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The Textile Industry
Whilst farmers were developing new and better methods of agriculture, life in other areas of work had changed little for hundreds of years. Early in the 18th century, most of the population still lived in small, rural settlements. Few people lived in towns, as we now know them.
Many people worked as producers of woollen cloth. They cleaned, combed, spun, dyed and wove the raw material into cloth. They did this work in their own houses. This type of production has become known by the general term of the Domestic (or Cottage) Industry.
Work within the Cottage Industry was usually divided up between the members of one family. The women and girls were responsible for cleaning the sheep fleeces, carding the wool and spinning it. The process of weaving was physically hard work and, traditionally, it was the men who were responsible for it.
Generally, at regular intervals, each hand loom weaver's cottage was visited by a cloth merchant. He would bring the raw material and take away the finished cloth to sell at the cloth hall.
As soon as the new wool arrived, it was washed to clean out all the dirt and natural oil. After this, it was dyed with colour and carded. This was the process of combing the wool between two parallel pads of nails, until all the fibres were lying the same way.
Next, the carded wool was taken by the spinner and, using a spinning wheel, the thread was wound onto a bobbin. This part of the process was often performed by the unmarried daughters of the household who were called spinsters. The term spinster still exists in English to mean an unmarried lady.
The spun yarn was then taken to the loom to be woven. In a weaver's cottage, the loom was often to be found on an upper floor. There were large windows in the room to let in plenty of daylight. The loom was worked by both hand and foot movements. Working the loom was quite strenuous work, which is why it was traditionally the work of the men of the household.