When most folks think of homespun, they think of something plaid first, then maybe if they are historically sensitive, they think next that the fabric was woven at home. Homespun is so
much more than that. True homespun started out on the farm as a seed, and thru many labor intensive steps, became cloth, and was carefully used to make articles for the home and clothing. So what IS homespun? It can be made from wool linen or cotton~ I will be talking of linen.
But do you know what linen is? Linen is made from fibers from the flax plant.
In Colonial times, much time was devoted to the growing and processing of flax fibers....usually the men did the growing and harvesting, and the braking, and then the women & children did
the 'easier' parts, such as scutching, spinning , weaving and sewing..... In 1656, Massachusetts required that children be taught to spin, and that each spinner was REQUIRED to produce at
least 3 pounds of spun yarn~ linen, wool or cotton, each WEEK, for at least 30 weeks of the year! but I'm getting ahead of myself.....
Flax, or Linum sativum, is a plant with a woody stem...the stem is wrapped in the strong silky fibers that are used to make linen thread....a lot of work goes into retrieving these fibers and making them usable. Once the leaves turn yellow, the plant is ready to be pulled...by hand...roots and all. Just picture pulling weeds in your garden, over and over again, for acres and acres......My back hurts just thinking about it.
Pulling flax, as shown in this 1792 engraving
I like to ask everyone who visits the museum what this tool is, and as of yet, not one person has come up with the right answer of a wood 'scutching knife'. Its quite long as you can see, but not as heavy as it looks. Its handle & blade well worn from many years of use
its 18th century, with a medium coarseness. Finishing ones would have twice this many teeth. Its a simple, beautiful tool to hold, and the hand forged iron nails its made from sound beautiful
when you carefully draw your hand across it....
The faced holes are to insert the hetchel onto a pegged board to hold it in place
All that was left now, was spinning in to yarn, weaving into cloth, maybe bleaching, and then stitching into some beautiful thing.....
bleaching was such a long drawn out process, much homespun was left au natural
example of the linen making process here....
Next is a skein of finely twisted spun linen thread, ready for weaving.
The thread was expertly woven into this unbleached homespun linen.
Last, there is a small bunch of 'tow', the short fibers that come off during scutching, and also hackling....nothing was ever wasted.
" March hath 31 Dayes 1796
April Hath 30 Dayes 1796
If I have peaked your interest in homespun and early cloth
making, I highly recommend the book "Linen Making in New
England, 1640- 1860" by Martha Coons