There was much public excitement over spinning, and prizes were offered for quantity and quality. Women, rich as well as poor, appeared on Boston Common with their wheels, thus making spinning a popular holiday recreation. A brick building was erected as a spinning-school costing L15,000, and a tax was placed on carriages and coaches in 1757 to support it. At the fourth anniversary in 1749 of the "Boston Society for promoting Industry and Frugality," three hundred "young spinsters" spun on their wheels on Boston Common. And a pretty sight it must have been: the fair young girls in the quaint and pretty dress of the times, shown to us in Hogarth's prints, spinning on the green grass under the great trees. In 1754, on a like occasion, a minister preached to the "spinsters," and a collection of L453 was taken up. This was in currency of depreciated value. At the same time premiums were offered in Pennsylvania for weaving linen and spinning thread. Benjamin Franklin wrote in his Poor Richard's Almanac:—
"Many estates are spent in the getting, Since women for tea forsook spinning and knitting."
But the German colonists long before this had been famous flax-raisers. A Pennsylvania poet in 1692 descanted on the flax-workers of Germantown:—
"Where live High German people and Low Dutch Whose trade in weaving linen cloth is much, There grows the flax as also you may know, That from the same they do divide the tow."
Father Pastorius, their leader, forever commemorated his interest in his colony and in the textile arts by his choice for a device for a seal. Whittier thus describes it in his Pennsylvania Pilgrim:—
"Still on the town-seal his device is found, Grapes, flax, and thread-spool on a three-foil ground With Vinum, Linum, et Textrinum wound."
Virginia was earlier even in awakening interest in manufacturing flax than Massachusetts, for wild flax grew there in profusion, ready for gathering. In 1646 two houses were ordered to be erected at Jamestown as spinning-schools. These were to be well built and well heated. Each county was to send to these schools two poor children, seven or eight years old, to be taught carding, spinning, and knitting. Each child was to be supplied by the county authorities on admission to the school with six barrels of Indian corn, a pig, two hens, clothing, shoes, a bed, rug, blanket, two coverlets, a wooden tray, and two pewter dishes or cups. This plan was not wholly carried out. Prizes in tobacco (which was the current money of Virginia in which everything was paid) were given, however, for every pound of flax, every skein of yarn, every yard of linen of Virginia production, and soon flax-wheels and spinners were plentiful.
Intelligent attempts were made to start these industries in the South. Governor Lucas wrote to his daughter, Mrs. Pinckney, in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1745:—
"I send by this Sloop two Irish servants, viz.: a Weaver and a Spinner. I am informed Mr. Cattle hath produced both Flax and Hemp. I pray you will purchase some, and order a loom and spinning-wheel to be made for them, and set them to work. I shall order Flax sent from Philadelphia with seed, that they may not be idle. I pray you will also purchase Wool and sett them to making Negroes clothing which may be sufficient for my own People.
"As I am afraid one Spinner can't keep a Loom at work, I pray you will order a Sensible Negroe woman or two to learn to spin, and wheels to be made for them; the man Servant will direct the Carpenter in making the loom and the woman will direct the Wheel."
The following year Madam Pinckney wrote to her father that the woman had spun all the material they could get, so was idle; that the loom had been made, but had no tackling; that she would make the harness for it, if two pounds of shoemaker's thread were sent her. The sensible negro woman and hundreds of others learned well to spin, and excellent cloth has been always woven in the low country of Carolina, as well as in the upper districts, till our own time.
In the revolt of feeling caused by the Stamp Act, there was a constant social pressure to encourage the manufacture and wearing of goods of American manufacture. As one evidence of this movement the president and first graduating class of Rhode Island College—now Brown University—were clothed in fabrics made in New England. From Massachusetts to South Carolina the women of the colonies banded together in patriotic societies called Daughters of Liberty, agreeing to wear only garments of homespun manufacture, and to drink no tea. In many New England towns they gathered together to spin, each bringing her own wheel. At one meeting seventy linen-wheels were employed. In Rowley, Massachusetts, the meeting of the Daughters is thus described:—
"A number of thirty-three respectable ladies of the town met at sunrise with their wheels to spend the day at the house of the Rev'd Jedediah Jewell, in the laudable design of a spinning match. At an hour before sunset, the ladies there appearing neatly dressed, principally in homespun, a polite and generous repast of American production was set for their entertainment. After which being present many spectators of both sexes, Mr. Jewell delivered a profitable discourse from Romans xii. 2: "Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord."
Matters of church and patriotism were never far apart in New England; so whenever the spinners gathered at New London, Newbury, Ipswich, or Beverly, they always had an appropriate sermon. A favorite text was Exodus xxxv. 25: "And all the women that were wise-hearted did spin with their hands." When the Northboro women met, they presented the results of their day's work to their minister. There were forty-four women and they spun 2223 knots of linen and tow, and wove one linen sheet and two towels.
By Revolutionary times General Howe thought "Linen and Woollen Goods much wanted by the Rebels"; hence when he prepared to evacuate Boston he ordered all such goods carried away with him. But he little knew the domestic industrial resources of the Americans. Women were then most proficient in spinning. In 1777 Miss Eleanor Fry of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, spun seven skeins one knot linen yarn in one day, an extraordinary amount. This was enough to weave twelve linen handkerchiefs. At this time when there were about five or six skeins to a pound of flax, the pay for spinning was sixpence a skein. The Abbe Robin wondered at the deftness of New England spinners.
In 1789 an outcry was raised against the luxury said to be eating away the substance of the new country. The poor financial administration of the government seemed deranging everything; and again a social movement was instituted in New England to promote "Oeconomy and Household Industries." "The Rich and Great strive by example to convince the Populace of their error by Growing their own Flax and Wool, having some one in the Family to dress it, and all the Females spin, several weave and bleach the linen." The old spinning-matches were revived. Again the ministers preached to the faithful women "Oeconomists," who thus combined religion, patriotism, and industry. Truly it was, as a contemporary writer said, "a pleasing Sight: some spinning, some reeling, some carding cotton, some combing flax," as they were preached to.
Within a few years attempts have been made in England and Ireland to encourage flax-growing, as before it is spun it gives employment to twenty different classes of laborers, many parts of which work can be done by young and unskilled children. In Courtrai, where hand spinning and weaving of flax still flourish, the average earnings of a family are three pounds a week. In Finland homespun linen still is made in every household. The British Spinning and Weaving School in New Bond Street is an attempt to revive the vanished industry in England. In our own country it is pleasant to record that the National Association of Cotton Manufacturers is planning to start on a large scale the culture and manufacture of flax in our Eastern states; this is not, however, with any thought of reviving either the preparation, spinning, or weaving of flax by old-time hand processes.
WOOL CULTURE AND SPINNING
With a Postscript on Cotton
The art of spinning was an honorable occupation for women as early as the ninth century; and it was so universal that it furnished a legal title by which an unmarried woman is known to this day. Spinster is the only one of all her various womanly titles that survives; webster, shepster, litster, brewster, and baxter are obsolete. The occupations are also obsolete save those indicated by shepster and baxter—that is, the cutting out of cloth and baking of bread; these are the only duties among them all that she still performs.
The wool industry dates back to prehistoric man. The patience, care, and skill involved in its manufacture have ever exercised a potent influence on civilization. It is, therefore, interesting and gratifying to note the intelligent eagerness of our first colonists for wool culture. It was quickly and proudly noted of towns and of individuals as a proof of their rapid and substantial progress that they could carry on any of the steps of the cloth industry. Good Judge Sewall piously exulted when Brother Moody started a successful fulling-mill in Boston. Johnson in his Wonder-working Providence tells with pride that by 1654 New Englanders "have a fulling-mill and caused their little ones to be very dilligent in spinning cotton-woole, many of them having been clothiers in England." This has ever seemed to me one of the fortunate conditions that tended to the marked success of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, that so many had been "clothiers" or cloth-workers in England; or had come from shires in England where wool was raised and cloth made, and hence knew the importance of the industry as well as its practical workings.
As early as 1643 the author of New England's First Fruits wrote: "They are making linens, fustians, dimities, and look immediately to woollens from their own sheep." Johnson estimated the number of sheep in the colony of Massachusetts, about 1644, as three thousand. Soon the great wheel was whirring in every New England house. The raising of sheep was encouraged in every way. They were permitted to graze on the commons; it was forbidden to send them from the colony; no sheep under two years old could be killed to sell; if a dog killed a sheep, the dog's owner must hang him and pay double the cost of the sheep. All persons who were not employed in other ways, as single women, girls, and boys, were required to spin. Each family must contain one spinner. These spinners were formed into divisions or "squadrons" of ten persons; each division had a director. There were no drones in this hive; neither the wealth nor high station of parents excused children from this work. Thus all were levelled to one kind of labor, and by this levelling all were also elevated to independence. When the open expression of revolt came, the homespun industries seemed a firm rock for the foundation of liberty. People joined in agreements to eat no lamb or mutton, that thus sheep might be preserved, and to wear no imported woollen cloth. They gave prizes for spinning and weaving.
Great encouragement was given in Virginia in early days to the raising and manufacture of wool. The Assembly estimated that five children not over thirteen years of age could by their work readily spin and weave enough to keep thirty persons clothed. Six pounds of tobacco was paid to any one bringing to the county court-house where he resided a yard of homespun woollen cloth, made wholly in his family; twelve pounds of tobacco were offered for reward for a dozen pair of woollen hose knitted at home. Slaves were taught to spin; and wool-wheels and wool-cards are found by the eighteenth century on every inventory of planters' house furnishings.
