A Fred Blystone Pic
taken at Colonial Williamsburg
If you are an accomplished spinner or weaver, this post may not be of great interest, for it is actually geared toward the reader who has a basic interest in the average daily occurrences of 18th century citizens, and thus, will hopefully help to give an idea of more of what went on inside many colonial homes. Thus, as mentioned, it is not a "how-to" guide, but a "how they did it" informational, for it was a process every man, woman, and child would be quite aware of, even if they didn't necessarily do it themselves.
Now...what am I doing writing about spinning wheels and such?
For the reasons mentioned as well as because I find it interesting; I enjoy watching my wife, Patty, spin at her wheel. It's as relaxing for me to watch her work such a craft as it is for her to do it.
And because I am the one who coerced my constantly crocheting wife to take up the spinning hobby, something she spoke of often everytime we would see it done at museums, which she now loves doing herself (thank you very much! lol).
I also personally own a Saxony wheel and two great wheels along with a clock reel.
Much of what I have written in this week's post comes directly from those who were there; the men & women of the 18th century who were involved in the textile crafts/trade of the period. It's their words that make up the most interesting part (to me) of the text. The rest came from a variety of other sources, of which I have listed at the bottom.
Throughout this post I have placed definitions of words for those of us who are novices, to help in the understanding the entries in the journals and diaries.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
I do appreciate it.
Throughout this post I have placed definitions of words for those of us who are novices, to help in the understanding the entries in the journals and diaries.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
I do appreciate it.
~Included in this posting are photographs I've taken upon visiting the 1700s Daggett breakback (saltbox) farmhouse and the Weaving Shop - both located inside Greenfield Village - as well as a couple from my own non-historic pseudo colonial-style home.
Also, most notes and explanations here come from the published works of a few historical researchers, to help bring the entire process - and its time - vividly to life~
Traditionally, the first Monday after Epiphany (or 12th Night – the 6th of January), was called Plow Monday because it was the day when men returned to their plows, or daily work, following the Christmas Holiday. It was customary at this time for farm laborers to draw a plow through the village, soliciting money for a "plow light," which was kept burning in the parish church all year.
Sometimes falling on the same day as Plow Monday was Distaff Day (January 7). This was when women were expected to return to their spinning following the Christmas tide. A distaff is the staff that women used for holding the flax or wool in spinning. Hence, the term "distaff" refers to women's work or the maternal side of the family.
This ancient verse captures the spirit of both long-forgotten special January days:
“Yule is come and Yule is gone
and we have feasted well;
so Jack must to his flail again
and Jenny to her wheel.”
And this is how we will begin today's post.
Using the great wheel
To me, no history is unimportant, especially in the home life department. In fact, that's the area that interests me most.
I've also learned that nothing is black and white; there are mostly gray areas. Never say never and never say always is a good lesson to know and accept - perhaps the most important of lessons - when studying and researching history.
And that truism goes well with this posting on the textile arts and homelife.
According to author Alice Morse Earle in her wonderful book, Home Life in Colonial Days, the wool industry easily furnished home occupation to an entire family. Often by the bright firelight in the early evening every member of the household might be seen at work on the various stages of wool manufacture or some of its necessary adjuncts, and varied and cheerful industrial sounds fill the room.
The grandmother, at light and easy work, is carding the wool into fleecy rolls. The mother, stepping as lightly as one of her girls, spins the rolls into woolen yarn on the great wheel. The oldest daughter sits at the clock-reel, whose continuous buzz and occasional click mingles with the humming rise and fall of the wool-wheel, and the irritating scratch, scratch, scratch of the cards. A little girl at the small wheel is filling quills with woolen yarn for the loom, not a skilled work. The father is setting fresh teeth in a wool card, while the boys are whittling hand-reels and loom spools.
So let's talk about the basics; we must understand that, for the most part, domestic textile production in the colonies, especially New England, centered on bed and table linen; linen for shirts, shifts, petticoats, aprons, and summer pantaloons; coarse woolens for work clothing for men and boys; and a variety of linen and woolen garments for infants and young children.
During the American Revolutionary War, homespun textiles were associated with domestic necessity and patriotism, as the idea of American independence was merged with self-sufficiency, which was often expressed as a goal.
