I have learned this summer, that when it comes to weaving linen, your best laid plans should be set aside, as linen is a difficult mistress, prone to getting her own way. In John O’Neil’s Improved Method of Weaving Linen, I learned that “eight yards of calico is a fair day’s work, and two yards and a half of linen”
(O'Neil 1810, 166). O’Neil also seemed
to back up my thoughts on the dryness of the air having an effect on the linen
threads (O'Neil 1810, 167). In the article Atmospheric Conditions and Industrial
Efficiency, I learned that “the weaving of fine linen is one of the most
trying industrial operations known in this country, as it has to be carried on
in a hot and very moist atmosphere, in order to reduce the breakage of the yarn
to a minimum” (Atmospheric Conditions and
Industrial Efficiency 1923, 36). I managed to accomplish my own weaving in one of the hottest August's on record, I also think it was one of the most humid. I learned to not use a single ply thread in the warp.
The ladies at Colonial Williamsburg that I had been chatting with about my project quipped, “It’s only thread…” and I used a lot of thread this summer. But I am happy with the final product. I ended up using an Egyptian linen 2/16. A bit heavier than I originally wanted, but I also wanted to get this project completed this summer. After about a metre woven with the 2/16 as the weft thread, I was close to running out of the 2/16 and so switched to a spool of thread from my stash marked only as #10. I have halved the number of threads in the check through the weft than are in the warp so that my check stayed an even square. The threads were packing in nicely, and I am finally happy with the cloth. I ended up weaving about a metre per day, working around my mum's much needed naps due to chemo recovery. I then processed the fabric by washing it in hot water, hanging to dry on the line, and then steam pressing it before using it. I only broke two threads, one on each selvage, which I then fixed by bringing new threads through the heddles and weaving them in.
Given that the eighteenth century was full of turmoil for the residents of Nova Scotia, with the deportations of the Acadien people, immigration of the Planters from America before the Revolutionary war, and then a second wave of immigration through the refugee crisis of the Loyalists, it is easy to understand why textile production does not seem to have become widespread until the mid-nineteenth century. Extant newspapers from Halifax, Shelburne, and Saint John all contain many advertisements for goods and textiles that were imported and sold from all over the world. As I enter into the time of year when I am processing the year’s harvest, I can understand why the production of food would be paramount in a settler’s mind, certainly one that may or may not have the skills needed to create textiles. I will continue my explorations of weaving linen, but with a different focus. I do not feel that it is a necessity to weave one's own cloth for the accuracy of cloth when used in garment construction, certainly not for men’s shirts or women’s body linens. We are still able to buy reproduction fabrics that are of good quality for much cheaper than I can even buy the thread. I will weave apron fabric in linen only, as the width of the fabric will be noticeable when made up. I think that my eighteenth century counterpart would approve.
My bibliography for the summer, and the resulting paper
1769. The Nova Scotia Chronicle and Weekly Advertiser. Halifax: Anthony Henry, August 8.
1923. "Atmospheric Conditions and Industrial Efficiency." The British Medical Journal 36.
Baumgarten, Linda. 2011. What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Bolt, Barbara. 2007. "Material Thinking and the Agency of Matter." Studies in Material Thinking 1-4.
Goodrich, Eugene. 2016. "Domestic Textile Production in Early New Brunswick." St. James Textile Museum publication.
Hood, Adrienne D. 1996. "The Material World of Cloth: Production and Use in Eighteenth-Century Rural Pennsylvania." The William and Mary Quarterly 43-66.
Johnston, A.J.B. 1995. "From Port de Peche to Ville Fortifiee: The Evolution of Urban Louisbourg, 1713-1758." In Aspects of Louisbourg: Essays on the History of an Eighteenth-Century French Community in North America, by Carol Corbin, William O'Shea Eric Krause, 3-18. Sydney, Nova Scotia: The University College of Cape Breton Press.
Lawson, Murray G. 1950. "The Domestic Exports of Halifax, 1754-1757: A Ststistical Summary." The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science 419-421.
Nellis, Eric G. 1986. "Misreading the Signs: Industrial Imitation, Poverty, and the Social Order in Colonial Boston." The New England Quarterly 486-507.
O'Neil, John. 1810. "Improved Method of Weaving Linen." The Belfast Monthly Magazine 166-167.
Rees, John U. 1999. "Some in Rags and Some in Jags, but None in Velvet Gowns: Insights on Clothing Worn by Female Followers of the Armies During the American War for Independence." ALHFAM Bulletin 18-21.
Shammas, Carole. 1982. "How Self-Sufficient Was Early America?" the Journal of Interdisciplinary History 247-272.
Tryon, R.M. 1916. "Household Manufactures in the United States: A Quarter-Century of Developments 1784-1809." The Elementary School Journal 234-249.
Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. 1998. "Wheels, Looms, and the Gender Division of Labour in Eighteenth-Century New England." The William and Mary Quarterly 3-38.