The Pennsylvania settlers were early in the encouragement of wool manufacture. The present industry of hosiery and knit goods long known as Germantown goods began with the earliest settlers of that Pennsylvania town. Stocking-weavers were there certainly as early as 1723; and it is asserted there were knitting-machines. At any rate, one Mack, the son of the founder of the Dunkers, made "leg stockings" and gloves. Rev. Andrew Burnaby, who was in Germantown in 1759, told of a great manufacture of stockings at that date. In 1777 it was said that a hundred Germantown stocking-weavers were out of employment through the war. Still it was not till 1850 that patents for knitting-machines were taken out there.
Among the manufactures of the province of Pennsylvania in 1698 were druggets, serges, and coverlets; and among the registered tradesmen were dyers, fullers, comb-makers, card-makers, weavers, and spinners. The Swedish colony as early as 1673 had the wives and daughters "employing themselves in spinning wool and flax and many in weaving." The fairs instituted by William Penn for the encouragement of domestic manufactures and trade in general, which were fostered by Franklin and continued till 1775, briskly stimulated wool and flax manufacture.
In 1765 and in 1775 rebellious Philadelphians banded together with promises not to eat or suffer to be eaten in their families any lamb or "meat of the mutton kind"; in this the Philadelphia butchers, patriotic and self-sacrificing, all joined. A wool-factory was built and fitted up and an appeal made to the women to save the state. In a month four hundred wool-spinners were at work. But the war cut off the supply of raw material, and the manufacture languished. In 1790, after the war, fifteen hundred sets of irons for spinning-wheels were sold from one shop, and mechanics everywhere were making looms.
New Yorkers were not behindhand in industry. Lord Cornbury wrote home to England, in 1705, that he "had seen serge made upon Long Island that any man might wear; they make very good linen for common use; as for Woollen I think they have brought that to too great perfection."
In Cornbury's phrase, "too great perfection," may be found the key for all the extraordinary and apparently stupid prohibitions and restrictions placed by the mother-country on colonial wool manufacture. The growth of the woollen industry in any colony was regarded at once by England with jealous eyes. Wool was the pet industry and principal staple of Great Britain; and well it might be, for until the reign of Henry VIII. English garments from head to foot were wholly of wool, even the shoes. Wool was also received in England as currency. Thomas Fuller said, "The wealth of our nation is folded up in broadcloth." Therefore, the Crown, aided by the governors of the provinces, sought to maintain England's monopoly by regulating and reducing the culture of wool in America through prohibiting the exportation to England of any American wool or woollen materials. In 1699 all vessels sailing to England from the colonies were prohibited taking on board any "Wool, Woolfells, Shortlings, Moslings, Wool Flocks, Worsteds, Bays, Bay or Woollen Yarn, Cloath, Serge, Kersey, Says, Frizes, Druggets, Shalloons, etc."; and an arbitrary law was passed prohibiting the transportation of home-made woollens from one American province to another. These laws were never fully observed and never checked the culture and manufacture of wool in this country. Hence our colonies were spared the cruel fate by which England's same policy paralyzed and obliterated in a few years the glorious wool industry of Ireland. Luckily for us, it is further across the Atlantic Ocean than across St. George's Channel.
The "all-wool goods a yard wide," which we so easily purchase to-day, meant to the colonial dame or daughter the work of many weeks and months, from the time when the fleeces were first given to her deft hands. Fleeces had to be opened with care, and have all pitched or tarred locks, dag-locks, brands, and feltings cut out. These cuttings were not wasted, but were spun into coarse yarn. The white locks were carefully tossed and separated and tied into net bags with tallies to be dyed. Another homely saying, "dyed in the wool," showed a process of much skill. Blue, in all shades, was the favorite color, and was dyed with indigo. So great was the demand for this dye-stuff that indigo-pedlers travelled over the country selling it.
Madder, cochineal, and logwood dyed beautiful reds. The bark of red oak or hickory made very pretty shades of brown and yellow. Various flowers growing on the farm could be used for dyes. The flower of the goldenrod, when pressed of its juice, mixed with indigo, and added to alum, made a beautiful green. The juice of the pokeberry boiled with alum made crimson dye, and a violet juice from the petals of the iris, or "flower-de-luce," that blossomed in June meadows, gave a delicate light purple tinge to white wool.
The bark of the sassafras was used for dyeing yellow or orange color, and the flowers and leaves of the balsam also. Fustic and copperas gave yellow dyes. A good black was obtained by boiling woollen cloth with a quantity of the leaves of the common field-sorrel, then boiling again with logwood and copperas.
In the South there were scores of flowers and leaves that could be used for dyes. During the Revolutionary War one enterprising South Carolinian got a guinea a pound for a yellow dye he made from the sweet-leaf or horse-laurel. The leaves and berries of gall-berry bush made a good black much used by hatters and weavers. The root of the barberry gave wool a beautiful yellow, as did the leaves of the devil's-bit. The petals of Jerusalem artichoke and St.-John's-wort dyed yellow. Yellow root is a significant name and reveals its use: oak, walnut, or maple bark dyed brown. Often the woven cloth was dyed, not the wool.
The next process was carding; the wool was first greased with rape oil or "melted swine's grease," which had to be thoroughly worked in; about three pounds of grease were put into ten pounds of wool. Wool-cards were rectangular pieces of thin board, with a simple handle on the back or at the side; to this board was fastened a smaller rectangle of strong leather, set thick with slightly bent wire teeth, like a coarse brush. The carder took one card with her left hand, and resting it on her knee, drew a tuft of wool across it several times, until a sufficient quantity of fibre had been caught upon the wire teeth. She then drew the second wool-card, which had to be warmed, across the first several times, until the fibres were brushed parallel by all these "tummings." Then by a deft and catchy motion the wool was rolled or carded into small fleecy rolls which were then ready for spinning.
Wool-combs were shaped like the letter T, with about thirty long steel teeth from ten to eighteen inches long set at right angles with the top of the T. The wool was carefully placed on one comb, and with careful strokes the other comb laid the long staple smooth for hard-twisted spinning. It was tedious and slow work, and a more skilful operation than carding; and the combs had to be kept constantly heated; but no machine-combing ever equalled hand-combing. There was a good deal of waste in this combing, that is, large clumps of tangled wool called noil were combed out. They were not really wasted, we may be sure, by our frugal ancestors, but were spun into coarse yarn.
An old author says: "The action of spinning must be learned by practice, not by relation." Sung by the poets, the grace and beauty of the occupation has ever shared praise with its utility.
Wool-spinning was truly one of the most flexible and alert series of movements in the world, and to its varied and graceful poises our grandmothers may owe part of the dignity of carriage that was so characteristic of them. The spinner stood slightly leaning forward, lightly poised on the ball of the left foot; with her left hand she picked up from the platform of the wheel a long slender roll of the soft carded wool about as large round as the little finger, and deftly wound the end of the fibres on the point of the spindle. She then gave a gentle motion to the wheel with a wooden peg held in her right hand, and seized with the left the roll at exactly the right distance from the spindle to allow for one "drawing." Then the hum of the wheel rose to a sound like the echo of wind; she stepped backward quickly, one, two, three steps, holding high the long yarn as it twisted and quivered. Suddenly she glided forward with even, graceful stride and let the yarn wind on the swift spindle. Another pinch of the wool-roll, a new turn of the wheel, and da capo.
The wooden peg held by the spinner deserves a short description; it served the purpose of an elongated finger, and was called a driver, wheel-peg, etc. It was about nine inches long, an inch or so in diameter; and at about an inch from the end was slightly grooved in order that it might surely catch the spoke and thus propel the wheel.
It was a good day's work for a quick, active spinner to spin six skeins of yarn a day. It was estimated that to do that with her quick backward and forward steps she walked over twenty miles.
The yarn might be wound directly upon the wooden spindle as it was spun, or at the end of the spindle might be placed a spool or broach which twisted with the revolving spindle, and held the new-spun yarn. This broach was usually simply a stiff roll of paper, a corn-cob, or a roll of corn-husk. When the ball of yarn was as large as the broach would hold, the spinner placed wooden pegs in certain holes in the spokes of her spinning-wheel and tied the end of the yarn to one peg. Then she took off the belt of her wheel and whirred the big wheel swiftly round, thus winding the yarn on the pegs into hanks or clews two yards in circumference, which were afterwards tied with a loop of yarn into knots of forty threads; while seven of these knots made a skein. The clock-reel was used for winding yarn, also a triple reel.
The yarn might be wound from the spindle into skeins in another way,—by using a hand-reel, an implement which really did exist in every farmhouse, though the dictionaries are ignorant of it, as they are of its universal folk-name, niddy-noddy. This is fortunately preserved in an every-day domestic riddle:—
"Niddy-noddy, niddy-noddy, Two heads and one body."
The three pieces of these niddy-noddys were set together at curious angles, and are here shown rather than described in words. Holding the reel in the left hand by seizing the central "body" or rod, the yarn was wound from end to end of the reel, by an odd, waving, wobbling motion, into knots and skeins of the same size as by the first process described. One of these niddy-noddys was owned by Nabby Marshall of Deerfield, who lived to be one hundred and four years old. The other was brought from Ireland in 1733 by Hugh Maxwell, father of the Revolutionary patriot Colonel Maxwell. As it was at a time of English prohibitions and restrictions of American manufactures, this niddy-noddy, as an accessory and promoter of colonial wool manufacture, was smuggled into the country.
Sometimes the woollen yarn was spun twice; especially if a close, hard-twisted thread was desired, to be woven into a stiff, wiry cloth. When there were two, the first spinning was called a roving. The single spinning was usually deemed sufficient to furnish yarn for knitting, where softness and warmth were the desired requisites.