Printed in the September 1, 1788 edition of the Hampshire Gazette from Northampton, Massachusetts, a farmer wrote of their self-sufficiency. In part, he stated: "nothing to wear, eat, or drink was ever purchased," and that they "never spent more than ten dollars a year, which was for salt, nails, and the like." He wrote that when his first daughter was to be married, she had been "a working, dutiful girl, and therefore I fitted her out well and to her mind; for I told her to take of the best of my wool and flax, and to spin herself some gowns, (petti)coats, stockings, and shifts; nay I suffered her to buy some cotton, and make into sheets, as I was determined to do well by her."
You see, most people today are generally aware of what occurs inside the homes in which they live, whether the tasks or the chores are from fathers or mothers or children. Most will know the everyday routines of family members, from housework to relaxation time.
It wasn't any different in generations past.
In fact, I believe most people might be somewhat surprised to learn just how closely the families and friends during colonial and early Republic times worked together, showing just how much they needed each other to be successful in survival.
What goes up must come down...
I also frequently visit Greenfield Village and the 18th century Daggett House, and the presenters there do such a remarkable job showing the way these particular crafts took place inside the home. This is where the interest for my wife and I was initially piqued.
It helps, too, that my wife also spins and dyes (again, due to some cajoling from yours truly, I might add).
Now, if you are a personal friend of mine or are a follower of this Passion for the Past blog (thank you!), you will know that I frequently visit Greenfield Village and especially the 1750 Daggett House. The presenters there do such a remarkable job showing 18th century life and seemingly bring that period alive, so I have included in this posting numerous photographs I've taken upon my visits to that rural farm home, as well as diary & journal entries from varying folks from the period, including Samuel Daggett himself. Also included are notes and explanations from some of the published works of a few historical researchers to help bring the entire process - and its time - vividly to life as well.
Anyhow, let's take a peek into the world of the 18th century home textiles and witness the process that our brilliant ancestors, along with their family and friends, helped each other by working together.
Part of the following information comes directly from the 18th century (italicised):
Sheep-Shearing: Each spring, farmers sheared their flocks: (John Wily wrote in 1765) "The proper time to shear your sheep is in the increase of the moon, in May; and, if you have the conveniency, make a pen near some water course or pond, and wash your sheep before you shear them: As soon as they are washed turn them into a small enclosure that has plenty of grass, and let them run on it two or three days, or until you see the fatty or oily substance shedding amongst the wool. Then is the proper time to shear them, for that is a great preservation to the wool."
Sorting: Early American wool sorters separated each fleece into two or three grades. Well-sorted wool made it easier to produce strong yarn and evenly woven cloth. As John Wily wrote: "As there are different sorts of wool on sheep, the neck being the finest, the belly next, the shoulders and thighs the coarsest, it will be proper the person employed to shear the sheep should carefully roll up each fleece by itself, turning it inside out, beginning at the neck part, and leaving out the shanks; that the person employed to sort the wool may with the greater ease separate the fine from the coarse, and likewise that which is suitable to be combed for worsted from that which will answer for other uses. After your wool is well culled or sorted, the fine from the coarse, then have it well washed; for if you wash your wool before it is sorted, it afterwards will be very difficult to separate the fine from the coarse as it ought to be."
Scouring: The sheep protects its fleece by generating a greasy substance called suint. Suint can account for over have of the weight of a newly shorn fleece. The worker removed the suint by immersing the fleece in a tub filled with a mixture of stale urine and warm water. He then rinsed the wool in fresh water and set it upon racks to dry. Scouring required skill and attention to detail. A weak or cold solution would felt the wool into lumps of tangled fibers.
After picking, the workers spread the wool in layers on a clean floor, and sprinkled each layer with oil in order to blend the fibers and make them pliable.
Carding wool with
Carding was a monotonous and time-consuming task which required little strength or skill. Housewives often carded in their spare time or assigned the task to the children. Oftentimes, an elderly and feeble family member may also take on the job.
Henry Wansey said in 1790. "Every housewife keeps a quantity of these cards by her to employ her family in the evenings when they have nothing to do out of doors."
Spinning: Those who spun made yarn and thread by twisting the fibers of the prepared wool or flax into varying sizes to give that weak rolag strength as yarn. This was a task entrusted to the women and girls of early America. It's been noted that few farmhouses lacked a wheel. The large spinning wheels are known as the great wheel, the wool wheel, or the walking wheel.
