Designing WW1 military uniforms

The development of khaki uniform

Textile mills in Yorkshire played an incredibly important role in supporting the war effort during 1914-1918. Fabrics produced in these mills were shipped across the globe and used to make military uniforms, supplies and equipment. 

The development of khaki:

Khaki was first worn by soldiers called the Corps of Guides in Peshawar, India, from around 1848. This group of Indian soldiers in the British Indian Army, led by Sir Harry Lumsden, at first wore their ordinary clothes: a white cotton smock and pyjama trousers. 

Sir Harry wanted his men to have a more official uniform and decided to experiment with khaki, as this would blend into the dusty landscape. When no khaki cloth could be sent from England he asked the men to soak their clothing in the mud at the river blanks, so that it matched their surroundings. They also used a type of dye from palm leaves.  

The word ‘khaki’ comes from the Hindu phrase ‘soil’ or ‘dust coloured’, as the dull brown colour allows soldiers to blend in with their surroundings. The rest of the British Army began wearing it from 1867. Before this time, British soldiers had worn bright scarlet and white uniforms, which gave them the nickname ‘redcoats’ and made them easy targets in battle. In those days military uniforms were made either from cotton, wool or a combination of these fibres.

Case Study: Hainsworth and Sons

Hainsworth and Sons, a mill near Pudsey in West Yorkshire, has been producing fabric for British Army uniforms since 1815, when the mill made scarlet fabric for soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars. At this time, battlefields were often covered with smoke from gunpowder and large artillery, so the bright colours made it easier for soldiers on the same side to see each other.

In the late 1890s, Hainsworth was asked to develop a new type of fabric to allow soldiers to be camouflaged on the battlefield. Hainsworth created Khaki Serge, a worsted warp (threads running lengthways), woollen weft fabric with olive tints. When wearing this fabric soldiers were harder to spot in front of trees and undergrowth.

Khaki has been used for British Army uniforms from the First World War onwards. Since that time, the shades worn by soldiers in various battlefields have been altered to suit different terrains and climates.


Artillery - Powerful guns used in battle, like cannons 
Camouflaged - To  blend in with landscape/surroundings
Climate - The average weather in a place/country
Napoleonic Wars - Wars fought by Britain between 1799 and 1815 with France, led by Napoleon
Smock - Long loose shirt worn on top of other clothing
Terrain - Ground or piece of land
Warp - Threads running lengthways in a piece of fabric
Weft - Threads running horizontally in a piece of fabric

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