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Farmer Boy

Spinning and Weaving

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a sheep
A Lamb
--Photo courtesy of the Living History Farms, 2600 111 th Street, Urbandale, IA 50322 http://www.livinghistoryfarms.org

The Wilders raised sheep on their farm. Almanzo helped drive the sheep into the washing pens. After they were cleaned and sheared, Almanzo and Royal carried the fleeces upstairs in the Big Barn. Later Almanzo's father took the wool to the carding machine in Malone where it was combed out straight and rolled. Then Almanzo's mother spun the wool into yarn, dyed it and wove it into cloth on her loom. For Almanzo she wove a waist of fine wool she had dyed red. The waist buttoned to his long brown pants with a row of brass buttons.

 

 

A Spinning Wheel A Loom Dyed Wool
A Spinning Wheel
A Loom
Dyed Wool

To make colored dye, the Wilders built huge bonfires in the yard and boiled roots and bark in caldrons. These pieces of wool have been dyed with natural dyes. Goldenrod was used to make the yellow dye. The gray wool was made from sumac, the brown from black walnuts, the green from carrot tops and the red from a plant called madder.

A Niddy Noddy

A Niddy Noddy

 

After the wool is spun into yarn it can be wound into skeins using a niddy noddy. As you wind it you can say, "Niddy, noddy; niddy noddy. Two heads, one body."

 

Almanzo's mother made his clothing from wool. In Colonial times families also made clothing, sheets and tablecloths from linen, which was made from the fibers of the flax plant. When the flax plants were dry, they were pulled, tied into bundles and soaked in ponds for one to two weeks. This process, called retting, helped break down the woody stems of the plants.

A Woman Using a Scutcheon

A Woman Using a Scutcheon
--Photo courtesy of the Shelburne Museum, P.O. Box 10, 5555 Shelburne Road, Shelburne, VT 05482
http://www.shelburnemuseum.org

 

Then the stems were dried and broken on a wooden bench like the one in the photograph, taken at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont. The flax stems were placed on the bench and a flat piece of wood, attached to the bench on one end, was brought down on the stems to flatten and break them. The woman behind the bench is holding a scutcheon, used to scrape the flax to get the woody parts off.

A Woman Using Hackles

A Woman Using Hackles
--Photo courtesy of the Shelburne Museum, P.O. Box 10, 5555 Shelburne Road, Shelburne, VT 05482 http://www.shelburnemuseum.org

 

Next, the flax was pulled through a coarse hackle, a medium hackle and then a fine hackle to comb the fibers so they were as fine as hair.

 

A Spinning Wheel

A Spinning Wheel
--Photo courtesy of the Shelburne Museum, P.O. Box 10, 5555 Shelburne Road, Shelburne, VT 05482 http://www.shelburnemuseum.org

Then the flax was put on the distaff of the spinning wheel to spin into linen thread. Girls often did the family's spinning. When the flax was spun into thread, the linen thread was taken to a weaver to be made into cloth. One year's crop of flax often made enough cloth for two shirts and one sheet.

 

 

 

 


Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
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210 Parkside Drive
West Branch, IA 52358
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