More Pilgrim Thoughts

Mom and Dad's corner

I discovered on my visit to Plimoth Plantation that each dwelling mirrors one of the Pilgrim’s homes, reconstructed based on the diaries and journals they kept, and the archeological evidence unearthed, and on artifacts that were kept in families through the centuries. Though some were a bit larger than others, they shared more similarities than distinctions.

One room with open hearth

Each home was one or two rooms with an open hearth in one of the corners with a chimney directly above, and usually a loft for the children or boarders.  The homes had similar sparse furnishings–a bed in a corner, a trunk or two, a few baskets, some cooking utensils, and a shelf upon which sat the family books and table settings.

Before my visit to Plimoth Plantation, I had thought that when each family moved out of the colony on their own, they would choose large pieces of land–claiming acreage like they did in Oklahoma and Texas a couple centuries later.  But far from it!  Each adult in the colony looked forward to paying the collective debt, and then receiving their share, which was one acre per adult in the household and 1/2 acre per child.  What??  The families settling the new world would end up with less than five acres apiece?

It was then that a few thoughts came together for me. These folks came across the sea to purposefully begin a township with trade and merchants.

Leyden Street in 1627
Leyden Street today -- not much different than 1699

Though they needed to plant seed for corn, and herbs for cooking and medicine, nobody was hankering to go west as farmers and ranchers and leave civilization behind. These folks were bringing civilization, and looked forward to being in it again.  The difference in the new land for them was not city life and country life, but rather city life without religious persecution. (Unless, of course, you weren’t a separatist.)

The kitchen garden

They eagerly looked forward to the annual ships arriving with the goods they were used to in Holland and in England–fresh, ready-made clothes, sugar, and spices.  As they began to build their homes, they sent orders back to England for windows, dishes, linens, baskets, and other items they been without for a few years.

Basically, the Pilgrims were camping–roughing it by choice, until that glorious day when the debt was paid, and they could begin to invest in their livelihoods and build proper houses along Leyden Street.

A proper Pilgrim home

Pilgrim Fabrics

Mrs. William Bradford, hemming an apron

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.

Notice the stitching on the hem

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.)

Sturdy cloth to withstand wear and tear

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!

Bed curtains for warmth and privacy in the one-room cottages


Sooner or Later…

Uh oh. I knew it would happen sooner or later. I have had about three days here by myself, with each child away on a different adventure, and no one needing anything from me. I thought I would be spinning for hours and hours, but the one thing that fascinates me more than actually spinning has captured me…researching about spinning!

It all started innocently enough…that curiosity got me wondering…What is the oldest textile that archaeologists have located? I mean, I just wanted to know when the first shirt was made. Really, that’s all.

But when my 20-year old daughter came into my bedroom yesterday, after my three days alone in the house, I’ll confess the room did look like that scene out of A Beautiful Mind, when John Nash’s wife walks into his office….(okay, there were some content differences….mathematical genius vs. curious spinning woman, left alone for three days…)

Scene from "A Beautiful Mind" taken from official movie website

But charts, diagrams, outlines, questions, and pages and pages of written notes were scattered all over my bed (my primary research spot), and a few pages with color-coded highlights were taped together and thumb-tacked to the wall. Josie walked in the room with a puzzled expression (Mom, have you lost your mind?). I found myself backpedaling to find a suitable explanation for all this…..what? all this…curiosity?

“Ummm…I had just been wondering about when people first made shirts?” ending with a question in my voice, hoping she’d accept the logic of one question leading to, well, all this.

Ah, the power of one question! When was the first shirt made? has taken me on a remarkable journey through the history of humanity, and the archeological, theological, scientific, and curious anomalies that accompany such a journey. (This whole line of questioning was begun after discovering the spinning wheel is a modern invention.)

