Carding or cardage in French is the process of brushing fibers to prepare them as textiles. It’s no surprise therefore that many towns in Provence, which has been sheep ridden since the Romans, have a street called rue des cardeurs or place des cardeurs.
What is astonishing however is the material that was used to comb through the wool. These giant burrs (like the ones you find on your dog after a long walk) are called chardons in both French and English. During the 19th and 20th centuries and as late as 1980 you would see fields of chardons in both the Vaucluse and the Bouches du Rhone. As opposed to using a metal comb, the chardons were lined up together to brush through the wool.
The other day when reading an article on the men’s luxury fashion brand Zegna (www.zegna.com), I discovered that they still have their wool combed using chardons grown in Scotland. It would appear that the finest wool can be produced this way. Zegna’s ultrafine wool is 1/5 the thickness of a human hair which makes for lightweight suits.
In 1989 the last industrial sized comber of textiles located in Tarascon closed down but you can still see loads of these plants growing wild all over the country side.