It was the pride of a good spinster to spin the finest yarn, and one Mistress Mary Prigge spun a pound of wool into fifty hanks of eighty-four thousand yards; in all, nearly forty-eight miles. If the yarn was to be knitted, it had to be washed and cleansed. The wife of Colonel John May, a prominent man in Boston, wrote in her diary for one day:—
"A large kettle of yarn to attend upon. Lucretia and self rinse, scour through many waters, get out, dry, attend to, bring in, do up and sort 110 score of yarn; this with baking and ironing. Then went to hackling flax."
It should be remembered that all those bleaching processes, the wringing out and rinsing in various waters, were far more wearisome then than they would be to-day, for the water had to be carried laboriously in pails and buckets, and drawn with pumps and well-sweeps; there were no pipes and conduits. Happy the household that had a running brook near the kitchen door.
Of course all these operations and manipulations usually occupied many weeks and months, but they could be accomplished in a much shorter time. When President Nott of Union College, and his brother Samuel, the famous preacher, were boys on a stony farm in Connecticut, one of the brothers needed a new suit of clothes, and as the father was sick there was neither money nor wool in the house. The mother sheared some half-grown fleece from her sheep, and in less than a week the boy wore it as clothing. The shivering and generous sheep were protected by wrappings of braided straw. During the Revolution, it is said that in a day and a night a mother and her daughters in Townsend, Massachusetts, sheared a black and a white sheep, carded from the fleece a gray wool, spun, wove, cut and made a suit of clothes for a boy to wear off to fight for liberty.
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 old grandmother, at light and easy work, is carding the wool into fleecy rolls, seated next the fire; for, as the ballad says, "she was old and saw right dimly." The mother, stepping as lightly as one of her girls, spins the rolls into woollen 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, of the cards. A little girl at a small wheel is filling quills with woollen yarn for the loom, not a skilled work; the irregular sound shows her intermittent industry. The father is setting fresh teeth in a wool-card, while the boys are whittling hand-reels and loom-spools.
One of the household implements used in wool manufacture, the wool-card, deserves a short special history as well as a description. In early days the leather back of the wool-card was pierced with an awl by hand; the wire teeth were cut off from a length of wire, were slightly bent, and set and clinched one by one. These cards were laboriously made by many persons at home, for their household use. As early as 1667 wire was made in Massachusetts; and its chief use was for wool-cards. By Revolutionary times it was realized that the use of wool-cards was almost the mainspring of the wool industry, and L100 bounty was offered by Massachusetts for card-wire made in the state from iron mined in what they called then the "United American States." In 1784 a machine was invented by an American which would cut and bend thirty-six thousand wire teeth an hour. Another machine pierced the leather backs. This gave a new employment to women and children at home and some spending-money. They would get boxes of the bent wire teeth and bundles of the leather backs from the factories and would set the teeth in the backs while sitting around the open fire in the evening. They did this work, too, while visiting—spending an afternoon; and it was an unconscious and diverting work like knitting; scholars set wool-cards while studying, and schoolmistresses while teaching. This method of manufacture was superseded fifteen years later by a machine invented by Amos Whittemore, which held, cut, and pierced the leather, drew the wire from a reel, cut and bent a looped tooth, set it, bent it, fastened the leather on the back, and speedily turned out a fully made card. John Randolph said this machine had everything but an immortal soul. By this time spinning and weaving machinery began to crowd out home work, and the machine-made cards were needed to keep up with the increased demand. At last machines crowded into every department of cloth manufacture; and after carding-machines were invented in England—great rollers set with card-teeth—they were set up in many mills throughout the United States.
Families soon sent all their wool to these mills to be carded even when it was spun and woven at home. It was sent rolled up in a homespun sheet or blanket pinned with thorns; and the carded rolls ready for spinning were brought home in the same way, and made a still bigger bundle which was light in weight for its size. Sometimes a red-cheeked farmer's lass would be seen riding home from the carding-mill, through New England woods or along New England lanes, with a bundle of carded wool towering up behind her bigger than her horse.
Of the use and manufacture of cotton I will speak very shortly. Our greatest, cheapest, most indispensable fibre is also our latest one. It never formed one of the homespun industries of the colonies; in fact, it was never an article of extended domestic manufacture.
A little cotton was always used in early days for stuffing bedquilts, petticoats, warriors' armor, and similar purposes. It was bought by the pound, East India cotton, in small quantities; the seeds were picked out one by one, by hand; it was carded on wool-cards, and spun into a rather intractable yarn which was used as warp for linsey-woolsey and rag carpets. Even in England no cotton weft, no all-cotton fabrics, were made till after 1760, till Hargreave's time. Sometimes a twisted yarn was made of one thread of cotton and one of wool which was knit into durable stockings. Cotton sewing-thread was unknown in England. Pawtucket women named Wilkinson made the first cotton thread on their home spinning-wheels in 1792.
Cotton was planted in America, Bancroft says, in 1621, but MacMaster asserts it was never seen growing here till after the Revolution save as a garden ornament with garden flowers. This assertion seems oversweeping when Jefferson could write in a letter in 1786:—
"The four southermost States make a great deal of cotton. Their poor are almost entirely clothed with it in winter and summer. In winter they wear shirts of it and outer clothing of cotton and wool mixed. In summer their shirts are linen, but the outer clothing cotton. The dress of the women is almost entirely of cotton, manufactured by themselves, except the richer class, and even many of these wear a great deal of homespun cotton. It is as well manufactured as the calicoes of Europe."
Still cotton was certainly not a staple of consequence. We were the last to enter the list of cotton-producing countries and we have surpassed them all.
The difficulty of removing the seeds from the staple practically thrust cotton out of common use. In India a primitive and cumbersome set of rollers called a churka partially cleaned India cotton. A Yankee schoolmaster, Eli Whitney, set King Cotton on a throne by his invention of the cotton-gin in 1792. This comparatively simple but inestimable invention completely revolutionized cloth manufacture in England and America. It also changed general commerce, industrial development, and the social and economic order of things, for it gave new occupations and offered new modes of life to hundreds of thousands of persons. It entirely changed and cheapened our dress, and altered rural life both in the North and South.
A man could, by hand-picking, clean only about a pound of cotton a day. The cotton-gin cleaned as much in a day as had taken the hand-picker a year to accomplish. Cotton was at once planted in vast amounts; but it certainly was not plentiful till then. Whitney had never seen cotton nor cotton seed when he began to plan his invention; nor did he, even in Savannah, find cotton to experiment with until after considerable search.
After the universal manufacture and use of the cotton-gin, negro women wove cotton in Southern houses, sometimes spinning their own cotton thread; more frequently buying it mill-spun. But, after all, this was in too small amounts to be of importance; it needed the spinning-jennies and power-looms of vast mills to use up the profuse supply afforded by the gin.
A very interesting account of the domestic manufacture of cotton in Tennessee about the year 1850 was written for me by Mrs. James Stuart Pilcher, State Regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Tennessee. A portion of her pleasant story reads:—
"There were two looms in the loom-room, and two negro women were kept busy all the time weaving; there were eight or ten others who did nothing but spin cotton and woollen thread; others spooled and reeled it into hanks. The spinning was all done on the large wheel, from the raw cotton; a corn-shuck was wrapped tightly around the steel spindle, then the thread was run and spun on this shuck until it was full; then these were reeled off into hanks of thread, then spooled on to corn-cobs with holes burned through them. These were placed in an upright frame, with long slender rods of hickory wood something like a ramrod run through them. The frame held about one hundred of these cob-spools; the end of the cotton thread from each spool was gathered up by an experienced warper who carried all the threads back and forth on the large warping-bars; this was a difficult task; only the brightest negro women were warpers. The thread had been dyed before spooling and the vari-colored cob-spools could be arranged to make stripes lengthwise of the cloth; and the hanks had also been dipped in a boiling-hot sizing made of meal and water. The warp-threads were carefully taken from the bars and rolled upon the wooden beam of the loom, the ends passed through the sley and tied. The weaver then began her work. The thread for the filling (called the woof by the negroes) was reeled from the hank on the winding-blades, upon small canes about four inches long which, when full, were placed in the wooden shuttles. These women spun and wove all the clothing worn by the negroes on the plantation; cotton cloth for women and men in the summer time; and jeans for the men; linsey-woolsey for the women and children for winter. All were well clothed. The women taught us to spin, but the weavers were cross and would not let us touch the loom, for they said we broke the threads in the warp. My grandmother never interfered with them when they were careful in their work. We would say, 'Please make Aunt Rhody let me weave!' She answered, 'No, she is managing the loom; if she is willing, very well; if not, you must not worry her.' We thought it great fun to try to weave, but generally had to pay Aunt Rhody for our meddling by giving her cake, ribbons, or candy."
The colonists were constantly trying to find new materials for spinning, and also used many makeshifts. Parkman, in his Old Regime, tells that in the year 1704, when a ship was lost that was to bring cloth and wool to Quebec, a Madame de Repentigny, one of the aristocrats of the French-Canadian colony, spun and wove coarse blankets of nettle and linden bark. Similar experiments were made by the English colonists. Coarse thread was spun out of nettle-fibre by pioneers in western New York. Levi Beardsley, in his Reminiscences, tells of his mother at the close of the last century, in her frontier home at Richfield Springs, weaving bags and coarse garments from the nettles which grew so rankly everywhere in that vicinity. Deer hair and even cow's hair was collected from the tanners, spun with some wool, and woven into a sort of felted blanket.
Silk-grass, a much-vaunted product, was sent back to England on the first ships and was everywhere being experimented with. Coarse wicking was spun from the down of the milkweed—an airy, feathery material that always looks as if it ought to be put to many uses, yet never has seemed of much account in any trial that has been made of it.