The Clock Reel: Used to measure the yarn. After spinning, the yarn was unwound from the wheel's spindle and wound on the clock reel (also known as a yarn winder) and measured for length. Clock reels employed a series of gears to trigger a noise making device when a certain amount of yarn had been wound.
Skein: a length of yarn or thread wound on a clock reel.
|Spinning on a Saxony wheel...|
As I combed through numerous books and internet sites, there tends to be some disagreement on the information for who had and who did not have spinning wheels. For those who lived in the city, such as Boston, it seems that chances are they may not have had a need for a wheel and could purchase items from stores, whereas those who lived further from a big town or city may had been more likely to have a wheel in their home. Some of this is referenced in the account books of Samuel Daggett, builder and original owner of the 1750 Daggett farmhouse (now inside historic Greenfield Village). It seems as if this jack-of-all-trades farmer found spinning wheels to be omnipresent in people's lives in his own rural Connecticut community of Coventry. He was a housewright and woodworker (and farmer and dentist) and was called upon to repair many items belonging to his neighbors, including spinning wheels and spinning wheel parts.
Here are a few entries taken from the account book of Samuel Daggett:
November 9, 1757
~14 yds. flannel cloth and half at 2 1/2 pr. Yard - to Beriah Loomis
April 16, 1750 -
making a woolen wheel for Rebeckah Gibbs
A couple of wheels and a reel in need
of repair in a 2nd floor room of
Daggett's own house.
January 18, 1760 and February 24, 1764 -
mending a wheel for Ephram Shalfer's widow and Wid. Sarah Loomis.
February 9, 1761 -
spool and fliers to a wheel for Joseph Clark
January 1766 -
a pair of fliers to a little wheel for Joseph Clark
Daggett wrote, in relation to the textile arts:
~setting a come (comb?) and setting a worsted comb for Jacob Lyman
Also in the Daggett account book is of him selling flaxseed, probably to the local linseed oil mill (the Andover Society history says there was a local "oil mill").
Yes, there are plenty more entries of this type. I have a copy of his journal and these are but a few of what I found while quickly glancing through the pages.
Mr. Daggett certainly knew how to earn a living.
|One of my great wheels is not pictured, |
though my Saxony is here, as is my clock reel.
Men & boys also had a share in the textile and spinning process. According to "Our Own Snug Fireside," their jobs consisted of:
~breaking, scutching, and hackling flax and hemp
~learning the rudiments of sewing and mending
Women & girls, for their part, would:
~grow flax and hemp and harvest when it was ready
~spin fibers into yarn or thread
~may do some home weaving
~dye the yarn or thread using natural dyes and techniques
~sew and knit
~mend & repaired textile items
|Process chart for spinning wool.|
Hired girls carried much of the responsibility for spinning. From Sarah Emery: "Aunt kept a hired girl through the year. In the summer she helped in the dairy and housework, but her chief employment was spinning."
In February of 1780, Mrs. Ebenezer Parkman hired two women for one week to spin.
Sarah Bryant usually warped and set the looms, but the hired girls did all of the spinning and much of the routine weaving.
Here is a video I filmed at the 18th century Daggett Farmhouse inside Greenfield Village on spinning by way of the great wheel:
From the diary of ten-year-old Anna Green Winslow, from Boston:
Valentine Day 1772
My cousin Sally reeled off a 10 knot skane of yarn today. My valentine was an old country plow-joger. The yarn was of my spinning. Aunt says it will do for filling. Aunt also says niece is a whimsical child.
February 18, 1772
Another ten knot skane of my yarn was reel'd off today. Aunt says it is very good.
Now, I am not going to get too deep into the wool dyeing process, but I would like to show you some of the basics of the ancient technique.
The pictures you see here are of the ladies of the Daggett House, for every November they will spend a weekend dyeing the wool they spin. The process actually starts about six weeks earlier when the presenters begin collecting nature to use as the dye.
|Searching for walnuts...|
|For only being out for a short while, she didn't do too bad.|
|Plants, roots, and nuts used to make dye|
|The dyeing of wool is an annual presentation that Greenfield |
Village has every fall at the Daggett House. Even though my
wife also dyes wool in the same manner, I still try not to miss it here.
|The presenters will walk the visitor |
through every step...
|Boiling water on a dry day works perfectly, |
for dyes can be quite messy.
|To make red, cochineal beetles are used |
To think if someone wanted a bit of color on
their cloth, this was to be done.
|And here is the indigo for blue (although, due to the clouds, |
it looks more black than deep blue).
