Spinning Wool

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Southwest Virginia Project
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From: from: Source:Earle, 1898

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The Great Wheel
The Great Wheel
The wool industry easily furnished home occupation

to an entire family. Often by the bright firelight in the early evening every member of the household might be seen at work on the various stages of wool manufacture or some of its necessary adjuncts, and varied and cheerful industrial sounds fill the room. The old grandmother, at light and easy work, is carding the wool into fleecy rolls, seated next the fire; for, as the ballad says, "she was old and saw right dimly."

The mother, stepping as lightly as one of her girls, spins the rolls into woollen yarn on the great wheel. The oldest daughter sits at the clock-reel, whose continuous buzz and occasional click mingles with the humming rise and fall of the wool-wheel, and the irritating scratch, scratch, of the cards. A little girl at a small

wheel is filling quills with woollen yarn for the loom, not a skilled work; the irregular sound shows her intermittent industry. The father is setting fresh teeth in a wool-card, while the boys are whittling hand-reels and loom-spools.

One of the household implements used in wool manufacture, the wool-card, deserves a short special history as well as a description. In early days the

leather back of the wool-card was pierced with an awl by hand ; the wire teeth were cut off from a length of wire, were slightly bent, and set and clinched one by one. These cards were laboriously made by many persons at home, for their household use. As early as 1667 wire was made in Massachusetts; and its chief use was for wool-cards. By Revolutionary times it was realized that the use of wool-cards was almost the mainspring of the wool industry, and £100 bounty was offered by Massachusetts for card-wire made in the state from iron mined in what they called then the " United American States."

In 1784 a machine was invented by an American which would cut and bend thirty-six thousand wire teeth an hour. Another machine pierced the leather backs. This gave a new employment to women and children at home and some spending-money. They would get boxes of the bent wire teeth and bundles of the leather backs from the factories and would set the teeth in the backs while sitting around the open fire in the evening. They did this work, too, while visiting — spending an afternoon ; and it was an unconscious and diverting work like knitting; scholars set wool- cards while studying, and schoolmistresses while teaching. This method of manufacture was superseded fifteen years later by a machine invented by Amos Whittemore, which held, cut, and pierced the leather, drew the wire from a reel, cut and bent a looped tooth, set it, bent it, fastened the leather on the back, and speedily turned out a fully made card. John Randolph said this machine had everything but an immortal soul. By this time spinning and weaving machinery began to crowd out home work, and the machine-made cards were needed to keep up with the increased demand.
At last machines crowded into every department of cloth manufacture ; and after carding-machines were invented in England — great rollers set with card-teeth — they were set up in many mills throughout the United States. Families soon sent all their wool to these mills to be carded even when it was spun and woven at

home. It was sent rolled up in a homespun sheet or blanket pinned with thorns ; and the carded rolls ready for spinning were brought home in the same way, and made a still bigger bundle which was light in weight for its size. Sometimes a red-cheeked farmer's lass would be seen riding home from the carding-mill, through New England woods or along New England lanes, with a bundle of carded wool towering up behind her bigger than her horse.