Any one who passed through a New England village on a week day a century ago, or rode up to the door of a Pennsylvania or Virginia house, would probably be greeted with a heavy thwack-thwack from within doors, a regular sound which would readily be recognized by every one at that time as proceeding from weaving on a hand-loom. The presence of these looms was, perhaps, not so universal in every house as that of their homespun companions, the great and little wheels, for they required more room; but they were found in every house of any considerable size, and in many also where they seemed to fill half the building. Many households had a loom-room, usually in an ell part of the house; others used an attic or a shed-loft as a weaving-room. Every farmer's daughter knew how to weave as well as to spin, yet it was not recognized as wholly woman's work as was spinning; for there was a trade of hand-weaving for men, to which they were apprenticed. Every town had professional weavers. They were a universally respected class, and became the ancestors of many of the wealthiest and most influential citizens to-day. They took in yarn and thread to weave on their looms at their own homes at so much a yard; wove their own yarn into stuffs to sell; had apprentices to their trade; and also went out working by the day at their neighbors' houses, sometimes carrying their looms many miles with them.
Weavers were a universally popular element of the community. The travelling weaver was, like all other itinerant tradesmen of the day, a welcome newsmonger; and the weaver who took in weaving was often a stationary gossip, and gathered inquiring groups in his loom-room; even children loved to go to his door to beg for bits of colored yarn—thrums—which they used in their play, and also tightly braided to wear as shoestrings, hair-laces, etc.
The hand-loom used in the colonies, and occasionally still run in country towns to-day, is an historic machine, one of great antiquity and dignity. It is, perhaps, the most absolute bequest of past centuries which we have had, unchanged, in domestic use till the present time. You may see a loom like the Yankee one shown here in Giotto's famous fresco in the Campanile, painted in 1335; another, still the same, in Hogarth's Idle Apprentice, painted just four hundred years later. Many tribes and nations have hand-looms resembling our own; but these are exactly like it. Hundreds of thousands of men and women of the generations of these seven centuries since Giotto's day have woven on just such looms as our grandparents had in their homes.
This loom consists of a frame of four square timber posts, about seven feet high, set about as far apart as the posts of a tall four-post bedstead, and connected at top and bottom by portions of a frame. From post to post across one end, which may be called the back part of the loom, is the yarn-beam, about six inches in diameter. Upon it are wound the warp-threads, which stretch in close parallels from it to the cloth-beam at the front of the loom. The cloth-beam is about ten inches in diameter, and the cloth is wound as the weaving proceeds.
The yarn-beam or yarn-roll or warp-beam was ever a very important part of the loom. It should be made of close-grained, well-seasoned wood. The iron axle should be driven in before the beam is turned. If the beam is ill-turned and irregular in shape, no even, perfect woof can come from it. The slightest variation in its dimensions makes the warp run off unevenly, and the web never "sets" well, but has some loose threads.
We have seen the homespun yarn, whether linen or woollen, left in carefully knotted skeins after being spun and cleaned, bleached, or dyed. To prepare it for use on the loom a skein is placed on the swift, an ingenious machine, a revolving cylindrical frame made of strips of wood arranged on the principle of the lazy-tongs so the size can be increased or diminished at pleasure, and thus take on and hold firmly any sized skein of yarn. This cylinder is supported on a centre shaft that revolves in a socket, and may be set in a heavy block on the floor or fastened to a table or chair. A lightly made, carved swift was a frequent lover's gift. I have a beautiful one of whale-ivory, mother-of-pearl, and fine white bone which was made on a three years' whaling voyage by a Nantucket sea-captain as a gift to his waiting bride; it has over two hundred strips of fine white carved bone. Both quills for the weft and spools for the warp may be wound from the swift by a quilling-wheel, small wheels of various shapes, some being like a flax-wheel, but more simple in construction. The quill or bobbin is a small reed or quill, pierced from end to end, and when wound is set in the recess of the shuttle.
When the piece is to be set, a large number of shuttles and spools are filled in advance. The full spools are then placed in a row one above the other in a spool-holder, sometimes called a skarne or scarne. As I have not found this word in any dictionary, ancient or modern, its correct spelling is unknown. Sylvester Judd, in his Margaret, spells it skan. Skean and skayn have also been seen. Though ignored by lexicographers, it was an article and word in established and universal use in the colonies. I have seen it in newspaper advertisements of weavers' materials, and in inventories of weavers' estates, spelled ad libitum; and elderly country folk, both in the North and South, who remember old-time weaving, know it to-day.
It seems to me impossible to explain clearly in words, though it is simple enough in execution, the laying of the piece, the orderly placing the warp on the warp-beam. The warping-bars are entirely detached from the loom, are an accessory, not a part of it. They are two upright bars of wood, each holding a number of wooden pins set at right angles to the bars, and held together by crosspieces. Let forty full spools be placed in the skarne, one above the other. The free ends of threads from the spools are gathered in the hand, and fastened to a pin at the top of the warping-bars. The group of threads then are carried from side to side of the bars, passing around a pin on one bar, then around a pin on the opposite bar, to the extreme end; then back again in the same way, the spools revolving on wires and freely playing out the warp-threads, till a sufficient length of threads are stretched on the bars. Weavers of olden days could calculate exactly and skilfully the length of the threads thus wound. You take off twenty yards of threads if you want to weave twenty yards of cloth. Forty warp-threads make what was called a bout or section. A warp of two hundred threads was designated as a warp of five bouts, and the bars had to be filled five times to set it unless a larger skarne with more spools was used. From the warping-bars these bouts are carefully wound on the warp-beam.
Without attempting to explain farther, let us consider the yarn-beam neatly wound with these warp-threads and set in the loom—that the "warping" and "beaming" are finished. The "drawing" or "entering" comes next; the end of each warp-thread in regular order is "thumbed" or drawn in with a warping-needle through the eye or "mail" of the harness, or heddle.
The heddle is a row of twines, cords, or wires called leashes, which are stretched vertically between two horizontal bars or rods, placed about a foot apart. One rod is suspended by a pulley at the top of the loom; and to the lower rod is hitched the foot-treadle. In the middle of each length of twine or wire is the loop or eye, through which a warp-thread is passed. In ordinary weaving there are two heddles, each fastened to a foot-treadle.
There is a removable loom attachment which when first shown to me was called a raddle. It is not necessary in weaving, but a convenience and help in preparing to weave. It is a wooden bar with a row of closely set, fine, wooden pegs. This is placed in the loom, and used only during the setting of the warp to keep the warp of proper width; the pegs keep the bouts or sections of the warp disentangled during the "thumbing in" of the threads through the heddle-eyes. This attachment is also called a ravel or raivel; and folk-names for it (not in the dictionary) were wrathe and rake; the latter a very good descriptive title.
The warp-threads next are drawn through the interspaces between two dents or strips of the sley or reed. This is done with a wire hook called a sley-hook or reed-hook. Two warp-threads are drawn in each space.
The sley or reed is composed of a row of short and very thin parallel strips of cane or metal, somewhat like comb-teeth, called dents, fixed at both ends closely in two long, strong, parallel bars of wood set two or three or even four inches apart. There may be fifty or sixty of these dents to one inch, for weaving very fine linen; usually there are about twenty, which gives a "bier"—a counting out of forty warp-threads to each inch. Sleys were numbered according to the number of biers they held. The number of dents to an inch determined the "set of the web," the fineness of the piece. This reed is placed in a groove on the lower edge of a heavy batten (or lay or lathe). This batten hangs by two swords or side bars and swings from an axle or "rocking tree" at the top of the loom. As the heavy batten swings on its axle, the reed forces with a sharp blow every newly placed thread of the weft into its proper place close to the previously woven part of the texture. This is the heavy thwacking sound heard in hand-weaving.
On the accurate poise of the batten depends largely the evenness of the completed woof. If the material is heavy, the batten should be swung high, thus having a good sweep and much force in its blow. The batten should be so poised as to swing back itself into place after each blow.
The weaver, with foot on treadle, sits on a narrow, high bench, which is fastened from post to post of the loom. James Maxwell, the weaver-poet, wrote under his portrait in his Weaver's Meditations, printed in 1756:—
"Lo! here 'twixt Heaven and Earth I swing, And whilst the Shuttle swiftly flies, With cheerful heart I work and sing And envy none beneath the skies."
There are three motions in hand-weaving. First: by the action of one foot-treadle one harness or heddle, holding every alternate warp-thread, is depressed from the level of the entire expanse of warp-threads.
The separation of the warp-threads by this depression of one harness is called a shed. Some elaborate patterns have six harnesses. In such a piece there are ten different sheds, or combinations of openings of the warp-threads. In a four-harness piece there are six different sheds.
Room is made by this shed for the shuttle, which, by the second motion, is thrown from one side of the loom to the other by the weaver's hand, and thus goes over every alternate thread. The revolving quill within the shuttle lets the weft-thread play out during this side-to-side motion of the shuttle. The shuttle must not be thrown too sharply else it will rebound and make a slack thread in the weft. By the third motion the batten crowds this weft-thread into place. Then the motion of the other foot-treadle forces down the other warp-threads which pass through the second set of harnesses, the shuttle is thrown back through this shed, and so on.
In order to show the amount of work, the number of separate motions in a day's work in weaving of close woollen cloth like broadcloth (which was only about three yards), we must remember that the shuttle was thrown over three thousand times, and the treadles pressed down and batten swung the same number of times.
A simple but clear description of the process of weaving is given in Ovid's Metamorphoses, thus Englished in 1724:—
"The piece prepare And order every slender thread with care; The web enwraps the beam, the reed divides While through the widening space the shuttle glides, Which their swift hands receive, then poised with lead The swinging weight strikes close the inserted thread."
A loom attachment which I puzzled over was a tomble or tumble, the word being seen in eighteenth-century lists, etc., yet absolutely untraceable. I at last inferred, and a weaver confirmed my inference, that it was a corruption of temple, an attachment made of flat, narrow strips of wood as long as the web is wide, with hooks or pins at the end to catch into the selvage of the cloth, and keep the cloth stretched firmly an even width while the reed beats the weft-thread into place.