Click to see and hear the dyeing process from a Daggett presenter:
Below you will see the types of natural dyes used for the wool and what the wool looks like:
Osage orange is a native of the south-central US and is widely
planted in the eastern states/colonies as well.
If you want a beautiful brown, look no further than your local
neighbor's yard, or maybe even your own yard.
Is one of the most ancient dyes and can be traced back
to around 3000 BC., and comes from the madder plant.
This is but a very few of the many natural dyes that were used by our 18th century ancestors.
|Here is their wool from 1765...I mean...hmmm...|
Just what year are we in?
|The knit hat I am wearing here|
was from raw wool. My wife
went through the entire process,
including dyeing the wool
after she spun it.
|The mittens I have on were|
also from raw wool.
Again, my wife knitted them for me after carding,
spinning & dyeing them.
Spinning could be done in any room of the house - the great hall, the kitchen, or sometimes it would be done in a separate room of the home.
And with that we can now segue onto the spinning of flax:
|Process chart for spinning flax.|
"I seek wool and flax and can work willingly with my Hands, and tho my Household are not cloathed with fine linnen nor scarlet, they are cloathed with what is perhaps full as Honorary, the plain and decent manufactory of my own family, and tho I do not abound, I am not in want. I have neither poverty nor Riches but food which is convenient for me and a Heart to be thankfull and content that in such perilous times so large a share of the comforts of life are allotted to me."
Abigail Adams in a letter to John April 17, 1777
In her own write---
Flax: is a plant which is grown for its fibers, which are used to make linen.
Martha Ballard was a midwife who kept a daily diary of her life and the events that surrounded her from 1785 until shortly before her death in 1812. I took a few snippets from her daily diary notations that centered on the subject of flax. There were plenty more - plenty more - than what I have here. Some of the descriptions and explanations come from author Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, who we can thank for putting together the diary into book form.
August 3, 1786, Thursday
the Girls Pulld Flax.
August 4, 1786, Friday
Clear & Hott. we pulld flax.
May 26, 1787, Saturday
Polly Bisbee here. I combd 7-1/2 lb of flax for myself & 1/2 for Cyrus.
May 28, 1787, Monday
we Boild a Linning warp, 55 Skeins.
June 2, 1787, Saturday
I quilld 7 Skeins of yarn.
Wool preparation for spinning is more commonly seen today, and more often than not, that's what we usually will see in the museums. So I thought I would present a quick - very quick - lesson on flax (from the pamphlet The Textile Tools of Colonial Homes By Marion & Walter Channing) - -
Flax is grown in the garden. Men begin the flax-production system in the spring, as Matthew Patton, a New Hampshire farmer, did on May 18, 1787, when he reported in his diary: "I sowed about 1 of a bushel of flax seed and I suppose near as many pease." The very same day, 150 miles away in Hallowell, Maine, Martha Ballard's husband was engaged in similar work: "Clear...Mr. Ballard ploughed flax in," she wrote. Since the seed was light, it took skill to distribute it evenly and well.
"I wed flax," Ballard wrote on June 16, 1788, a month after her husband completed sowing. Her patch of flax was an extension of her garden. Patton's crop was larger. With three quarters of a bushel he could have seeded half an acre.
Just before it matures, it is pulled from the ground, roots and all. The harvest began the last week of July or the first week of August and lasted three or four days. "Finished pooling flax," Patton wrote. Ballard and her daughters usually did their own pulling, lifting the plants carefully by the roots, holding the stems as straight as possible to avoid tangling, then stacking them in neat bundles for later processing. Sometimes they were spreading cloth made from last year's crop on the grass to bleach while they were harvesting the new one. Growing flax and turning it into linen for clothes requires growing a variety suitable for fiber to spin.
|A small patch of flax growing in the|
Daggett garden. Not enough for anything
but a history lesson in what it looks like
before pulled and prepared for spinning.
|Roy holds flax before the spinning|
Let's move on to the next step: scutching.
Tow - the fiber of flax prepared for spinning by scutching.
