"This heap is composed of the shredded remains of used wool rags, socks, clothes, and remnants from the textile industry, all slowly disintegrating into the earth. Despite containing the refuse of multiple fiber-based industries…this is not a dump in any typical sense. In various states of chemical decomposition and arranged in strata-like layers, this debris has a biological purpose; wool contains a high amount of nitrogen that it releases slowing as it breaks down….Here, textile waste…gradually turns into agricultural fertilizer that is intended for use on the surrounding fields of rhubarb….Today when most people hear the word shoddy, they think of an adjective meaning “low quality” or “badly fabricated.” But, in fact, the term came into existence in the early decades of the nineteenth century as a noun, referring to a new textile material produced from old rags and tailors’ clippings. Workers made it by shredding wool rags in what were christened “devils,” grinding machines equipped with sharp teeth. Recycled waste and other leftovers were turned into plentiful “new” raw materials in the “shoddy towns” of Batley and Dewsbury….Over the next century, shoddy…was widely used in the production of suits, army uniforms, slaves’ clothing, carpet lining, and mattress stuffing.…"
An excerpt from Shoddy: From Devil’s Dust to the Renaissance of Rags (University of Chicago, $25), via Harvard Magazine.