowler Extracts Acct. Rolls Abbey of Durham (1898) I. 185 In 1 panno nigro de worestede.
a. A woollen fabric or stuff made from well-twisted yarn spun of long-staple wool combed to lay the fibres parallel.
1293 in Camden Misc. II. 13 Pro xj. ulnis de wrstede ad caligas faciendas.
1345–9 in Archaeologia XXXI. 78 Eidem ad vnam aulam de worstede operatum cum papagailles.
1393–4 Act 17 Rich II c. 2 Les Marchants & overours de draps appelez sengle Worstede.
c1405 (1387–95) Chaucer Canterbury Tales Prol. (Hengwrt) (2003) l. 264 Of double worstede was his semycope.
1411 in F. J. Furnivall Fifty Earliest Eng. Wills (1882) 19 Also y be-queythe to Robert, myn heldest son, a reed bedde of worsteyd.
1459 Paston Lett. I. 478 Item, j pece of grene wurstet xxx yards longe.
1465 Paston Lett. & Papers (1904) IV. 201 A coverlyte of whyte werstede longyng therto.
1535 Wardrobe Acct. Henry VIII in Archaeologia (1789) 9 249 A dubblette of wursteede.
1548 Hall's Vnion: Henry VIII f. lxiv, Within hys gate..dwelled dyuerse Frenchmen that kalendred Worsted, contrary to the kynges lawes.
1610 P. Holland tr. W. Camden Brit. i. 475 They obteined..that the Worsted made there [i.e. at Norwich] might be transported.
a1661 T. Fuller Worthies (1662) Norf. 247 It surpasseth my skill to name the several stuffs (being Worsted disguised with Weaving and Colouring) made thereof.
1728 Pope Dunciad ii. 129 The very worstead still look'd black and blue.
a1756 E. Haywood New Present (1771) 258 Directions for cleaning of Worsted and other Sorts of Stuffs.
1886 S. W. Beck Draper's Dict. 373 Worsted, cloth of long stapled-wool, combed straightly and smoothly, as distinct from woollens, which are woven from short staple wool, crossed and roughed in spinning.
1436 in W. H. Stevenson Rec. Borough Nottingham (1883) II. 152 Unum cowle de nigro wolstede.
1551–2 Act 5 & 6 Edw. VI c. 7 §1 Any kynde of Clothe Chamlettes Wolstede Sayes [etc.].
1598 J. Stow Suruay of London 76 His guarde..all in a Liuery of Wolsted.
1440 in E. Peacock Eng. Church Furnit. (1866) 182 A vestment of Black wosted.
1481–90 Howard Househ. Bks. (Roxb.) 38 A piece wusted iij. yerdes deppe, for stremers and standartes.
1537 in J. L. Glasscock Rec. St. Michael's, Bishop's Stortford (1882) 126 Item a vestment of grene wusted wt an obe.
1589 Voy. W. Towrson in R. Hakluyt Princ. Navigations i. 108 They shewed vs a certaine course cloth,..it was course wooll, and a small threed, and as thicke as wosted.
1607 R. C. tr. H. Estienne World of Wonders 235 Sleeues.., one halfe of woosted, the other of veluet.
δ. 1350 [see sense 1].
1375 Exch. Rolls Scot. II. 505 Per empcionem de xij ulnis cum dimidio de wirset.
1436 in C. Innes Reg. Episcopatus Aberdonensis (1845) II. 148 Vnum vestimentum integrum de nigro wersed.
1483 in T. Thomson Acts Lords Auditors (1839) *112/1 A couering of Inglis worsat.
1520–1 in J. Raine Fabric Rolls York Minster (1859) 305 One vestment of blacke worsett.
1565 in Hay Fleming Reform. Scot. (1910) 610 Ane baithkyt[sic] of roich worsat, to ly under nobillis feit.
1612 Sc. Bk. Rates in Halyburton's Ledger (1867) 289 Beltis..of worsett the groce, viij li.
b. With pl. A particular variety of this fabric.
1314–5 Rolls of Parl. I. 292/2 Draps qe homme appele Worthstedes & Aylehames.
1348 in T. Rymer Fœdera (1708) V. 618 Stapula..aliorum Pannorum de Worstedes.