Archeology is most fascinating–not only for what is dug up from the earth to tell us about people and their communities and habits–but also for the drama of pride, family feuds, hurt feelings, and ego of the scientists themselves, and their resultant actions. Like the famous Leakeys–the father, Louis, finds an astounding skull that might be the oldest human fossil….until young son Richard grows up and finds one that might be even older…and for 20 years, a dispute rages about the dates. Hmmmmm…

Or the scientist who made such bold claims about his find before they were verified, that his later embarrassment led him to keep the bones locked in a closet for many years, depriving the scientific community of the value they did hold. It’s riveting, truly.

Have I found the answer to my first question yet? No, I really haven’t. But I have discovered a bunch more questions….


Who is Kate and Why is She Lazy?

The “lazy kate” on my Louet S10 looks like this:

S10 Louet and the lazy kate with bobbins

Lazy kates come in all shapes and sizes, depending on the brand. Many spinners make their own lazy kates from dowels and plywood.  The lazy kate is simply a way to store bobbins holding spun yarn, or to help in plying the yarn.

Singles on bobbins held by lazy kate, ready for plying

So I am wondering what did Kate do to earn such a bad reputation?  But I can’t find much information in the Google searches I have done.  I did find a poem by a young British poet named Kirke White, writing in the early 1800’s, and who died tragically young. His poem,  “Description of A Summer’s Eve” depicts what various individuals might be doing on a summer night, and in the poem’s second section, he writes:

“…And little Tom and roughish Kate are swinging on the meadow gate…Now they chat of various things…”

“…The mistress sees that lazy Kate, the happing coal on kitchen grate has laid–”

These lines are the oldest references (1809) I can find to Lazy Kate–though it might be just that the rhyming of the vowel sounds in “lazy” and “kate” are all that was needed to create this persona–poor Kate!

If any of you spinners out there know any other history of how Kate came to be so lazy, let us know!

From "Description of A Summer's Eve" Kirke White, 1809

Spinning is Brain Work

The first few times I spun with Arabella and the spinning class for 2-3 hours at a time, I was so utterly exhausted that I had to lie down when I got home.  Spinning is a very sedentary activity, so how could I be this tired?  It was my brain!  My brain was exhausted!

Probably because while spinning, the brain is working at several different tasks at once, and you have your fingers, hands, feet, and eyes active in the

God's beauty revealed in the small flowers
Flowers from Jacob's Reward Farm

process.  Your brain is processing, your eyes are carefully watching the fiber, your foot is treadling not too fast and not too slow, and you are drawing the fiber out between your hands and allowing or not allowing twist with your top hand, and then stopping the twist so you can feed the yarn onto the spool…..whew!  It takes a while just to get the coordination down! But like riding a bike, spinning seems to be movement that our bodies intuitively know how to master.

So now, after a dozen or so collective hours of spinning, I am beginning to “get it.”  Instead of just a jumble of actions and slippery wool moving or not moving through my fingers, my brain has started to isolate and understand each of the various tasks. I think this process is what will improve my spinning going forward.  Isolating, and then focusing, on the different actions will produce different results in the yarn.

Here are some of the beginning actions to isolate:

  • speed of treadling
  • amount of twist allowed in the yarn
  • drafting the wool

I’m going over to Arabella’s to practice on her Louet spinning wheel.  She says what I need now is “time at the wheel.”

On Why Spinning is Art

Comment by Angus on History Has Been Woven by a Stick – The Astonishing Drop Spindle, on April 27, 2010.  This is too good to miss!

Angus says,

Beautiful and functionalSpinning is Art.

Art is, at its most beautiful, best, intrinsic essence, three things:

1. useful


2. metaphorical


3. a reflection of God

When useful, art stops being a thing to view, and begins to be a part of us.


When metaphorical, art is both the thing at hand, and a representation of greater things.


When a reflection of God, it is a humble desire to be more like Him. He is, after all, the Creator; the Artist.

I too, am flabbergasted.

Spinning is an Act of Creation

Everything in our universe spins, from the tiniest of atoms to the mightiest of planets. Everything spins. Is this why there is so much peace to be found in spinning wool into yarn? In the act of spinning, are we emulating the Almighty’s act of creating and sustaining?

The Lord is my Shepherd
They know something we don't.