Weaving a Rebellion

Let me just say I love weaving partly because it's a part of my family history. I've stated before that my grandma and great-grandma both wove. I love the history of weaving, as well as its cultural importance. Poems such as Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott focus on a weaver; songs are sung about weavers, and fairy tales include some aspect of cloth production usually in the form of spinning.

Woven Scarf
In America, weaving is a part of our cultural history, though it is increasingly less common. Many individuals only know about weaving from visits to living history museums. For many of us equating weaving to revolutionary is, well ... impossible.

Surprisingly enough, it isn't. I'm currently working on a trilogy about colonial weavers set in Lancaster PA. I know the area, and researching it is relatively easy to reach. Besides, Lancaster holds the honor of being the capital of the US for all of one day after Philadelphia fell to the British in 1777.

Background


The American colonies, established permanently in 1607 with the Jamestown, were part of a mercantile system. According to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, mercantilism is
"an economic system developing during the decay of feudalism to unify and increase the power and especially the monetary wealth of a nation by a strict governmental regulation of the entire national economy usually through policies designed to secure an accumulation of bullion, a favorable balance of trade, the development of agriculture and manufactures, and the establishment of foreign trading monopolies"
Translated into understandable terms, the mercantile system limited what the Colonies could produce. For example, most families and towns grew flax and raised sheep. From these two sources, they produced linen and wool. The raw material was harvested and sent to England where it was processed into yarn and cloth before being shipped back in finished goods. The only time a family would go through the entire production process would be for themselves individually or on the frontier.

Because weaving cloth commercially was illegal in the Colonies, it wasn't until the American Revolution that anyone started to weave professionally. It was, in essence, an act of rebellion against English law, and this is the background that I have for the trilogy I'm currently researching.

Questions abound: how did the weavers start their business? Did they weave for their communities or did they initially weave for the Continental Army? What were some of the patterns they used? Who were the people that created these positions for themselves?

Two Sides of a Coin


Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be focusing on the development of the story both the research into the historical time period and location as well as the woven history. On this blog, I'll focus on the books: developing characters, the location and time period whereas on the Bryony Studio blog, I'll focus on the woven history. If you're more interested in the woven history, check out Bryony Studio.

Often when I work on novels, I don't have the luxury to explore locations or art forms used in the story. In this case, I do. Lancaster PA is both my hometown area, and a location not far from my current home. It is a relatively short four hour drive to Lancaster from the Buffalo region. To put this into perspective, it takes me around seven hours to drive to NYC from Buffalo.

In addition, I have a four-shaft loom I can use to weave overshot and other Colonial weaves. It will be interesting, and fun to do this research. It's because of these two sides to the same coin, that I'm splitting the research up a little: novel here, weaving there.

History is interesting, but when we're able to dive into history whether through stories, artifacts or skills, it becomes even more interesting as well as personal.

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