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OK - I was sitting knitting away at DD's sweater tonight. There was something on tv I wanted to watch, so I knitted and watched at the same time - and I am afraid it set me thinking again ;)

How did they do everything? Years ago I mean - when women spun their own yarn, made their own clothes, knitted their own sweaters, milked their own animals etc etc etc. And they didn't have the extended days that we have now - if I want to get up in teh pitchy dark to work or finish a project that is fine - I just turn on teh lights - same in teh evening. And at this time of year that gives a lot of extra hours to work with.

OK - I know they had oil lamps/open fires/candlelight, but I would guess their days were still a LOT shorter than ours.

I keep pretty busy - but I have to admit that I have to "make" time to knit or spin. OK - I am still only a very beginner spinner, but in order to do it I have to clear a bit of my day. And I don't ahve the half of the chores that those olden day ladies did.

And I only have DD and myself to look after - if I had hubby and half a dozen kids I am not sure I would ever knit again ;)

Does anyone know what I am talking about :D - I guess I am rambling a bit! But we know how important spinning was to a household, and presumably going on from that knitting and weaving were too - so how did folks make enough time to spend on those things?

hoggie
 

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know what you mean, Hoggie. I dont knit or spin (taught myself to knit long time ago, but never had opportunity to practice, so let it slip). Now adays, there's so much to do in a jam packed day; I know there wasn't car trips to where ever, to pick up whatever. Their days were long and full, how did they accomplish? I think it was never ending cycle, and they took it as it came.
Dont know if this is the right answer, but it's one I think about, too.
Of course, if you NEED socks, and there wasn't any 'woolies' to go buy some, then, it was a necessary task you had to accomplish.
A while back on PBS I saw 'pioneer days' about how people in 17 or 1800s lived in wyoming. (think it was that state) they didn't have clothes dryers of course, so if their clothes were wet in winter, they had to wear them. If the cow got out of its' enclosure, someone had to get it; it was a matter of eating or not eating the by products from milk. There wasn't any toilet paper, so they had to rinse their own 'poo poo' rags after using (I guess anyway). If the grain didn't grow, they were hungry. No grocery to rely on. Life was awfully full and certainly not full of 'hobbies' or 'fun'.
They probably did have fun in one way or another.
Sorry for this long meandering; it's night time, I'm tired and enjoying a glass of 'fine red'. . . . . . .
Sherry
 

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Hoggie I know exactly what you are talking about. There have been many good books written about such things, one that comes to mind is No Idle Hands, I think it was written by Nancy Bush. Keep in mind that their priorities were much different than our are today. To us knitting, spinning and weaving are all more or less done for pleasure. Back then it was just part of the daily work like laundry. The women back then didn't go out and work or few did they took work in. If you had a family of many everyone including the youngest would be working toward the same end, to provide for the family and the house.

Given all of that it still boggles the mind :bow:
 

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Marchwind got it right.. from pretty much the moment a child could toddle their hands were turned to some sort of useful work. You also have to remember that our scale has changed remarkably since "back when."

Back when a wealthy woman might own two shifts, but chances are.. she had one. This garment was her night attire, and during the day, a sort of "long shirt" over which went a skirt, pockets (really), a jacket.. and again, a woman might have one change of clothes. Maybe two. But not much more than that.

It cost time to make and maintain things, so patterns evolved to make things last longer, or be easier to replace. The Amish knit a mitten with double thumbs, so the mitten can be flipped around when the thumb or palm can't be patched any more. In New England we knit wristers, and cover them with overmitts. The wristers rarely wear out.. and you don't have to knit cuffs in overmitts.

When we talk about "how did they have time?" I believe our assumption is "the little woman in the cabin trying to do it all.. colonial era." But even during the colonial era ready made cloth was available. The word "spinster" comes from the period of time when the spinning wheel replaced the drop spindle and made it possible for a woman to support herself processing fiber. The actual era of "one person doing it all" was surprisingly narrow. Machinery and prosperity is what makes the individual household possible. Prior to that people banded together into communities in order to create the items they needed for survival... specialized production (and the accumulation of wealth) allowed for the production of luxury goods.