There were many other simple yet effective attachments to the loom. Their names have been upon the lips of scores of thousands of English-speaking people, and the words are used in all treatises on weaving; yet our dictionaries are dumb and ignorant of their existence. There was the pace-weight, which kept the warp even; and the bore-staff, which tightened the warp. When a sufficient length of woof had been woven (it was usually a few inches), the weaver proceeded to do what was called drawing a bore or a sink. He shifted the temple forward; rolled up the cloth on the cloth bar, which had a crank-handle and ratchets; unwound the warp a few inches, shifted back the rods and heddles, and started afresh.
Looms and their appurtenances were usually made by local carpenters; and it can plainly be seen that thus constant work was furnished to many classes of workmen in every community,—wood-turners, beam-makers, timber-sawyers, and others. The various parts of the looms were in unceasing demand, though apparently they never wore out. The sley was the most delicate part of the mechanism. Good sley-makers could always command high prices for their sleys. I have seen one whole and good, which has been in general use for weaving rag carpets ever since the War of 1812, for which a silver dollar was paid. Spools were turned and marked with the maker's initials. There were choice and inexplicable lines in the shape of a shuttle as there are in a boat's hull. When a shuttle was carefully shaped, scraped, hollowed out, tipped with steel, and had the maker's initials burnt in it, it was a proper piece of work, of which any craftsman might be proud. Apple-wood and boxwood were the choice for shuttles.
Smaller looms, called tape-looms, braid-looms, belt-looms, garter-looms, or "gallus-frames," were seen in many American homes, and useful they were in days when linen, cotton, woollen, or silk tapes, bobbins, and webbings or ribbons were not common and cheap as to-day. Narrow bands such as tapes, none-so-pretty's, ribbons, caddises, ferretings, inkles, were woven on these looms for use for garters, points, glove-ties, hair-laces, shoestrings, belts, hat-bands, stay-laces, breeches-suspenders, etc.
These tape-looms are a truly ancient form of appliance for the hand-weaving of narrow bands,—a heddle-frame. They are rudely primitive in shape, but besides serving well the colonists in all our original states, are still in use among the Indian tribes in New Mexico and in Lapland, Italy, and northern Germany. They are scarcely more than a slightly shaped board so cut in slits that the centre of the board is a row of narrow slats. These slats are pierced in a row by means of a heated wire and the warp-threads are passed through the holes.
A common form of braid-loom was one that was laid upon a table. A still simpler form was held upright on the lap, the knees being firmly pressed into semicircular indentations cut for the purpose on either side of the board which formed the lower part of the loom. The top of the loom was steadied by being tied with a band to the top of a chair, or a hook in the wall. It was such light and pretty work that it seemed merely an industrial amusement, and girls carried their tape-looms to a neighbor's house for an afternoon's work, just as they did their knitting-needles and ball of yarn. A fringe-loom might also be occasionally found, for weaving decorative fringes; these were more common in the Hudson River valley than elsewhere.
I have purposely given minute, but I trust not tiresome, details of the operation of weaving on a hand-loom, because a few years more will see the last of those who know the operation and the terms used. The fact that so many terms are now obsolete proves how quickly disuse brings oblivion. When in a country crowded full of weavers, as was England until about 1845, the knowledge has so suddenly disappeared, need we hope for much greater memory or longer life here? When what is termed the Westmoreland Revival of domestic industries was begun eight or ten years ago, the greatest difficulty was found in obtaining a hand-loom. No one knew how to set it up, and it was a long time before a weaver could be found to run it and teach others its use.
The first half of this century witnessed a vital struggle in England, and to an extent in America, between hand and power machinery, and an interesting race between spinning and weaving. Under old-time conditions it was calculated that it took the work of four spinners, who spun swiftly and constantly, to supply one weaver. As spinning was ever what was known as a by-industry,—that is, one that chiefly was done by being caught up at odd moments,—the supply both in England and America did not equal the weavers' demands, and ten spinners had to be calculated to supply yarn for one weaver. Hence weavers never had to work very hard; as a rule, they could have one holiday in the week. What with Sundays, wakes, and fairs, Irish weavers worked only two hundred days in the year. In England the weaver often had to spend one day out of the six hunting around the country for yarn for weft. So inventive wits were set at work to enlarge the supply of yarn, and spinning machinery was the result. Thereafter the looms and weavers were pushed hard and had to turn to invention. The shuttle had always simply been passed from one hand to the other of the weaver on either side of the web. The fly-shuttle was now invented, which by a simple piece of machinery, worked by one hand, threw the shuttle swiftly backward and forward, and the loom was ahead in the race. Then came the spinning-jenny, which spun yarn with a hundred spindles on each machine. But this was for weft yarns, and did not make strong warps. Finally Arkwright supplied this lack in water-twist or "throstle-spun" yarn. All these inventions again overcrowded the weavers; all attempts at hand-spinning of cotton had become quickly extinct. Wool-spinning lingered longer. Five Tomlinson sisters,—the youngest forty years old,—with two pair of wool-cards and five hand-wheels, paid the rent of their farm, kept three cows, one horse, had a ploughed field, and made prime butter and eggs. One sister clung to her spinning till 1822. Power-looms were invented to try to use up the jenny's supply of yarn, but these did not crowd out hand-looms. Weavers never had so good wages. It was the Golden Age of Cotton. Some families earned six pounds a week; good clothes, even to the extent of ruffled shirts, good furniture, even to silver spoons, good food, plentiful ale and beer, entered every English cottage with the weaving of cotton and wool. A far more revolutionary and more hated machine than the power-loom was the combing-machine called Big Ben.
"Come all ye Master Combers, and hear of our Big Ben. He'll comb more wool than fifty of your men With their hand-combs, and comb-pots, and such old-fashioned way."
Flax-spinning and linen-weaving by power machinery were slower in being established. Englishmen were halting in perfecting these machines. Napoleon offered in 1810 a million francs for a flax-spinning machine. A clever Frenchman claimed to have invented one in response in a single day, but similar clumsy machines had then been running in England for twenty years. By 1850 men, women, and children—combers, spinners, and weavers—were no longer individual workers; they had become part of that great monster, the mill-machinery. Riots and misery were the first result of the passing of hand weaving and spinning.
In the Vision of Piers Ploughman (1360) are these lines:—
"Cloth that cometh fro the wevyng Is nought comly to were Till it be fulled under foot Or in fullyng stokkes Wasshen wel with water And with taseles cracched, Y-touked and y-tented And under taillours hande."
Just so in the colonies four centuries later, cloth that came from the weaving was not comely to wear till it was fulled under foot or in fulling-stocks, washed well in water, scratched and dressed with teazels, dyed and tented, and put in the tailor's hands. Nor did the roll of centuries bring a change in the manner of proceeding. If grease had been put on the wool when it was carded, or sizing in the warp for the weaving, it was washed out by good rinsing from the woven cloth. This became now somewhat uneven and irregular in appearance, and full of knots and fuzzes which were picked out with hand-tweezers by burlers before it was fulled or milled, as it was sometimes called. The fulling-stocks were a trough in which an enormous oaken hammer was made to pound up and down, while the cloth was kept thoroughly wet with warm soap and water, or fullers' earth and water. Naturally this thickened the web much and reduced it in length. It was then teazelled; that is, a nap or rough surface was raised all over it by scratching it with weavers' teazels or thistles. Many wire brushes and metal substitutes have been tried to take the place of nature's gift to the cloth-worker, the teazel, but nothing has been invented to replace with full satisfaction that wonderful scratcher. For the slender recurved bracts of the teazel heads are stiff and prickly enough to roughen thoroughly the nap of the cloth, yet they yield at precisely the right point to keep from injuring the fabric.
If the cloth were to be "y-touked," that is, dyed, it was done at this period, and it was then "y-tented," spread on the tenter-field and caught on tenter-hooks, to shrink and dry.
Nowadays, we sometimes cut or crop the nap with long shears, and boil the web to give it a lustre, and ink it to color any ill-dyed fibres, and press it between hot plates before it goes to the tailor's hands; but these injurious processes were omitted in olden times. Worsted stuffs were not fulled, but were woven of hand-combed wool.
Linen webs after they were woven had even more manipulations to come to them than woollen stuffs. In spite of all the bleaching of the linen thread, it still was light brown in color, and it had to go through at least twoscore other processes, of bucking, possing, rinsing, drying, and bleaching on the grass. Sometimes it was stretched out on pegs with loops sewed on the selvage edge. This bleaching was called crofting in England, and grassing in America. Often it was thus spread on the grass for weeks, and was slightly wetted several times a day; but not too wet, else it would mildew. In all, over forty bleaching operations were employed upon "light linens." Sometimes they were "soured" in buttermilk to make them purely white. Thus at least sixteen months had passed since the flaxseed had been sown, in which, truly, the spinster had not eaten the bread of idleness. In the winter months the fine, white, strong linen was made into "board cloths" or tablecloths, sheets, pillow-biers, aprons, shifts, shirts, petticoats, short gowns, gloves, cut from the spinner's own glove pattern, and a score of articles for household use. These were carefully marked, and sometimes embroidered with home-dyed crewels, as were also splendid sets of bed-hangings, valances, and testers for four-post bedsteads.
The homespun linens that were thus spun and woven and bleached were one of the most beautiful expressions and types of old-time home life. Firm, close-woven, and pure, their designs were not greatly varied, nor was their woof as symmetrical and perfect as modern linens—but thus were the lives of those who made them; firm, close-woven in neighborly kindness, with the simplicity both of innocence and ignorance; their days had little variety, and life was not altogether easy, and, like the web they wove, it was sometimes narrow. I am always touched when handling these homespun linens with a consciousness of nearness to the makers; with a sense of the energy and strength of those enduring women who were so full of vitality, of unceasing action, that it does not seem to me they can be dead.