Now it's time to use the hackle:
"I am heshling flax."
Molly Cooper November 15, 1769
"I have hatcheled 14 pounds flax from the swingle."
Martha Ballard March 16, 1795
"I have been carding tow."
Martha Ballard March 24, 1797
|The hackle (or "heckle") is one scary looking but important tool, for hackling is the last of the three steps in preparing the flax fibers to be spun.|
In her book, Home Life in Colonial Days, written in 1898, Alice Morse Earle says that the fineness of fiber after hackling depended on the number of hackles used, the fineness of the combs, and the person doing the hackling. She writes that after the first coarse hackle, six other hackles were used, in varying degrees of fineness. If you have three hackles, coarse, medium, and fine, you will be doing well.
|The presenters at Greenfield Village do a wonderful job in their flax presentation.|
No...no carding paddles are used. Instead, the flax is sort of fanned out on a table, a few pieces at a time, all laying out in the same direction, and making sure to remove any knots or small bunched up pieces.
This is a fairly long and tedious process.
Once it has been "finger carded" (as I call it), the flax is nearly ready to be spun - only one more step: getting it on the distaff.
|Begin by setting the distaff to one end...|
|...carefully wrap the flax onto the|
distaff by rolling it.
|Once it's on, it should be loosely tied, |
sometimes with a ribbon.
The flax processing is done, the distaff replaced onto the spinning wheel, and now can be spun.
In Brattleboro, Vermont, Mary Palmer Tyler, recalling to her children the memories of her early days of growing up in the 18th century, wrote:
A wool wheel up front, and spinning flax in the back.It is almost like being in the company of Anna Daggett.
She continued, "Our sheep furnished wool, and we raised flax. I spun all the thread I used for years, whitening some, and coloring some, and some keeping flax color. I hired a girl to spin what I wanted wove, and the tow also, with which we made cloth for sheets and common table linen. Mrs. Peck could weave very nice diaper, which we bleached at home. After she left us, Mrs. Fischer did my weaving, but having to give nine pence a yard for the weaving, I suggested to your father the expediency of getting a loom, and having our flax and wool wove in the house. Ever ready to comply with my wishes, he got one immediately, and for twelve or fifteen years we made the children's clothes summer and winter for common wear."
|"All this time my spinning wheels were busily attended by myself |
with the assistance of one and at times two girls."
February 9, 1772
...my right hand is in bondage (wrapped), my left is free; & my aunt says, it will be a nice opportunity if I do but improve it, to perfect myself in learning to spin flax. I am pleased with the proposal & am at this present, exerting myself for this purpose. I hope, when two, or at most three months are past, to give you ocular demonstration of my proficiency in this art, as well as several others.
February 22, 1772
I have spun 30 knots of linning yarn...
Many farmers sold their flax and bought imported linen cloth. Linen production was highly skilled and time-consuming work.
Here are two wonderful video clips on flax:
Here is the second:
|The flax on the distaff.|
"Polle gon to carre yarne to the weaver."
Molly Cooper April 29, 1773
Weaving looms, because of their size and bulkiness, were usually set up in a large, unfinished (usually unheated) space, like an attic, shed, or unoccupied bedchamber. Sometimes the loom may have been set up in a room called a "weaving room." Professional weavers set up looms in an "ell" room of the house or a small building near the house.
|Picture of a woman using a loom courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg|
A loom is a hand-operated device used to weave cloth. The loom containing harnesses, lay, reed, shuttles, treadles, etc., in making the cloth. The basic purpose of any loom is to hold the warp threads under tension to facilitate the interweaving of the weft threads. The precise shape of the loom and its mechanics may vary, but the basic function is the same.
Here are other words to know:
Looms and Weavers: Each loom had at least two harnesses, through which the warp threads were passed. By stepping upon the treadles connected to the harnesses, the weaver lifted them up and down, creating a passage in the warp for the shuttle. The shuttle was thrown side to side by hand. After each passage of the shuttle, the weft (yarn) was driven into the cloth by means of the beater.
Weaving: On the loom, the weave makes cloth by interlacing hundreds of feet of yarn in a grid-like pattern. Pieces of yarn stretched lengthwise on the loom, called the warp threads, are lifted in a pre-arranged order. The weaver passes a single strand of yarn, called the weft thread, through this arrangement of warp threads. The process is repeated thousands of times in order to weave a few yards of cloth.
