This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Home Weaving. The operations of spinning and weaving carried on in dwellings, as distinguished from factory processes; hand-made goods, as opposed to power-loom products. It is often assumed that manufactures can only be successfully conducted in factories, and that modern machinery has quite superseded the old-fashioned, but ever deft machinery of the human hand and fingers. This is happily an error. Some of the most exquisite manufactures of the world are carried on by the hands of peasants in remote valleys and mountain solitudes. Some of the most delicate textures of Parisian fashion are woven in the Pyrenean valleys. The celebrated and unrivalled Cashmere shawls, noted for their great elaboration and glowing harmony of design are wrought by the patient natives of India in rudely constructed looms. The finest and most sumptuous Smyrna rugs and Persian carpets are slowly put together on a loom built between two trees. The most enduring blanket to be had in any country is woven in the remoter parts of Arizona by Navajo squaws; and it has been found that power looms, urged by steam or turbine, are too rough for the finer qualities of linen and cambric embroidery, and for this work the fingers of Irish peasant girls are the best of all machines. The mummy wrappings show that with their crude machinery the ancient Egyptians produced linen fabric far exceeding in fineness any cloth which we can produce with the most modern mechanical inventions. One piece of this cloth found wrapped about a mummy had 540 threads to the inch; the finest ever woven in England or the United States being 350 per inch. There was a time in the history of our own country when the hardy pioneer clothed his family with better woolens and better linens, at less cost than the power-loom products can be bought for at the present day, at home or abroad. At the time referred to the power loom was not yet invented, and the hand-loom factories were scarce and at long distances from the settlements. With the hand loom in its simplest form, the wife and daughters of the household would take the yarns prepared at home, and weave such cloth or articles as their condition and circumstances required. For downright durability the cassimere and jeans, the table linen, cover-lets, and "butternut" of this home weaving period have never been equalled. However, as the new country gradually increased in population, farming along with other classes of business began to assume a more specific and limited form. With the building of towns, the settler found the sawing of his trees into lumber, and the clearing away of his forests for the greater production of stock and grain, a profitable employment. His time had become limited in which to prepare the yarns for his weavers. It was tedious and toilsome work to prepare the linen, with always more or less delay and uncertainty connected with harvesting, retting, heckling and spinning of the flax. In those early days in the heavily timbered portions of the country much time was also consumed in the shearing, washing, carding and spinning which was necessary in preparing the woolen yarn. The entering wedge to the breaking up and final abandonment of home weaving was the establishing of carding mills in country neighborhoods. These mills would take the farmers' wool and, with improved machinery, card in for him while he waited. By and by the mills both carded and spun the wool, the operation of weaving still being performed at home. But with new inventions for the production of cotton materials, which came to almost entirely supersede linen, and the greater improvements made in weaving processes - finally culminating in the power loom - by which cloth was made in a greater variety of patterns, and in so much less time than with their hand looms, the country mills got to manufacturing all sorts of cloth, yarns, blankets and flannels, and exchanging them with the farmer for his raw wool. These were termed "factory" goods to distinguish them from the old-fashioned but ever durable "homespun." [See Factory]