The strong, firm linen woven in many struggling country homes was too valuable and too readily exchangeable and salable to be kept wholly for farm use, especially when there were so few salable articles produced on the farm. It was sold or more frequently exchanged at the village store for any desired commodity, such as calico, salt, sugar, spices, or tea. It readily sold for forty-two cents a yard. Therefore the boys and even the fathers did not always have linen shirts to wear. From the tow which had been hatchelled out from harl a coarse thread was spun and cloth was woven which was made chiefly into shirts and smocks and tow "tongs" or "skilts," which were loose flapping summer trousers which ended almost half-way from the knee to the ankle. This tow stuff was never free from prickling spines, and it proved, so tradition states, an absolute instrument of torture to the wearer, until frequent washings had worn it out and thus subdued its knots and spines.
A universal stuff woven in New Hampshire by the Scotch-Irish linen-weavers who settled there, and who influenced husbandry and domestic manufactures and customs all around them, was what was known as striped frocking. It was worn also to a considerable extent in Connecticut and Massachusetts. The warp was strong white cotton or tow thread, the weft of blue and white stripes made by weaving alternately a shuttleful of indigo-dyed homespun yarn and one of white wool or tow. Many boys grew to manhood never wearing, except on Sundays, any kind of coat save a long, loose, shapeless jacket or smock of this striped frocking, known everywhere as a long-short. The history of the old town of Charmingfare tells of the farmers in that vicinity tying tight the two corners of this long-short at the waist and thus making a sort of loose bag in which various articles could be carried. Sylvester Judd, in his Margaret, the classic of old New England life, has his country women dressed also in long-shorts, and tells of the same fabric.
Another material which was universal in country districts had a flax or tow warp, and a coarser slack-twisted cotton or tow filling. This cloth was dyed and pressed and was called fustian. It was worth a shilling a yard in 1640. It was named in the earliest colonial accounts, and was in truth the ancient fustian, worn throughout Europe in the Middle Ages for monks' robes and laborers' dress, not the stuff to-day called fustian. We read in The Squier of Low Degree, "Your blanketts shall be of fustayne."
Another coarse cloth made in New England, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Carolinas was crocus. The stuff is obsolete and the name is forgotten save in a folk-saying which lingers in Virginia—"as coarse as crocus." Homespun stuff for the wear of negroes was known and sold as "Virginia cloth." Vast quantities of homespun cloth was made on Virginian plantations, thousands of yards annually at Mount Vernon for slave-wear, and for the house-mistress as well.
It is told of Martha Washington that she always carefully dyed all her worn silk gowns and silk scraps to a desired shade, ravelled them with care, wound them on bobbins, and had them woven into chair and cushion covers. Sometimes she changed the order of things. To a group of visitors she at one time displayed a dress of red and white striped material of which the white stripes were cotton, and the red, ravelled chair covers and silk from the General's worn-out stockings.
Checked linen, with bars of red or blue, was much used for bedticks, pillow-cases, towelling, aprons, and even shirts and summer trousers. In all the Dutch communities in New York it was woven till this century. When Benjamin Tappan first attended meeting in Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1769, he was surprised to find that all the men in the church but four or five wore checked shirts. Worcester County men always wore white shirts, and deemed a checked shirt the mark of a Connecticut River man.
It is impossible to overestimate the durability of homespun materials. I have "flannel sheets" a hundred years old, the lightest, most healthful, and agreeable summer covering for children's beds that ever any one was blessed with. Cradle sheets of this thin, closely woven, white worsted stuff are not slimsy like thin flannel, yet are softer than flannel. Years of use with many generations of children have left them firm and white.
Grain-bags have been seen that have been in constant and hard use for seventy years, homespun from coarse flax and hemp. I have several delightful bags about four feet long and two feet wide, of rather closely woven pure white homespun linen, not as heavy, however, as crash. They have the date of their manufacture, 1789, and the initials of the weaver, and have linen tapes woven in at each side. They are used every spring—packed with furs and blankets and placed in cedar chests, and with such usage will easily round out another century.
The product of these hand-looms which has lingered longest in country use, especially in the Northern states, and which is the sole product of all the hand-looms that I know to be set up and in use in New England (except one notable example to which I will refer hereafter), is the rag carpet. It is still in constant demand and esteem on farms and in small villages and towns, and is an economical and thrifty, and may be a comely floor-covering. The accompanying illustration of a woman weaving rag carpet on an old hand-loom is from a fine photograph taken by Mrs. Arthur Sewall of Bath, Maine, and gives an excellent presentment of the machine and the process.
The warp of these carpets was, in olden times, a strong, heavy flaxen thread. To-day it is a heavy cotton twine bought machine-spun in balls or hanks. The weft or rilling is narrow strips of all the clean and vari-colored rags that accumulate in a household.
The preparing of this filling requires considerable judgment. Heavy woollen cloth should be cut in strips about half an inch wide. If there were sewn with these strips of light cotton stuff of equal width, the carpet would prove a poor thing, heavy in spots and slimsy in others. Hence lighter stuffs should be cut in wider strips, as they can then be crowded down by the batten of the loom to the same width and substance as the heavy wools. Calicoes, cottons, all-wool delaines, and lining cambrics should be cut in strips at least an inch wide. These strips, of whatever length they chance to be, are sewn into one continuous strip, which is rolled into a hard ball weighing about a pound and a quarter. It is calculated that one of these balls will weave about a yard of carpeting. The joining must be strongly and neatly done and should not be bunchy. An aged weaver who had woven many thousand yards of carpeting assured me the prettiest carpets were always those in which every alternate strip was white or very light in color. Another thrifty way of using old material is the cutting into inch-wide strips of woven ingrain or three-ply carpet. This, through the cotton warp, makes a really artistic monochrome floor-covering.
In one of the most romantic and beautiful spots in old Narragansett lives the last of the old-time weavers; not a weaver who desultorily weaves a run of rag carpeting to earn a little money in the intervals of other work, or to please some importunate woman-neighbor who has saved up her rags; but a weaver whose lifelong occupation, whose only means of livelihood, has always been, and is still, hand-weaving. I have told his story at some length in my book, Old Narragansett,—of his kin, his life, his work. His home is at the cross-roads where three townships meet, a cross-roads where has often taken place that curious and senseless survival of old-time tradition and superstition—shift marriages. A widow, a cousin of the Weaver Rose's father, was the last to undergo this ordeal; clad only in her shift, she thrice crossed the King's Highway and was thus married to avoid payment of her first husband's debts. It is not far from the old Church Foundation of St. Paul's of Narragansett, and the tumble-down house of Sexton Martin Read, the prince of Narragansett weavers in ante-Revolutionary days. Weaver Rose learned to weave from his grandfather, who was an apprentice of Weaver Read.
In the loom-room of Weaver Rose a veritable atmosphere of the past still lingers. Everything appertaining to the manufacture of homespun materials may there be found. Wheels, skarnes, sleys, warping-bars, clock-reels, swifts, quilling-wheels, vast bales of yarns and thread—for he no longer spins his thread and yarn. There are piles of old and new bed coverlets woven in those fanciful geometric designs, which are just as the ancient Gauls wove them in the Bronze Age, and which formed a favorite bed-covering of our ancestors, and of country folk to-day. These coverlets the weaver calls by the good old English name of hap-harlot, a name now obsolete in England, which I have never seen used in text of later date than Holinshead's Survey of London, written four hundred years ago. His manuscript pattern-book is over a hundred years old, and has the rules for setting the harnesses. They bear many pretty and odd names, such as "Rosy Walk," "Baltimore Beauty," "Girl's Love," "Queen's Fancy," "Devil's Fancy," "Everybody's Beauty," "Four Snow Balls," "Five Snow Balls," "Bricks and Blocks," "Gardener's Note," "Green Vails," "Rose in Bloom," "Pansies and Roses in the Wilderness," "Flag-Work," "Royal Beauty," "Indian March," "Troy's Beauty," "Primrose and Diamonds," "Crown and Diamonds," "Jay's Fancy," "In Summer and Winter," "Boston Beauty," and "Indian War." One named "Bony Part's March" was very pretty, as was "Orange Peel," and "Orange Trees"; "Dog Tracks" was even checkerwork, "Blazing Star," a herring-bone design. "Perry's Victory" and "Lady Washington's Delight" show probably the date of their invention, and were handsome designs, while the "Whig Rose from Georgia," which had been given to the weaver by an old lady a hundred years old, had proved a poor and ugly thing. "Kapa's Diaper" was a complicated design which took "five harnesses" to make. "Rattlesnake's Trail," "Wheels of Fancy," "Chariot Wheels and Church Windows," and "Bachelor's Fancy" were all exceptionally fine designs.
Sometimes extremely elaborate patterns were woven in earlier days. An exquisitely woven coverlet as fine as linen sheeting, a corner of which is here shown, has an elaborate border of patriotic and Masonic emblems, patriotic inscriptions, and the name of the maker, a Red Hook, Hudson valley, dame of a century ago, who wove this beautiful bedspread as the crowning treasure of her bridal outfit. The "setting-up" of such a design as this is entirely beyond my skill as a weaver to explain or even comprehend. But it is evident that the border must have been woven by taking up a single warp-thread at a time, with a wire needle, not by passing a shuttle, as it is far too complicated and varied for any treadle-harness to be able to make a shed for a shuttle.
