View Full Version : Spinning, weaving?

09-07-2006, 07:05 AM
Do any of you spin or weave? I'm working on a project set in the 1800s and family members spin and weave to support themselves. I'm revisiting this from awhile ago and didn't keep good notes my first time around looking for information on this.

Thanks in advance.


Variant Frequencies
09-07-2006, 08:43 PM
I have relatives who do. I could pass questions along to them, if that helps. Feel free to PM me.

09-07-2006, 11:56 PM
I demonstrate spinning and weaving for a historical re-enactment group. My techniques are on the basic side (I tell people I have the skill level of a medieval 12 year old - on a good day), but I know a bit about it.

Are your characters spinning/weaving linen or wool - or possibly hemp or cotton or silk?
Each has a different technique. Linen likes the damp, for instance, and the spinning wheels for linen thread usually had little dishes for water attached, which the spinner dipped her fingers in.

For a lot of good basic information, look for the Shire Publications series of booklets. They cover subjects from collectibles to crafts, to archaeology, and have good illustrations, too. I can recommend Flax and Linen, Looms and Weaving, Spinning and Spinning Wheels and The Woolen Industry, but there are others, too.

09-08-2006, 02:22 AM
I'm a spinner too (for about ten years now), and know a bit about weaving. Feel free to PM me or post your questions here!

09-08-2006, 03:54 AM
By hand from the sheep's back to my family's backs.

Do silk and cashmere. Dye and colour. Big loom weaving only when I have time, last time available 15 years ago! Small loom, hand weaving, finger braids etc. still active.

Know the techniques of flax (NZ flax) working and weaving as well as flax = linen flax spinning and weaving. Never done cotton.

PM or ask questions here.

09-08-2006, 09:35 PM
Thanks for the replies. I was thinking of woollens. Frontier Midwest would be woollens and linen. Some families in the 1830s to '50s specialized in reversible woven coverlets like these http://www.connerprairie.org/historyonline/cov.html

Questions are -- if you are sitting at the loom -- where do you "feel the burn" first? Where do you get tired? Is it hard to learn?

Does anyone still do jacquard by hand?

THanks again. Appreciate the input!


09-08-2006, 10:50 PM
Wow! Those are impressive (and well beyond my level of competence).

09-09-2006, 01:56 AM
Questions are -- if you are sitting at the loom -- where do you "feel the burn" first? Where do you get tired? Is it hard to learn?

The difficult part of weaving is dressing the loom correctly, not doing the weaving itself (which can be very elaborate but is more often rather unskilled, repetitive labor). When I was a college freshman I worked in a handweaving shop for a semester, and as I recall I was weaving within minutes. If I'd stayed, it would have been a year or more before I would have started to learn how to dress the loom.

Anyway, I remember the "feel the burn" place to be, um, my butt on the hard bench. :) My shoulders would be sore too.

Finishing woven pieces can be hard on the hands, too, specifically pulling threads out to make a pattern or mark a place to cut or whatever.

At this point, my weaving knowledge is pretty much exhausted. :)

Variant Frequencies
09-09-2006, 02:00 AM
I passed your questions along, and received this in response. (Some names have been removed.)

"I had to smile at the first question: where do you feel the burn? the most common ailment that I am aware of in production weavers, or those lucky ones who can weave more than 20 minutes a day, is "weaver's bottom" check out the medical terminology here http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=17110

Ischial bursitis, I guess, not unlike what your butt feels like the first time you ride a bike or a horse after a long absence. A production weaver friend of mine has an adjustable bench that she can vary the tilt on, with a sheepskin for padding and she always has several looms going at once so she can move from one to another to avoid the problem. Weaving in general is not hard to learn and probably every household, at least in the country, who may have been more self-sufficient had a loom around, even if just a "barn loom" home-made of rough wood and with string heddles. **** **** (1834-1921) is said to have woven her own fabric for clothing, in a family history; don't know if ***** did, cloth was probably getting cheaper by then.

Jacquard looms, however, were and still are, a specialized loom as your writer indicates, and I don't know of anyone here in Utah who has one, or if they are still made for personal or household use. I imagine that folks still use them, but the weaver would definitely be more interested in more historic or authentic techniques and they are out there. There is a picture on this link: http://www.columbia.edu/acis/history/jacquard.html

More people who are doing more complex weaving these days, use what are called "dobby" looms, computer-controlled, which I find a rather humerous combination: computers and looms-whatever.

Most folks who are interested in weaving authentic historic coverlets without a specialized loom, and there are a lot of them, use a technique called overshot, where the base fabric is woven with a naturally colored finer linen or cotten thread and a pattern weave is done with a thicker, colored, usually wool yarn. The resulting coverlet reminds me of Colonial decor and there are a lot of collectors out there.

The writer's use of the term "woollen" made me cringe though. "Woollens" makes me think of wool long underwear. I think that the generic collective term for all household fabrics: coverlets, sheets, tablecloths, napkins, etc. would be "linens". Just my opinion, and more than you asked for. I hope that this helps."

09-09-2006, 02:22 AM
Also, I assume you've checked that weaving was still a family industry in the the time and place you're writing about. In the 1800s, it hung on much longer in the south than the north, and the midwest depends on where the settlers were coming from and other circumstances.

At Conner Prairie, they have a weaver interpreting overshot-coverlet weaving in 1836 Indiana. At that time and place, he's recently come to Indiana from the south to get away from slave competition and is in a business that's slowly dying out in Indiana from competition with jacquard weavers.

As Variant Frequencies said, a jacquard loom is something special, and a jacquard coverlet weaving business would be very different, for example, than a poor southern family turning out yards of jeancloth.

09-09-2006, 04:18 AM
If you want your family to weave those jacquard patterns they would have to have that card reading loom wouldn't they? That would be expensive.

I believe you can make jacquard patterns by hand on a really sophisticated 8 + heddle loom.

All these looms are great big floor looms that take up a great deal of space. It would take two days to make the warp on the warping board and then dress the loom. Once that preparation is done, and it is concentrated work requiring NO interruptions, then weaving is a matter of remembering the pattern of opening and closing the warp threads using the foot pedals.

Could they earn money making simpler rugs for bed or floor or even making good woollen blankets?

One good way of making money in the early 1800s was by spinning the wool/linen. A family of good spinners could turn fleece into yarn for a reasonable fee.

09-09-2006, 05:45 AM
Something that might interest you also, the general rule of thumb is that for every hour of weaving, it's taken a spinner 30 hours of work to produce the yarn.

09-09-2006, 03:37 PM
Thanks, everybody.

Ah, poor Emma needs some padding on her bench!

The story is, her brother is seriously ill, approaching death. They had divided up teh work -- she spun and he wove. They are aware that machines are takign over and trying to specialize. He wants to teach her this technique before he passes. So, if it's difficult work and intolerant of interruptions -- that fits.

Thank you for you input. VF, please pass thanks along to your family, too :)