Volume 7, Number 6 - Winter 1981

History and Art of Weaving
Topic at Historical Society Meeting
by Edith McCall

To the uninitiated in the art of weaving on a hand (and foot) powered loom, the display of coverlets and other hand-woven items was a revelation. The "uninitiated" included most of the people in attendance at the meeting of The White River Valley Historical Society on Sunday, December 14, at The School of the Ozarks. The speaker was Virginia Lucas (Mrs. