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Looking for Answers the Old-Fashioned Way

posted Oct 26, 2009, 12:06 PM by Mary Powell
One of the most common questions I get asked is "How long did it take to make a set of clothes in the 18th century?" The only answers I could give were estimates that I had read out of books. Now, estimates are fine, and books are excellent, but few historical books on textiles are written and researched as instructions manuals. Their goal is to describe and help us understand the past, not to teach us how to make the textiles ourselves. So in order to provide those curious about the techniques of traditional weaving with an answer from practical experience, I decided that I would chronicle my own project, step by step, start to finish. I would start with the same raw materials the 18th century Americans had, and wash, card, spin, weave, and sew those materials into a garment as accurate as my resources and abilities would allow.

A few quick searches on the Internet turned up surprisingly little information on the topic. Lots of people talk about their spinning adventures, or weaving, or sewing, but few sites show a step by step progression from raw material to finished product. Those who do are often lacking either detailed instructions or pictures. This is completely understandable. Any one craft takes a lifetime to master, be it sewing or spinning, and most people today don't have the luxury of devoting twelve hours a day to their fiber work. In order to fill this gap, I decided to go ahead and record my own efforts through pictures and prose. By keeping a running photo record and adding in detailed instructions, I hope to provide a resource that will help others understand the weaving process. Since the project has taken six months and counting, this record will also allow those people who have visited me at Fort Boonesborough to see all the parts of the process and place it all in context.