1393 Pat. Roll 16 Rich. II ii. 28 Feb., Pro mercatoribus et operatoribus de worstedes.
1442 Rolls of Parl. V. 60/2 Persones that maken untrewe ware of all maner Worstedes.
1471 J. Paston in Paston Lett. & Papers (2004) I. 440 A worsted man off Norffolk þat solde worstedys at Wynchester.
1541–2 Act 33 Hen. VIII c. 16 §2 The makinge and weavinge of worstedes and other clothes.
1573–80 J. Baret Aluearie V 92 As if a man should carrie Mockadoes and woolsteds to be sold at Norwich.
1603 R. Johnson tr. G. Botero Hist. Descr. Worlde 27 They inuented..the making of tapestrie, saies, searges, wosteds, russets.
1853 A. Ure Dict. Arts II. 833 The class of goods technically distinguished as ‘woollens’ in distinction to ‘worsteds.’
1895 Daily News 13 Sept. 5/3 The revival is more apparent in the production of the higher class of goods known as worsteds than in that known as woollens.
c. ellipt. for a garment made of worsted cloth; a worsted jacket or suit.
1962 L. Deighton Ipcress File i. 9, I struggled into the dark worsted and my only establishment tie.
1972 K. Bonfiglioli Don't point that Thing at Me iii. 20, I put on a dashing little tropical-weight worsted, curly-brimmed coker and a pair of buckskins.
1975 Times 8 Jan. 12/7 Behaving in a manner more suited to the canvas jacket than the charcoal-grey worsted.
3. A closely twisted yarn made of long-staple wool in which the fibres are arranged to lie parallel to each other. Later, a fine and soft woollen yarn used for knitting and embroidery (cf. wool n. 3b).
1465 J. Paston in Paston Lett. & Papers (2004) I. 140, I pray yow ye woll send me hedir ij elne of worsted for doblettes to happe me this cold wynter.
1546 Extracts Council Reg. Aberdeen (1844) I. 236 Ane grit buyst, and certane kemmis, worsettis, spectikyllis, and wther small geir in it.
1612 Sc. Bk. Rates in Halyburton's Ledger (1867) 296 Sewing worssett.
1687 A. Lovell tr. J. de Thévenot Trav. into Levant i. 143 Their loom stands before them, and in their left hand they have several ends of round bottoms of Woorstead of many colours, which they place in their several places.
1709 in Philos. Trans. 1713 (Royal Soc.) (1714) 28 265 She being a Spinner of Yarn or Woosted.
a1745 Swift Story Injured Lady (1746) 7 If a Tenant carried but..an Inch of Worsted to mend his Stockings, he should forfeit his whole Parcel.
1784 A. Smith Inq. Wealth of Nations (ed. 3) II. iv. viii. 507 Woollen yarn and worsted are prohibited to be exported under the same penalties as wool.
1842 R. H. Barham Nell Cook!! in Ingoldsby Legends 2nd Ser. 121 Mrs. John Ingoldsby at the table, busily employed in manufacturing a cabbage-rose..in many-coloured worsteds.
1843 R. S. Surtees Handley Cross III. iv. 63 The young ones sought out their worsteds to work her a bag apiece.
1889 Hardwicke's Sci.-gossip 25 134 The syphon, which may consist of a single thread of wool or worsted.
4. attrib. or adj. Made of worsted or worsted yarn; said of cloth, thread, garments, etc.; also in specific names of fabrics or materials, as worsted braid, worsted damask, etc.
1410 Rolls of Parl. III. 637/2 Les Worstedes appelez Worsted-beddes, doubles, & sengles.
1492 in T. Dickson Accts. Treasurer Scotl. (1877) I. 202 For ij dowbil wirssat beltis til him, price iij s.
1502 in J. B. Paul Accts. Treasurer Scotl. (1900) II. 198 For iiij elne worsait ribane to cord the said goune.
1533 in J. W. Clay Testamenta Eboracensia (1902) VI. 43 A wolsted dublet.
1566 in E. Peacock Eng. Church Furnit. (1866) 67 Item iij worsted copes.