But even a relatively small farm in Vermont often employed a "girl of all work" to help the woman of the household with the heavier chores.

Something to remember when you're struggling to do it all without outside help.
 

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My grandmother, who married in 1931 and didn't have a wringer washer for several years after that, nor electricity or running water either, said that she had forty-five minutes each day to sit down and be quiet. That was all. And she wasn't spinning or weaving, and probably not knitting either as I think she taught herself to knit much later.

However, you also have to remember that families used to be larger -- more mouths to feed and more work, yes, but also more hands to do the work. And more than likely it was an extended family. There may have been an unmarried female relative, or a grandmother or great-aunt, who did a lot of the spinning. It takes several spinners to keep up with one weaver, so it's possible that every female in the household would spin every free moment, to keep one person busy at the loom. After dark, after the chores were done and the dishes were washed, everyone would sit around the fire with something to work on that didn't require much light (I've been assured that even a blind person can spin). Someone would tell a story, or play an instrument, or they might all sing. If that was a regular family habit, you would find at the end of the week that you'd gotten a lot done!

Oh, and only the extremely poor had only one or two outfits of clothing, even way back when. I've seen some historical documents where a normal middle-class housewife made her husband a dozen new shirts each year; presumably she had at least as many shifts. The pioneer families on the edge of civilization likely wouldn't have had that many -- most of them were cash-poor. But families who lived in town dressed fairly well.

Kathleen
 

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I know how it was done here, for I've heard the stories. ; )

The clan consisted of a family with grandparents, 10 sons, their associated wives and their children. Each son got a hundred acres and his brother's helped him cut wood off the place to build the house. (I live in the last standing home of the 10 brothers). They lived in relative proximity to each other and the way the women got it 'all' done was to share the work, or get together and work which made the time pass more pleasantly. This house I live in was fairly centrally located and had an extra bedroom, where there was a fireplace and the quilting rack stayed set up all winter. The babies were all laid on the double bed in the corner, the older children played underfoot and the ladies all laughed and talked, while they quilted whoever's quilt was ready to go into the frames. They also walked to a communal area creek to do their laundry together once a week. Married to 10 brothers, I'd have loved to have been a fly on the wall to hear the conversations.

They had little and shared much, which mostly consisted of time and talent.

My favorite story was of my Great Grandmother, who nursed her own infant and one of a sickly sister in law, who was unable to nurse her own child sufficiently. They came down the road early in the morning, spent the day peacably knitting or stitching, and watching the older children and the baby was nursed through out the day. They walked back home, a mile each evening, to repeat the process each morning.

Talk about dedication to family!

My family were subsistance farmers, helping each other in pretty much everyway. The men, women and children here had only a few changes of clothing, and wore then several days. Most laundry days, according to my grands, consisted of household laundry and a single ourfit per person, unless their Sunday Go to Meeting clothes needed laundering as well.

dawn
 

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Yes, to all. Hoggie, your DD would be spinning now and probably not going to school. If she did go to school, it would be for a shorter day and school would be closed during inclement weather. You'd also have more than one child helping you out. And you'd knit a lot faster. And with the invention of the spinning wheel, you might not be spinning at all because you'd buy your yarn from the spinster. You might even exchange some of your garden produce or meat for the yarn.
 

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See if you can find a copy of A MIDWIFE'S TALE by Margaret Thatcher Ulrich. It's a compilation of the diaries of Martha Ballard, who lived in New England in the early 18th century. It's a wonderful bird's eye view of life for women in that era and will give you a new appreciation of the women who settled this country. PBS did a program about Martha on The American Experience. I didn't get to see all of it and surely wish I had.
 

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It cost time to make and maintain things, so patterns evolved to make things last longer, or be easier to replace. The Amish knit a mitten with double thumbs, so the mitten can be flipped around when the thumb or palm can't be patched any more.
I think I need more details on this. Please?

