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Pioneer Cloth Making – Spinning Yarn – Making Clothing on the American Frontier

Making Cloth on the American Frontier

American pioneer home cloth and clothes manufacture on the frontier, in colonial times, and at other historical periods and places. Books, articles and videos about spinning yarn, making linen, woolen and cotton cloth, designing and sewing clothing etc.

The Tale of the Spinning-Wheel

Buel, Elizabeth Cynthia Barney
Litchfield, CT: 1903

After a history of spinning from antiquity to colonial times, the author provides a detailed description of processing flax for spinning, and includes other material on home cloth production in the northeastern U.S. in the colonial era.

See our Economics Books PDF

The Preparation and Spinning of Flax and Wool as Practiced by the Pioneers of Central Illinois and Demonstrated by Pioneer Men and Women at Meetings of the McLean County Historical Society

Custer, Milo
Bloomington, Il: 1912

A small booklet with a description of the processes and equipment used for spinning in frontier Illinois.

Home Life in Colonial Days. Illustrated by Photographs gathered by the Author of Real Things, Works and Happenings of Olden Times

Earle, Alice Morse
NY: Macmillan 1917

Contents:-Homes of the Colonists -The Light of other Days -The Kitchen Fireside -The Serving of Meals -Food from Forest and Sea -Indian Corn -Meat and Drink -Flax Culture and Spinning -Wool Culture and Spinning, with a Postscript on Cotton -Hand-Weaving -Girls’ Occupations -Dress of the Colonists -Jack-knife Industries -Travel, Transportation, and Taverns -Sunday in the Colonies -Colonial Neighborliness -Old-time Flower Gardens

See our Britannica Encyclopedia pdf

The Country Dyer’s Assistant

Ellis, Asa Jr.
Brookfield, MA: Merriam 1798

An American handbook from the end of the 18th century for making and using dyes for coloring fabric. The author says that the procedures described here could be used in the home as well as by professionals.

Home Manufacture of Furs and Skins: A Book of Practical Instructions Telling how to Tan, Dress, Color and Manufacture or Make into Articles of Ornament, Wear and Use

Farnham, Albert Burton
Columbus, OH: Harding 1916

This handbook describes many procedures that presumably were very similar to those used on the frontier a century earlier to make items of clothing from furs and skins. There are many illustrations.

The Art of Weaving, by Hand and by Power, with an Introductory Account of its Rise and Progress in Ancient and Modern Times. For the Use of Manufacturers and Others

Gilroy, Clinton G.
NY: Baldwin 1844

Contents:-Introduction -Plain Weaving -Tweeling -Weaving Double Cloth -Figured Weaving -Carpeting -Lace Manufacture -Spooling, Warping and Sizing, by Power -Plain Weaving, by Power -Fancy Weaving, by Power -Figured Weaving, by Power

See our Art Books PDF

Yarn and Cloth Making; An Economic Study. A College and Normal School Text Preliminary to Fabric Study and a Reference for Teachers of Industrial History and Art in Secondary and Elementary Schools

Kissell, Mary Lois
NY: Macmillan 1918

This textbook is divided into two parts: Yarn Making and Cloth Making, and covers a variety of processes used throughout history for both. The Yarn Making section explains the principles of spinning and describes the following “spinning types”. There are numerous illustrations and there appears to be a bibliography at the end of every subsection, and another at the end of the book. Spinning types are:

-Hand Spinning -Grasped Hand Spindle -Supported Hand Spindle -Suspended Hand Spindle -Jersey and Asiatic Wheels -Saxony Wheel -Jenny Frame -Water Frame -Hand Mule -Self-Acting Mule -Flyer, Cap and Ring Spinning Frames

Weaving types are:

-One-Beam Loom -Weighted Warp Loom -Two-Bar Loom -Frameless Two-Bar Loom -Two-Beam Loom -One-Shaft Treadle Loom -Two-Shaft Treadle Loom -Perfected Hand Loom -Draw Loom -Jacquard Loom -Plain Power Loom

“Pioneer Life: Paper No. IV”

Indiana Magazine of History Volume 3, Issue 4, December 1907, 182-188

Parker, Benjamin S.
Bloomington: Indiana University

In this paper on frontier life in Henry County, IN, the author describes the clothing worn by pioneers there at the beginning of the 19th century.

“Hunting Shirts and Silk Stockings: Clothing Early Cincinnati”

Queen City Heritage Volume 45 (Fall 1987): 23-48

Shine, Carolyn R.
Cincinnati: Cincinnati Historical Society

This article by a former curator of Costume and Textiles at the Cincinnati Art Museum describes clothing commonly worn in Cincinnati and in rural and frontier areas at the end of the 18th century.

The link at the button leads to a list of journals. Click on Queen City Heritage and find the article using the citation above.

Household Manufactures in the United States, 1640-1860: A Study in Industrial History

Tryon, Rolla Milton
Chicago: University of Chicago 1917

Chapter 6, “The Products of the Family Factory”, contains a section entitled “Wearing Apparel and Household Textile Supplies” on pages 190-216. Included here are explanations of all the processes involved in home production of linen, woolen and cotton textiles. There is also a discussion of other products used in wearing apparel on the frontier, such as leather and other animal skins, cattle and buffalo hair, and lint from nettles.

For many more books on these topics, visit the Textiles page in our Century Past Library.

Warp and Woof; the Story of the Textile Arts. The Linen Industry

Very, Edith
Boston: Educational Publishing 1912

Chapter headings are:

-Historical Notes
-The Flax Plant
-Processes of Manufacture
-Flax Culture and Linen Manufacture in the United States

YouTube Videos

AmericanFrontier (5:38)

“Flax Processing”

AmericanFrontier (2:08)

“Flax Spinning”


“American Frontier Weaving in the 17th and 18th Centuries”

R. John Howe: Textiles and Text

This website page was created from a presentation by re-enactor Janice Hensley at the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. The site has photos of equipment and processes used on the American frontier for making cloth and clothes at home, mainly from wool. A number of typical outfits and clothing articles made for re-enactors are shown, as well as samples of various types and colors of fabric. There is a bibliography at the end.

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