Warp - the long threads that run from the front to the back of the loom. This required skill and patience from the weaver. The warp thread is the thread that is strung over the loom vertically, and holds the tension while you weave. This is the backbone of your weave.
Weft - is thread drawn through and inserted over-and-under the warp, side to side
Diaper - a type of weaving design that was repeated continuously on the fabric
Quilling: For weaving, quills are short tubes fashioned from hollow reeds and were used by the weaver's spouse or children to wind the wool yarn upon, then the weaver would insert the loaded quill in the shuttle - the boat-shaped vessel which carried wool through the openings in the warp.
"The weaver is provided with a quill-girl, whose province is to prepare and supply him with thread or yarn, viz, the wool, which she winds up." (from Universal Magine - London 1749)
Dressing the Cloth - The Fuller: Three skills were essential in dressing the cloth: the most important was fulling, whereby the cloth was cleansed to eliminate oils, dirt, and other impurities, and making it thicker. It was also shrunk and beaten in the process. The worker who does this job is a fuller, tucker, or walker, all of which have become common surnames.
The Napper: After fulling, the nap of the cloth was raised by the napper to give it a lustrous appearance. He would use large burrs called teasels to raise the fibers of the cloth, thereby improving its "feel." The teasels pulled the fibers without breaking them. Napper were few and far between in America, according to the loom manual in the collections of The Henry Ford, and would often use wire-studded hand cards to nap the cloth, a practice which resulted in poorly finished woolens.
Following the napper we next go to-----
The Shearer: This was another skilled practice. It was the shearman who clipped the excess nap and imparted an even texture to the cloth. Years of practice were necessary to use the heavy and clumsy shear tool with skill. The craftsmen operated his shears, which weighed upward of 40 pounds, while holding them a fraction of an inch above the cloth. This distance had to be maintained for the cloth's texture to remain even.
|Fly shuttle loom inside the Weaving Shop of Greenfield Village|
In Martha's diary we see many such daily exchanges.
From Martha Ballard's Diary:
May 19, 1787, Saturday
Cyrus Brot the bars and other utencils for weaving home.
May 21, 1787, Monday
Evinng. mr Savage made the irons for our Loome. I paid him 4 Shillings in Cash.
May 24, 1787, Thursday
we warpt a webb of 42 yds Linnin. mr Ballard been fixing the loome.
May 25, 1787, Friday
Dorkis Pollard here to warp a piece. mr Ballard fixing the loom. Hannah Coll Sett the webb to work.
To show how men and women of the household worked like a well-oiled machine, one only needs to understand the social web to keep everything running smoothly. Just like the men, New England women had long been engaged in barter and trade. The skein of linen warp that Martha gave Mrs. Savage on September 9, 1788 (see below) symbolizes the household production that characterized pre-industrial life, the neighborly trade that made such production possible:
3 - Mrs. Savage warpt a piece here.
5 - Dolly finisht her web 44 1/2 yards
9 - Mrs. Savage here. Shee has spun 40 double skeins for me since April 15th and had a Bushl of ashes & some phisic for James, and Dolly wove her 7 yds of Diaper. I let her have 1 skein of lining warp. The whole is 6/ X.
10 - We brewed. Dolly winding the warp for Check.
11 - Dolly warpt a piece for Mrs. Pollard of 39 yards.
12 - Dolly warpt & drawd in a piece for Check. Laid 45 yards. I have been at home knitting.
13 - We spread the diaper out for whitening.
In Martha's vocabulary, a "web" was a quantity of thread woven--or about to be woven--in a single piece, such as what Dolly did on September 5, 1788. Most textile entries in the diary document a personal relationship as well as a process:
"Polly (Savage) wound & warpt & I drawd in Mrs. Williams webb."
"Hannah began to weave Cyrus' web."
"Dolly finisht Mrs. Porters webb."
