Monroe Gets In the Spin of Things

Reporter in Residence, Monroe Mouse

My what a large group in the meeting room! I think I will stay here in the fireplace and just observe. Now at closer look I recognize many of our visitors. This must have to do with tours for students because I see so many of our volunteers; however, today they are not dressed in Colonial costume.

There is a woman whom I have never seen before. She is laying out colorful skeins of wool, gorgeous woven cloth and even some sheep’s wool. Now she is talking to the group and demonstrating something I have not seen in many years. This could be very interesting. I think I will stay and be part of the group.

Our special guest was Emily Rancier, a talented spinster. Emily is not only gifted at spinning, but also at one time raised her own sheep. Although she does not have sheep now, she does everything else in the process of preparing raw wool for spinning.

I discovered that she was at the Mansion to do a workshop on spinning and textiles in general for our volunteers. The Education Committee has been considering adding a textile area to the basement adjacent to the Colonial kitchen. I was thrilled, especially when I heard that the volunteers would be engaging our young visitors in hands-on activities in this area.

Emily, an expert spinster, had been invited to provide background and hands-on opportunities for our volunteers. They were having so much fun carding wool and trying to use the drop spindle that is was difficult to recall that spinning was integral to life in almost every home in the 1700’s and early 1800’s and certainly was not thought of as a leisure activity.

All this interest in textiles enticed me, so I decided to do my part in helping the volunteers to get ready for the new program. I know that they like to provide our guests with historic background. Although I consider my memory to be exceptional, I did feel that some research would help. After all, it had been quite some time since spinning was done in the Mansion. That evening, I scampered downstairs and settled down to do some research in the Dimmick library.

This is what I discovered. Spinning was done as long ago as the Early Stone Age. In 1695, there was a law in the colony of Massa-chusetts that all women, young boys and girls were to spin flax. Flax is a natural plant fiber. Its preparation for spinning is labor intensive including soaking until the outer surface rotted away. This process was called “retting.”The outer and center portion of the plant was discarded. The fiber that remained was spun into thread. The woven flax thread was called linen.

In the northern colonies, wool and flax were the common materials used in spinning. Wool required less preparation than flax. It was washed, greased (to replace the fats lost in washing), carded and spun. The woven fabric linsey-woolsey was a combination of flax as the warp (horizontal threads) and wool as the woof (vertical threads). The flax added strength to the finished fabric.
During the American Revolution the patriots refused to purchase imported English fabric.

The Daughters of Liberty adhered to the admonishment, “wear only home-spun and drink no tea.” Spinning wheels were often an item in a young women’s dowry until spinning moved from home to factory in the first half of the 19th century.

Although I concede that I might not be able to use a spinning wheel without some instruction, I felt sure that the drop spindle would be no problem for me. I went to the kitchen and picked through the textile tools until I found a drop spindle and some wool. Well, the results were not what I anticipated! I guess I will just have to be patient and wait until Sarah Spider extricates me from this self-made web.