All yarn was handspun.
Think about that for a minute… yarn that’s been spun up at a mill is a relatively modern invention! I’ve been thinking a lot about our recent history with textiles for two reasons. One, I just finished reading Over-dressed, a book that reviews our history with clothes from the time they were handmade, to when they cost a significant chunk of salary to purchase, up to today, where a new shirt often costs less than a meal. Second, I visited Greenfield Village, a place where you can watch that history unfold in re-created homes and workshops.
Today, I’m going to talk a bit about the handiwork that’s part of the American story, and tomorrow, we’ll peek at some of the mechanical inventions that brought us to where we are today: where we can readily purchase not only finished yarn, but knitted clothing, made by machines.
So, back to our story… just a century and a half ago, most American women lived quite close to a farmer who kept a few of these guys:
and she would either barter or purchase the wool, and spin it up at home. Take a peek inside this tiny little (authentic) home on display at Greenfield Village:
This home was about 10×12 feet (yes, the whole house!)… and what’s right in front of the fireplace? A spinning wheel! (In the back, you can see the kitchen cupboard, and to the right, the foot of the bed… that’s how small this place is!) That’s because a woman would spend her winter evenings by the fire, spinning. Not for fun, but because the family needed clothing!
I spied the finished product hanging in the corner:
This yarn would then be knit/crocheted into clothing for the members of the family. Can you imagine how valuable a skein of yarn would be if you spun it yourself (after, I’m sure, carding and cleaning it!) When the child’s sweater was outgrown, I’m certain it would be passed onto a smaller family member, or frogged so the yarn could be reused.
If you needed supplies, like a crochet hook or buttons, you would head into town to the general store:
Not all clothes were knitted or crocheted. By this time, weaving did occur at an industrial scale, and fabric (for sewing clothes) could be purchased at the general store:
This fabric was used for clothing, and not a scrap went to waste. Small pieces of fabric (or bits from too-worn clothing) was used to make quilts:
This table (again, in front of the fire!) is from the home of Noah Webster, the dictionary guy. Sewing wasn’t an activity reserved for the poor… women of all status-levels worked on making the essentials!
Isn’t is amazing to think about? How many dresses would you own if you had to sew each one yourself? How about your kids?
Tomorrow, I’ll show you some of the machinery that began mechanizing the yarn/knitting/apparel world!