"Mrs. Welch (or Hamlin or Child or Pollard or Densmore or Savage) here this day to warp a webb."
|The Daggett loom being used during Holiday Nights.|
Imagine a breadth of checkered linen of the sort Dolly "warpt & drawd in" on September 12, 1788, half the threads of bleached linen, the other half "coloured Blue." If Dolly alternated bands of dyed and undyed yarn on the warp in a regular pattern, white stripe following blue stripe, then filled in the weft in the same way, alternately spooling both bleached yarn and blue, the resulting pattern would be a checkerboard of three distinct hues. Where white thread crossed white thread, the squares would be uncolored, where blue crossed blue the squares would be a deep indigo, where white crossed blue or blue crossed white the results would be a lighter, mixed tone, the whole forming the familiar pattern of plain woven "check" even today.
|In my opinion, Greenfield Village should employ a period-dress |
weaver in the Daggett house more often.
So much history "looms" in such a presentation.
~(pun kind of intended)~
Training in the textile arts was communal and cumulative, work was cooperative, even though performed in private households, and the products remained in the local community. The most experienced weavers extended the skills of their neighbors.
A closer look at textile production in the Ballard family helps us to see the complexity of this system. When Martha began to write a diary in 1785, Hannah and Dolly already knew how to operate the great woolen wheel and the smaller flax wheel that the family owned. The women in the Ballard household produced textiles during the years before the girls married, for all the women in the Ballard household spun and prepared yarn and thread for weaving. The girls also learned to weave. They grew and harvested flax. The family's sheep gave wool. In the next two years they produced hundreds of skeins of cotton, wool, linen, and tow thread, most of which their mother carried to others to weave.
In May of 1787, the family began assembling the equipment needed for weaving. Cyrus brought home "the bars & other utensils for weaving" on May 19, 1787, and a few days later his father spent part of a day "fixing the loom." Martha did her part by combing flax, "doubling yarn for the harness," and "quilling," while her husband fetched a kettle from the Savage house for "boiling a linen warp." Dorcas Pollard warped the loom for the first time on May 25, and Hannah Cool "set the webb to work." These two young women helped to instruct Hannah Ballard, who was responsible for the web of forty yards that came out of the loom on July 4. On July 5, in preparation for the next round of weaving, Martha went to Mrs. Savage's to borrow a "sleigh" (an implement for controlling the pattern of a weave). Unfortunately, Mrs. Williams had already taken the one she wanted. Two weeks later she was successful in getting another from Merriam Pollard.
|Not the Ballard house but probably somewhat similar.|
Weaving gave the girls a useful skill and also contributed to the household income. Martha did not weave, but the girls wove while Martha was off practicing her midwifery. Sometimes they bought cloth and thread, and they bought raw cotton by the pound.
Although Hannah and Dolly learned to weave, check, diaper, huckaback, worsted, dimity, woolen "shurting," towels, blankets, "rag coverlids," and lawn handkerchiefs, as well as "plain cloth," the exchanges with neighbors continued. Merriam Pollard continued to "instruct Dolly about her weaving" until the girls were able to return some of her services in kind, as on September 11, 1788: "Dolly warpt a piece for Mrs. Pollard of 39 yards." Trading fiber and yarn, borrowing tools and kettles, the Ballards contributed to their own self-sufficiency and strengthened their bonds with their neighbors. The intricacy of the textile network is suggested in a diary entry for April 20, 1790: "Cyrus borrowed a 40 sleigh of the widdow Coburn for Dolly to weav a piece for Benjamin Porter."
That father, mother, daughters, and at least one son were all involved in setting up the weaving operation supports what I have been saying for years - that in early America men & women had to work in tandem in order to undertake any single life-sustaining chore.
|In the Greenfield Village Weaving Shop, |
a presenter works a fly shuttle loom.
The Ballards had worked out an efficient system. Yet the beginnings of mechanization foretold changes. As we know, mechanization would eclipse household textile production within the next generation.
|18th century textile production|
When a family of the 18th century, such as the Daggetts and perhaps the Ballards, wove inside their own homes, they could then take their woven cloth to the local fulling mill, where it would be finished - that is, treated with a type of clay called fuller's earth to cleanse the fabric, eliminating oils, dirt, and other impurities, then flood it with hot water to shrink and thicken it. In his account book, Samuel Daggett mentions making repairs at a local fulling mill. There could possibly be bartering involved to pay the fuller:
~John Paine---work about his fulling mill
~a tree for a stock to his fulling mill
~mending of his mill stock and wheel
Mr. Daggett also sold some of his flannel cloth, which could have been from his loom; the flannel referred to is probably a "fulled" wool (or "linsey-woolsey"):
~17 yds. flannel to david Carber at 2 Shillings per yard
Now, a wide variety of high quality and colorful English textiles were imported and available for purchase, particularly in the larger towns. Of course, a much higher proportion of imported textiles were used by people in the larger towns than in the rural farm communities, but in many cases people desired these over their own coarse homemade products if they chose to spend their money in that manner. Some managed to barter their own homemade textiles for imported cloth.