My in-laws live in an area with a large Amish population, and have Amish friends. I have seen them wear mittens in the winter, and they looked just like any other mittens. I have also seen them wear fingerless gloves, but that doesn't sound like what you are talking about. I tried to google for a pattern or a photo, but I'm not finding anything.

Kayleigh
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
hmm - I know that here when they knit the Guernsey stockings and then the Guernsey sweaters, the patterns were passed down by word of mouth through a family, so they were always knitting the same pattern over and over which must hav eincreased their speed of work. Also, I know that they were done in such a way that if the forearms wore out through being worked in, they just unravelled the sleeves back to the elbows and re-knit them. A bit like taking the foot out of a sock and re-knitting it I suppose.

Marchwind, Mogal - I will look out for the books. I am always up for a good read. :)

I guess larger families may have been a part of the answer. Many h ands make light work etc. And once those kids were grown, so long as they didn't flal out of course, they would be quite a support network for each other. I guess that's one of those things that we have lost with all our modernization.

I know sometimes I look at the list of stuff I want to get done and don't have a clue how on earth I will get it done.

I suppose the point about things being hobbies now not necessities must play a part too - I feel terrible about sitting down in teh day to spin or knit or sew (even if it's mending) - it just doesn't feel right. It feels like an indulgence? But I guess then they would have done just that if it was what needed doing. If they had some spare time they would have spun or whatever. Maybe it is a change of mindset - I have to view all these things as absolutely essential to our survival ;)

hoggie
 

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Hoggie I'm like you, I feel horribly guilty if I take time to knit or spin. Even when I was making my son's sweater I felt really guilty working on that. I know I shouldn't but as you say, it seems like such an indulgence to sit and do what I find pleasurable. It almost feels like if I'm not standing I'm slacking off. How warped is that :confused: I think that maybe that should be one of my resolutions, to make myself sit and work on something each day without feeling guilty.

Dawn that is such a cool story about your family. How lucky that you still like there and have all those stories to share.
 

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Great family story, Dawn.

Since my spinning and knitting is, in the long run, a productive activity, I seldom feel guilty about the time I spend at it. Spinning is therapeutic because I have arthritis in my knees and ankles--treadling, particularly on a double treadle wheel, gently exercises those joints. It really helps make my legs feel better, especially if I've been on my feet a lot that day. Right now, I'm not working off the farm so I do a lot of hard physical labor each day. Once I start back to work in March or April, sitting to spin won't be nearly so attractive after 8-10 hrs at a computer terminal. Oddly enough, when I get home, the first thing I do is check emails but looking at a computer at work is miles from looking to see what my friends are doing.

So what if it is an indulgence? No woman, unless she has a household "staff" and doesn't work outside her home, gets off easy, even with so called labor saving devices. Fiber stuff, fooling with our animals and playing on our computer are my rewards for a long day.
 

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I know my grandma made time to knit or crochet after dinner and was able to whip our slippers, baby blankets, mittens, hats and vests in very little time (a vest would take her an evening) I take evenings to make a single mitten! She could knit and crochet so fast it was hard to keep track of the rows she did. I think that she could do it faster because she didn't have the distractions like we do today--phone ringing, tv blaring, kids needing to go here and there.
 

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*sigh*

I feel guilty sewing or crocheting or anything that involves fiber. I wonder if people who like to cook feel guilty making dinner?

We lost our electricity a week or two ago in some severe storms. I was hoping it would be out for days, so I could spin and crochet, and pretend to be back in the 1800's.... but it came back on after 30 hours. :(

I must be nuts.
 

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In the old days, on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, many families, even of modest means had servants, "help", or a girl that would come and "do" for them. They would take care of much of the scrubbing, feeding animals, cooking and such while the matron of the household would cook some, direct other workers and the children to their tasks and would also work with fiber, sew, embroider, and work on a dowry for their daughters. The servant or hired girls did not have much of their own and used a lot of hand-me-downs from relatives and those that they worked for.
 
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