Hand-weaving in Weaver Rose's loom-room to-day is much simplified in many of its preparatory details by the employment of machine-made materials. The shuttles and spools are made by machinery; and more important still, both warp and weft is purchased ready-spun from mills. The warp is simply a stout cotton twine or coarse thread bought in balls or hanks; while various cheap mill-yarns or what is known as worsteds or coarse crewels are used as filling. These, of course, are cheap, but alas! are dyed with fleeting or garish aniline dyes. No new blue yarn can equal either in color or durability the old indigo-dyed, homespun, hard-twisted yarn made on a spinning-wheel. Germantown, early in the field in American wool manufacture, still supplies nearly all the yarn for his hand-looms.
The transition half a century or more ago from what Horace Bushnell called "mother and daughter power to water and steam power," was a complete revolution in domestic life, and indeed of social manners as well. When a people spin and weave and make their own dress, you have in this very fact the assurance that they are home-bred, home-living, home-loving people. You are sure, also, that the lives of the women are home-centred. The chief cause for women's intercourse with any of the outside world except neighborly acquaintance, her chief knowledge of trade and exchange, is in shopping, dressmaking, etc. These causes scarcely existed in country communities a century ago. The daughters who in our days of factories leave the farm for the cotton-mill, where they perform but one of the many operations in cloth manufacture, can never be as good home-makers or as helpful mates as the homespun girls of our grandmothers' days; nor can they be such co-workers in great public movements.
In the summer of 1775, when all the preparations for the War of the Revolution were in a most unsettled and depressing condition, especially the supplies for the Continental army, the Provincial Congress made a demand on the people for thirteen thousand warm coats to be ready for the soldiers by cold weather. There were no great contractors then as now to supply the cloth and make the garments, but by hundreds of hearthstones throughout the country wool-wheels and hand-looms were started eagerly at work, and the order was filled by the handiwork of patriotic American women. In the record book of some New England towns may still be found the lists of the coat-makers. In the inside of each coat was sewed the name of the town and the maker. Every soldier volunteering for eight months' service was given one of these homespun, home-made, all-wool coats as a bounty. So highly were these "Bounty Coats" prized, that the heirs of soldiers who were killed at Bunker Hill before receiving their coats were given a sum of money instead. The list of names of soldiers who then enlisted is known to this day as the "Coat Roll," and the names of the women who made the coats might form another roll of honor. The English sneeringly called Washington's army the "Homespuns." It was a truthful nickname, but there was deeper power in the title than the English scoffers knew.
The starting up of power-looms and the wonderful growth of woollen manufacture did not crowd out homespun as speedily in America as in England. When the poet Whittier set out from the Quaker farmhouse to go to Boston to seek his fortune, he wore a homespun suit every part of which, even the horn buttons, was of domestic manufacture. Many a man born since Whittier has grown to manhood clothed for every-day wear wholly with homespun; and many a boy is living who was sent to college dressed wholly in a "full-cloth" suit, with horn buttons or buttons made of discs of heavy leather.
During the Civil War spinning and weaving were revived arts in the Confederate cities; and, as ever in earlier days, proved a most valuable economic resource under restricted conditions. In the home of a friend in Charleston, South Carolina, an old, worm-eaten loom was found in a garret where it had lain since the embargo in 1812. It was set up in 1863, and plantation carpenters made many like it for neighbors and fellow-citizens. All women in the mountain districts knew how to use the loom, and taught weaving to many others, both white and black. A portion of the warp, which was cotton, was spun at home; more was bought from a cotton-factory. My friend sacrificed a great number of excellent wool-mattresses; this wool was spun into yarn and used for weft, and formed a most grateful and dignified addition to the varied, grotesque, and interesting makeshifts of the wardrobe of the Southern Confederacy.
Though weaving on hand-looms in our Northern and Middle states is practically extinct, save as to the weaving of rag carpets (and that only in few communities), in the South all is different. In all the mountain and remote regions of Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, the Carolinas, and I doubt not in Alabama, both among the white and negro mountain-dwellers, hand-weaving is still a household art. The descendants of the Acadians in Louisiana still weave and wear homespun. The missions in the mountains encourage spinning and weaving; and it is pleasant to learn that many women not only pursue these handicrafts for their home use, but some secure a good living by hand-weaving, earning ten cents a yard in weaving rag carpets. The coverlet patterns resemble the ones already described. Names from Waynesville, North Carolina, are "Washington's Diamond Ring," "Nine Chariot Wheels"; from Pinehurst come "Flowery Vine," "Double Table," "Cat Track," "Snow Ball and Dew Drop," "Snake Shed," "Flowers in the Mountains." At Pinehurst the old settlers, of sturdy Scotch stock, all weave. They make cloth, all cotton; cloth of cotton warp and wool filling called drugget; dimity, a heavy cotton used for coverlets; a yarn jean which has wool warp and filling, and cotton jean which is cotton warp and wool filling; homespun is a heavy cloth, of cotton and wool mixed. All buy cotton warp or "chain," as they call it, ready-spun from the mills. This is known by the name of bunch-thread. These Pinehurst weavers still use home-made dyes. Cotton is dyed black with dye made by steeping the bark of the "Black Jack" or scrub-oak mixed with red maple bark. Wool is dyed black with a mixture of gall-berry leaves and sumac berries; for red they use a moss which they find growing on the rocks, and which may be the lichen Roccella tinctoria or dyer's-moss; also madder root, and sassafras bark. Yellow is dyed with laurel leaves, or "dye-flower," a yellow flower of the sunflower tribe; laurel leaves and "dye-flower" together made orange-red. Blue is obtained from the plentiful wild indigo; and for green, the cloth or yarn is first dyed blue with indigo, then boiled in a decoction of hickory bark and laurel leaves. A bright yellow is obtained from a clay which abounds in that neighborhood, probably like a red ferruginous limestone found in Tennessee, which gives a splendid, fast color; when the clay is baked and ground it gives a fine, artistic, dull red. Purple dye comes from cedar tops and lilac leaves; brown from an extract of walnut hulls.
The affectionate regard which all good workmen have for their tools and implements in handcrafts is found among these Southern weavers. One assures me that her love for her loom is as for a human companion. The machines are usually family heirlooms that have been owned for several generations, and are treasured like relics.
Hatchelling and carding, spinning and reeling, weaving and bleaching, cooking, candle and cheese making, were not the only household occupations of our busy grandmothers when they were young; a score of domestic duties kept ever busy their ready hands.
Some notion of the qualifications of a housekeeper over a century ago may be obtained from this advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet of September 23, 1780:
"Wanted at a Seat about half a day's journey from Philadelphia, on which are good improvements and domestics, A single Woman of unsullied Reputation, an affable, cheerful, active and amiable Disposition; cleanly, industrious, perfectly qualified to direct and manage the female Concerns of country business, as raising small stock, dairying, marketing, combing, carding, spinning, knitting, sewing, pickling, preserving, etc., and occasionally to instruct two young Ladies in those Branches of Oeconomy, who, with their father, compose the Family. Such a person will be treated with respect and esteem, and meet with every encouragement due to such a character."
Respect and esteem, forsooth! and due encouragement to such a miracle of saintliness and capacity; light terms indeed to apply to such a character.
There is, in the library of the Connecticut Historical Society, a diary written by a young girl of Colchester, Connecticut, in the year 1775. Her name was Abigail Foote. She set down her daily work, and the entries run like this:—
"Fix'd gown for Prude,—Mend Mother's Riding-hood,—Spun short thread,—Fix'd two gowns for Welsh's girls,—Carded tow,—Spun linen,—Worked on Cheese-basket,—Hatchel'd flax with Hannah, we did 51 lbs. apiece,—Pleated and ironed,—Read a Sermon of Doddridge's,—Spooled a piece,—Milked the cows,—Spun linen, did 50 knots,—Made a Broom of Guinea wheat straw,—Spun thread to whiten,—Set a Red dye,—Had two Scholars from Mrs. Taylor's,—I carded two pounds of whole wool and felt Nationly,—Spun harness twine,—Scoured the pewter."
She tells also of washing, cooking, knitting, weeding the garden, picking geese, etc., and of many visits to her friends. She dipped candles in the spring, and made soap in the autumn. This latter was a trying and burdensome domestic duty, but the soft soap was important for home use.
All the refuse grease from cooking, butchering, etc., was stored through the winter, as well as wood-ashes from the great fireplaces. The first operation was to make the lye, to "set the leach." Many families owned a strongly made leach-barrel; others made a sort of barrel from a section of the bark of the white birch. This barrel was placed on bricks or set at a slight angle on a circular groove in a wood or stone base; then filled with ashes; water was poured in till the lye trickled or leached out through an outlet cut in the groove, into a small wooden tub or bucket. The water and ashes were frequently replenished as they wasted, and the lye accumulated in a large tub or kettle. If the lye was not strong enough, it was poured over fresh ashes. An old-time receipt says:—
"The great Difficulty in making Soap come is the want of Judgment of the Strength of the Lye. If your Lye will bear up an Egg or a Potato so you can see a piece of the Surface as big as a Ninepence it is just strong enough."
The grease and lye were then boiled together in a great pot over a fire out of doors. It took about six bushels of ashes and twenty-four pounds of grease to make a barrel of soap. The soft soap made by this process seemed like a clean jelly, and showed no trace of the repulsive grease that helped to form it. A hard soap also was made with the tallow of the bayberry, and was deemed especially desirable for toilet use. But little hard soap was purchased, even in city homes.
It was a common saying: "We had bad luck with our soap," or good luck. The soap was always carefully stirred one way. The "Pennsylvania Dutch" used a sassafras stick to stir it. A good smart worker could make a barrel of soap in a day, and have time to sit and rest in the afternoon and talk her luck over, before getting supper.
This soft soap was used in the great monthly washings which, for a century after the settlement of the colonies, seem to have been the custom. The household wash was allowed to accumulate, and the washing done once a month, or in some households once in three months.
