Walk The Agrarian Path With Us

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Virtue and Security of the Lost Arts

I was very fortunate to have picked up a copy of the book "Home Life In Colonial Days" at a garage sale that was given by a couple that does reenactments. What a wonderful find!
This book was originally published in 1898, was written by Alice Morse Earle, and is full of useful information and helpful illustrations. There was so much in just the chapter on Flax Culture and Spinning alone that I was amazed. After listing the various influences that helped the Americans in their success in the War for Independence she makes this incredible statement: "we must never forget to add their independence in their own homes of any outside help to give them every necessity of life. No farmer or his wife need fear any king when on every home farm was found food, drink, medicine, fuel, lighting, clothing, shelter." This statement gives much food for thought.
She gives a thorough explanation on planting, preparing, and spinning flax for weaving into linen and says, "Few persons are now living who have ever seen carried on in a country home in America any of these old-time processes which have been recounted." This was 1898.
She records this quote from someone else: "Few have ever seen a woman hatchel flax or card tow, or heard the buzzing of the foot-wheel, or seen bunches of flaxen yarn hanging in the kitchen, or linen cloth whitening on the grass. The flax-dresser with the shives, fibres, and dirt of flax covering his garments, and his face begrimed with flax-dirt has disappeared; the noise of his brake and swingling knife has ended, and the boys no longer make bonfires of his swingling tow. The sound of the spinning-wheel, the song of the spinster, and the snapping of the clock-reel all have ceased; the warping bars and quill wheel are gone, and the thwack of the loom is heard only in the factory. The spinning woman of King Lemuel cannot be found."
What price (prices) have we paid for ease, speed, and convenience? I'm afraid many.
I've enjoyed this quote from Benjamin Franklin in his Poor Richard's Almanac and you may have, too:    "Many estates are spent in the getting,
           Since women for tea forsook spinning and knitting." :-)
In the revolt of feeling caused by the Stamp Act, the women of the colonies banded together in patriotic societies, agreeing to wear only garments made of homespun manufacture. I wonder how willing and able we are today? In many towns they gathered together to spin, and at the same time always had an appropriate sermon. A favorite text was:
Exodus 35:25 "And all the women that were wisehearted did spin with their hands."


  1. Great post! Our colonial brethren would role over in their graves at our lifestyles today. A couple of years ago on vacation, while at the Yorktown Living History Museum in Virginia, we were able to see the different stages of flax being readied and spun and they had samples of dyed, finished fiber. It was very interesting and the talk the reenactor gave made it clear that flax from plant to spun fiber was hard work. It made me want to plant some though and go through the process myself. With two of my favorite affordable stores taking a very pro-gay stance my options for clothes shopping have shrunk and I joke that soon I may have to make my own from farm to finish.

    1. How wonderful that you were able to see that done! Let me know if you give it a try and if you do create something from "farm to finish" be sure to share the details!