Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pocahontas County Textile History

Here's an addition to my "local history of textiles collection" from William T. Price's Historical Sketches of Pocahontas County. (1901) Price includes many discussions of "how they did things in the old days," but one can't tell when these are based on personal recollections (his own or other local people) or on books he had read. The lack of detail makes me suspect Price referred to published sources here.

In the early times now under consideration it was an essential matter that about every thing needed for comfortable use about the home should be home made or at least somewhere in the immediate neighborhood. Thus it came that pioneer wives and daughters were not only ornamental but exceedingly useful in promoting the comforts and attractions of their homes by the skill of their willing hands. Every household of any pretensions to independence or thrift had a loom, spinning wheels, little and big, a flax breaker, sheep shears, wool cards, and whatever else needful for changing wool and flax into clothing and blankets.

Sheep were raised on the farms and were usually sheared by the girls and boys. The wives and daughters would thereupon scour, card, spin, weave and knit the fleeces into clothing.

The flax was grown in the "flax patch," usually a choice bit of ground. When ripe the flax was pulled by hand, spread in layers until dry upon the ground were it had been pulled, then bound in bundles, carried away and spread very neatly over the cleanest and nicest sod to be found, most commonly the aftermath of the meadow. Here it remained with an occasional overturning until it was "weathered," or watered. After an exposure of three or four weeks, or when weathered completely, the flax was gathered, bound in bundles, stored away in shelter until cool frosty days in late fall, winter or early spring would come, when it would be broken by the flax breaker, then scutched by the scutching knife over an upright board fastened to a block. Then what was left of the woody part by the breaker and scutching knife would be combed out by the hackle, and was now ready for spinning and waving as flax or tow. The tow could be held in the hand and spun for coarse cloth, "tow linen." The flax, being the straight and finer fiber, would be wrapped to the "rock," attached to the little wheel and spun for the finer fabrics. The rock was a contrivance made by bending three or four branches of a bush together and tying them into a kind of frame-work at upper end. Flax was most commonly put through the entire process from planting to wearing without leaving the farm on which it was grown.

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