I’ve been traveling to Plymouth, MA from Texas for work over the last few months. As is typical of most business trips, I wasn’t seeing anything in the town other than the car, the hotel, and the conference room at the office. Finally, I just couldn’t bear it! Plymouth, of all places! I had to see at least something Pilgrim-ish, or never eat Thanksgiving dinner again. So, on my final trip, I went a day early to hang out at Plimouth Plantation, a “living” museum of the village that operates perpetually in the year 1627. I was particularly interested in….of course…fabrics.
Mrs. William Bradford, enjoying the lovely weather while hemming an apron, was kind enough to let me get up close to see the weave on her clothing.
I asked her if anyone in the village had a spinning wheel (yes, they talk only in character!) and she said, “Oh, no! We buy our clothes ready made when the ship comes once a year.”
These actors were very knowledgeable, actually, about the characters they were portraying, and also lots of details about the village–Mrs. Alden was even cooking a tansy (spinach, bread, & eggs), taking coals from her open hearth and sticking them under an iron skillet on little legs to cook it. Fascinating! My taxi driver said the actors come from all over the country and stay 6 months at a time in houses near the village. They study up on the history of the period, read the journals and diaries left behind, and love to chat about 1627! (The Pilgrims arrived in 1620.)
I also learned that back in Holland, where they lived as a community for some years before coming to Plymouth, this group of women did not do much spinning of their own to make fabrics. Living in the large city of Leyden, they purchased their clothing ready made, or bolts of cloth if they wanted to sew something on their own. But it bears repeating that although they themselves weren’t the ones spinning the threads that were ultimately woven into the fabrics they were wearing or purchasing….someone’s pair of hands were, since every thread woven into a cloth in 1627 was handspun and handwoven!