Thomas Tusser's rhymed instructions to good housekeepers as to the washing contain chiefly warnings to the housekeeper against thieves, thus:—
"Dry sun, dry wind, Safe bind, safe find. Go wash well, saith summer, with sun I shall dry; Go wring well, saith winter, with wind so shall I. To trust without heed is to venture a joint, Give tale and take count is a housewifely point."
Abigail Foote wrote of making a broom of Guinea wheat. This was not broom-corn, for that useful plant was not grown in Connecticut for the purpose of broom-making till twenty years or more after she wrote her diary. Brooms and brushes were made of it in Italy nearly two centuries ago. Benjamin Franklin, who was ever quick to use and develop anything that would benefit his native country, and was ever ready to take a hint, noted a few seeds of broom-corn hanging on an imported brush. He planted these seeds and raised some of the corn; and Thomas Jefferson placed broom-corn among the productions of Virginia in 1781. By this time many had planted it, but no systematic plan of raising broom-corn abundantly for the manufacture of brooms was planned till 1798, when Levi Dickenson, a Yankee farmer of Hadley, Massachusetts, planted half an acre. From this he made between one and two hundred brooms which he peddled in a horse-cart in neighboring towns. The following year he planted an acre; and the tall broom-corn with its spreading panicles attracted much attention. Though he was thought visionary when he predicted that broom manufacture would be the greatest industry in the county, and though he was sneeringly told that only Indians ought to make brooms, he persevered; and his neighbors finally planted and made brooms also. He carried brooms soon to Pittsfield, to New London, and in 1805 to Albany and Boston. So rapid was the increase of manufacture that in 1810 seventy thousand brooms were made in the county. Since then millions of dollars' worth have gone forth from the farms and villages in his neighborhood.
Mr. Dickenson at first scraped the seed from the brush with a knife; then he used a sort of hoe; then a coarse comb like a ripple-comb. He tied each broom by hand, with the help of a negro servant. Much of this work could be done by little girls, who soon gave great help in broom manufacture; though the final sewing (when the needle was pressed through with a leather "palm" such as sailors use) had to be done by the strong hands of grown women and men.
Doubtless Abigail Foote made many an "Indian broom," as well as her brooms of Guinea wheat, which may have been a special home manufacture of her neighborhood; for many fibres, leaves, and straws were used locally in broom-making.
Another duty of the women of the old-time household was the picking of domestic geese. Geese were raised for their feathers more than as food. In some towns every family had a flock, and their clanking was heard all day and sometimes all night. They roamed the streets all summer, eating grass by the highways and wallowing in the puddles. Sometimes they were yoked with a goose-yoke made of a shingle with a hole in it. In midwinter they were kept in barnyards, but the rest of the year they spent the night in the street, each flock near the home of its owner. It is said that one old goose of each flock always kept awake and stood watch; and it was told in Hadley, Massachusetts, that if a young man chanced to be out late, as for instance a-courting, his return home wakened the geese throughout the village, who sounded the unseasonable hour with a terrible clamor. They made so much noise on summer Sundays that they seriously disturbed church services; and became such nuisances that at last the boys killed whole flocks.
Goose-picking was cruel work. Three or four times a year were the feathers stripped from the live birds. A stocking was pulled over the bird's head to keep it from biting. Sometimes the head was thrust into a goose basket. The pickers had to wear old clothes and tie covers over the hair, as the down flew everywhere. The quills, used for pens, were never pulled but once from a goose. Palladius, On Husbondrie, written in the fourth century, and Englished in the fifteenth century, tells of goose-picking:—
"Twice a yere deplumed may they be, In spryngen tyme and harvest tyme."
The old Latin and English times for picking were followed in the New World. Among the Dutch, geese were everywhere raised; for feather-beds were, if possible, more desired by the Dutch than the English.
In a work entitled Good Order established in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, written by a Quaker in 1685, he urges that schools be provided where girls could be instructed in "the spinning of flax, sewing, and making all sorts of useful needle work, knitting of gloves and stockings, making of straw-works, as hats, baskets, etc., or any other useful art or mystery." It was a century before his "making of straw-works" was carried out, not till larger importations of straw hats and bonnets came to this country.
When the beautiful and intricate straw bonnets of Italian braid, Genoese, Leghorn, and others, were brought here, they were too costly for many to purchase; and many attempts, especially by country-bred girls, were made to plait at home straw braids to imitate these envied bonnets. Many towns claim the first American straw bonnet; in fact, the attempts were almost simultaneous. To Betsey Metcalf of Providence, Rhode Island, is usually accorded the honor of starting the straw-hat business in America. The earliest recorded effort to manufacture straw head-wear is shown in a patent given to Mrs. Sibylla Masters of Philadelphia, for using palmetto and straw for hats. This Mrs. Masters was the first American, man or woman, ever awarded a patent in England. The first patent issued by the United States to a woman was also for an invention in straw-plaiting. A Connecticut girl, Miss Sophia Woodhouse, was given a prize for "leghorn hats" which she had plaited; and she took out a patent in 1821 for a new material for bonnets. It was the stalks, above the upper joint, of spear-grass and redtop grass growing so profusely in Weathersfield. From this she had a national reputation, and a prize of twenty guineas was given her the same year by the London Society of Arts. The wife of President John Quincy Adams wore one of these bonnets, to the great pride of her husband.
When the bonnet was braided and sewed into shape, it had to be bleached, for it was the dark natural straw. I don't know the domestic process in general use, but an ingenious family of sisters in Newburyport thus accomplished their bleaching. They bored holes in the head of a barrel; tied strings to each new bonnet; passed the strings through the holes and carefully plugged the openings with wood. This left the bonnets hanging inside the barrel, which was set over an old-fashioned foot-stove filled with hot coals on which sulphur had been placed. The fumes of the burning sulphur arose and filled the barrel, and were closely retained by quilts wrapped around it. When the bonnets were taken out, they were clear and white. The base of a lignum-vitae mortar made into the proper shape with layers of pasteboard formed the mould on which the bonnet crown was pressed.
Even before they could spin girls were taught to knit, as soon as their little hands could hold the needles. Sometimes girls four years of age could knit stockings. Boys had to knit their own suspenders. All the stockings and mittens for the family, and coarse socks and mittens for sale, were made in large numbers. Much fine knitting was done, with many intricate and elaborate stitches; those known as the "herring-bone" and "fox and geese" were great favorites. By the use of curious stitches initials could be knit into mittens; and it is said that one young New Hampshire girl, using fine flaxen yarn, knit the whole alphabet and a verse of poetry into a pair of mittens; which I think must have been long-armed mitts for ladies' wear, to have space enough for the poetry.
To knit a pair of double mittens was a sharp and long day's work. Nancy Peabody's brother of Shelburne, New Hampshire, came home one night and said he had lost his mittens while chopping in the woods. Nancy ran to a bundle of wool in the garret, carded and spun a big hank of yarn that night. It was soaked and scoured the next morning, and in twenty-four hours from the time the brother announced his loss he had a fine new pair of double mittens. A pair of double hooked and pegged mittens would last for years. Pegging, I am told, was heavy crocheting.
An elaborate and much-admired form of knitting was the bead bags and purses which were so fashionable in the early years of this century, though I have seen some knitted bags of colonial days.
Great variety and ingenuity were shown in these bags and purses. Some bore landscapes and figures; others were memorials done in black and white and purple beads, having so-called "mourning designs," such as weeping willows, gravestones, urns, etc., with the name of the deceased person and date of death. Beautiful bags were knitted to match wedding-gowns. Knitted purses were a favorite token and gift from fair hands to husband or lover. Watch chains were more unusual; they were knit in a geometrical design, were about a yard long and about three-eighths of an inch in diameter. One I saw had in tiny letters in gilt beads the date and the words "Remember the Giver." In all these knitted and crocheted bags the beads had to be strung by a rule in advance; in an elaborate pattern of many colors it may easily be seen that the mistake of a single bead in the stringing would spoil the entire design. They were therefore never a cheap form of decorative work. Five dollars was often paid for knitting a single bag. A varied group from the collection of Mr. J. Howard Swift of Chicago is here shown.
Netting was another decorative handiwork. Netted fringes for edging the coverlets, curtains, testers, and valances of high-post bedsteads were usually made of cotton thread or twine, and when tufted or tasselled were a pretty finish. A finer silk or cotton netting was used for trimming sacks and petticoats. A letter written by Mrs. Carrington from Mount Vernon in 1799 says of Mrs. President Washington:—
"Her netting is a source of great amusement to her and is so neatly done that all the younger part of the family are proud of trimming their dresses with it, and have furnished me with a whole suit so that I shall appear 'a la domestique' at the first party we have when I get home."
Netted purses and work-bags also were made similar to the knitted ones. A homelier and heavier netting of twine was often done at home for small fishing-nets.
Previous to the Revolution there was a boarding-school kept in Philadelphia in Second Street near Walnut, by a Mrs. Sarah Wilson. She thus advertised:—
"Young ladies may be educated in a genteel manner, and pains taken to teach them in regard to their behaviour, on reasonable terms. They may be taught all sorts fine needlework, viz., working on catgut or flowering muslin, sattin stitch, quince stitch, tent stitch, cross-stitch, open work, tambour, embroidering curtains or chairs, writing and cyphering. Likewise waxwork in all its several branches, never as yet particularly taught here; also how to take profiles in wax, to make wax flowers and fruits and pin-baskets."
There was no limit to the beauty and delicacy of the embroidery of those days. I have seen the beautiful needlework cap and skirt worn by Governor Thomas Johnson of Maryland, when he was christened. The coat of arms of both the Lux and Johnson families, the name Agnes Lux and Anne Johnson, and the words "God bless the Babe" are embroidered upon them in most delicate fairy stitches. The babe grew up to be the governor of his state in Revolutionary times.