The textile industry of the later eighteenth and the early nineteenth century which we shall study is very different from the weaving of tapestry or of Oriental rugs. It is the simple home industry which we find the world over. In America it is the industry of the Colonists and of our great-grandmothers. In the early days of this country and well into the nineteenth century the loom was a common possession of every home, and each housewife was her own producer. The materials made were excellent woolens and linens, not gorgeous or brilliant, to compare with the tapestries or rugs of Europe and the Orient, but representing the honest efforts of a simple, home-loving people. They are often beautiful fabrics, but beautiful because of their firm and interesting texture, the simplicity of design and color scheme, and the excellence of the materials. There was no thought of the value of time and labor which went into these materials, the main object being to produce something durable and at the same time beautiful, if possible. That the results attained the end sought is well shown by the homespun blankets, the blue and white covers, the linen sheets that remain to this day to tell their own story. The rush of modern times has almost destroyed these home industries in the United States, but they are still to be found in a few remote parts of the country where civilization, in its advance, has not stamped them out. Now, realizing that a certain individuality and expression of skill found in the handmade is lacking in the machine-made, many who appreciate the value of true homespun are making serious effort to preserve what is left. Figure 8 shows some of the productions of the mountain women of Kentucky, who are being encouraged in their industry by the workers of Berea College.

Homespuns made by Kentucky Mountain Women.

Fig. 8. Homespuns made by Kentucky Mountain Women. From Berea College.

As this simple homespun industry contains the principles of the modern factory system, and is its immediate predecessor, as well as the art from which all more complicated hand weaving developed, it will be worth while to dwell on it more fully in a chapter on spinning and weaving. At the present day, machine-made fabrics are, of course, most important. Today it is impossible to use hand-made materials for most purposes, but there is a plea to be made for the industry, in that it offers a field for the true expression of the individual, and there is a combination of honest wearing quality, beauty, and a certain distinction in the fabrics, not to be found in machine-made materials. The machine-made is not to be discarded, but neither should the hand-made be allowed to disappear. It is finding renewed expression today in the Arts and Crafts movement.

References

Guifrrey, Jules. Les Gobelins et Beauvais.

Holmes, W. H. Textile Art in Prehistoric Archaeology.

Holmes, W. H. Textile Art in Ancient Peru.

Muntz, Eugene. A Short History of Tapestry.

Rock, Daniel. Textile Fabrics.

Report of Bureau of Ethnology, 1881-1882.

Navajo Weavers, p. 371.

Prehistoric Textile Fabrics, p. 397.

1 For publishers and dates see bibliography at the end of the book.