(Source: The Great River)
On a side note: in Samuel Daggett's will from 1799, he bequeathed "the loom" to his wife. It is assumed this was a large item for him to mention it here specifically. It is not known when it was acquired or used by the family, but he was selling flannel cloth, which was probably woven on the loom, by 1756, and, of course, mentioned from then on.
. . .
So, the colonial household was much more active than one would think. There was quite a bit of hustle and bustle occurring, and upon reading the diaries one can easily be drawn into their world. As I wrote in an earlier post, as soon as you start to think of the past as happening (as opposed to it having happened), a new way of conceiving history becomes possible. Our personal reactions to the challenges of living in another time - in this case, mid-to-late 18th century America - helps us to understand their time and even accept those from the past in a more enlightened way rather than with disdain, as seems to be so prominent in our modern times (because we in the 21st century are so enlightened!).
It helps us to understand what makes one century different from another.
Reading personal diaries and journals can make the difference.
At least, it does for me.
|The day is done...|
Until next time, see you in time.
~ . ~ . ~
| Our granddaughter Addy checks out |
the great wheel.
My wife has been crocheting pretty much her entire life. She is also a seamstress as well as a knitter - another craft she learned as a youth. And she has been spinning now for over a decade. The person that taught her was very surprised at how quickly she picked up on it. But everything yarn is in her blood.
One of the things I think is very cool is that our children grew up with these ancient crafts, whether seen at Greenfield Village or at our own home. Yes, very similar to those whose diaries you just read. To think that my kids will one day tell their grandkids about their mother spinning on a spinning wheel makes me smile. But, even better yet, we now have grandchildren, and they will be able to tell their own grandkids about their grandmother spinning on a spinning wheel.
How cool is that?
|Our grandson Liam also looks at one of our great wheels.|
|And our grandson Ben helps out Nonna and is fascinated with her |
saxony spinning wheel.
Everyday Life in Colonial America by Dale Taylor
Our Own Snug Fireside by Jane C. Nylander
A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on her Diary by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
The Textile Tools of Colonial Homes by Marion L. Channing
Home Life in Colonial Days by Alice Morse Earle
The Age of Homespun by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich helped with some of the flax planting and harvesting information.
Quite a bit of information here comes from the collections of The Henry Ford and their wonderful Benson Ford Research Center, which is the brain center of The Henry Ford Museum and Historic Greenfield Village. Historical information about the Village and Museum - every historic house, artifact, daily life information, automobiles, and everything else history - is here. Its collections form an unparalleled resource opportunity documenting the American experience.
Yes, I go here often.
John Wily pamphlet "A Treatise on the Propagation of Sheep, the Manufacture of Wool, and the Cultivation and Manufacture of Flax, with Directions for making several Utensils for the Business" printed in Williamsburg, VA, in 1765.
The on-line site of Mother Earth News
Also, a number of my spinning and weaving friends contributed and gave their approval as well.
And here are a few related postings that you might find interesting:
In The Good Old Colony Days - Every day life in the 18th century
Cooking on the Hearth: The Colonial Kitchen - Preparing, cooking, eating in colonial times
Bringing Historic Homes to Life: Daggett Saltbox House - Life in a colonial home
A Colonial Christmas - Just how did they celebrate Christmas in the 18th century?
A Colonial Thanksgiving - From the Puritans through the end of the 18th century
New Year's in the 18th Century - Celebrating an early American New Year's
Travel and Taverns - To help you understand what it was like to travel and stay at a tavern in colonial times.
Living By Candle Light: The Light at its Brightest - Nighttime in the 18th century
A Year on a Colonial Farm - Chores and activities from all four seasons are covered
Winter in the Good Old Colony Days - How was it for our colonial ancestors in the cold?
Spring - Celebrating the season of re-birth
Colonial Harvest - The most important time of year for a colonist, the Fall
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