Thus have the arts of spinning and weaving developed from a fireside industry to one of the greatest manufacturing industries of our time. Household arts, requiring considerable manual skill, they have developed into mechanical processes, in which the skilled intellect has supplied the machines and the unskilled worker superintends their running. No longer does the blanket on our beds express long hours of patient labor, the hum of the spinning wheel accompanied by a song, or the thwack of the loom in the corner of the living room. Now we sleep under blankets which represent, it is true, hours of labor, not the labor of a loving mother or sister, but of many machines, watched by human beings almost machines themselves, working in rooms where the hum of the spinning is no longer musical, but its noise is so great as to be deafening, and the thwack of a hundred looms deadens all the finer sense of hearing. The progress of Western civilization has demanded these things. The hurry and rush of modern life have little place for the quiet household industry, our homes are no longer the factories of the times; and in many ways it is well.
Fig. 13. Jacquard Loom.
The poetic side of home industries was only a small part, unfortunately. In this country conditions had not grown as bad as they were in England, where "the domestic laborer's home, instead of being the poetic one, was very far from the character poetry has given it. Huddled together in his hut, not a cottage, the weaver's family lived and worked, without conveniences, good air, good food, and without much intelligence. Drunkenness and theft made each home the scene of crime and want and disorder. Superstition ruled and envy swayed the workers. If the members of a family endowed with more virtue and intelligence than the common herd tried to so conduct themselves as to secure at least self-respect, they were either abused or ostracized by their neighbors. The ignorance under the old system added to the squalor of the homes under it, and what all these elements failed to produce in making the hut an actual den was faithfully performed, in too many instances, by the swine of the family. The reports of the Poor Laws Commissioners of England are truer exponents of conditions than poetry, and show more faithfully the demoralizing agency of pauperism and of all the other evils which were so prolific under the hand system of work."1
When our linens wear out in a few washings and our silks split after a few wearings, we sometimes wish for the good old homespuns, which wore for a hundred years. We wish for the honest, all wool materials, which were not weakened in the washing or rotted in the dye pot, and which showed in every thread the mark of the individual who made them. As far as evenness of thread and weave and beautiful finish can make it, modern cloth is perfect in every respect, but that very perfection sometimes grows monotonous and we long for the irregular threads of the homespun. Since there are still many parts of this country where the art of hand weaving is not lost, let us preserve it, not that its products may compete in the commercial world with the factory woven, but that we may still have an art which expresses a simple, honest, and quiet life.
Earle, Alice Morse. Home Life in Colonial Days. Mason, O. T. Origins of Inventions. Mason, O. T. Woman's Share in Primitive Culture. Marsden, R. Cotton Weaving.
1 Wright. Industrial Evolution of the United States, p. 346.