1589 R. Greene Menaphon sig. I, Spangled like the woosted stockings of Saturne.
1605 P. Erondelle French Garden D 8 b, I will haue no woorsted hosen.
1647 R. Herrick Widdowes Teares in Noble Numbers 43 The woosted thred Is cut, that made us clothing.
1720 T. Gordon Humourist I. 45 Renouncing his Buckles and conforming to Woolsted-Tapes.
1748 T. Smollett Roderick Random I. xvii. 139 His white silk stockings were converted into black worsted hose.
1828 Scott Fair Maid of Perth vi, in Chron. Canongate 2nd Ser. I, The thumb of his mother's worsted glove might hold the treasure of the whole clan.
1843 Penny Cycl. XXVII. 555/2 Worsted shag [is made] at Banbury and Coventry.
1858 E. Bulwer-Lytton What will he do with It? i. vi, Two small worsted rugs.
1878 M. E. Braddon Eleanor's Vict. ii, Voluminous worsted curtains falling before the narrow windows.
1882 S. F. A. Caulfeild & B. C. Saward Dict. Needlework 524 Worsted Braids...Worsted Damasks.
1768 Ann. Reg. 1767 158 The looms of a worsted-lace-weaver.
C1. Simple attrib. and adjective comb.
1835 A. Ure Philos. Manuf. 217 These two endless chains pass over fluted guide-rollers (like those more obviously seen in the worsted-breaker).
1702 in P. Wright New Bk. Martyrs (1784) 808/1 William Hussey, a worsted comber.
1830 Parson & White Directory Leeds etc. 426 Worsted Dealers.
1843 Penny Cycl. XXVII. 554/1 A worsted factory in the north.
worsted machinery n.
1875 E. H. Knight Pract. Dict. Mech. 2819 Worsted machinery.
a1538 T. Starkey Dial. Pole & Lupset (1989) 64 Weverys worstyd makyrs tukkarys & fullarys.
1534 Act 26 Hen. VIII c. 16 §5 The said mysterie and occupacion of Worsted makinge.
1805 J. Luccock Nature & Prop. Wool 156 The state of the worsted manufacture.
1736 in Rec. Convent. Royal Burghs Scot. (1885) V. 604 The case of the silk and worset manufacturers.
1801 T. Peck Norwich Direct. 11 Crowe William, Worsted-Manufacturer.
worsted merchant n.
?c1480 E. Paston in Paston Lett. & Papers (2004) I. 639 On Boolt, a worstede [No space between a and worstede in MS] marchaunt.
1880 G. Smith Cowper vii. 100 The letter slides from spiritual despair to the worsted-merchant.
worsted mill n.
1836 W. White Hist. Norfolk 96 Two worsted mills at Norwich.
worsted repository n.
1858 P. L. Simmonds Dict. Trade Products, Worsted-repository,..a shop where fancy knitting-wools are sold.
† worsted-shearing n. Obs.
1503–4 Act 19 Hen. VII c. 17 §1 The Worsted Sheremen wythin the seid Citie..have chosen Wardens of Worsted sheryng.
† worsted shearman n. Obs.
1830 Parson & White Directory Leeds 171 Worsted spinners.
1895 Daily News 21 June 2/2 The worsted-spinning business of Henry Pease and Company.
1716 London Gaz. No. 5401/4, A Worsted-Throwster by Trade.
worsted trade n.
1835 A. Ure Philos. Manuf. 68 The worsted trade of England.
1442 Rolls of Parl. V. 60/2 The craft of Worsted Wevers.
1707 London Gaz. No. 4319/4, George Durant, of the City of Norwich, Worsted-Weaver.
worsted work n. embroidery done with worsted yarn on canvas; an example of this.
c1702 C. Fiennes Journeys (1947) 277 One with a half bedstead as the new mode, dimity with fine shades of worsted works well made up.
1826 M. Wilmot Let. 25 Sept. (1935) 250, I do worsted work..but..my eyes are too weak to count the threads of any but coarse canvas... What do you make of yours? Foot stools! cushions! bell pulls!
1888 Mrs. H. Ward Robert Elsmere I. i. x. 280 His wife, whose head was bent close over her worsted work.
1853 E. C. Gaskell Cranford viii. 116 Carlo lay on the worsted-worked rug.
Second edition, 1989; online version June 2012. <http://www.oed.com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/view/Entry/230367>; accessed 01 August 2012. Earlier version first published in New English Dictionary, 1928.
aka Thomasin Chedzoy, Tailor at Kentwell Hall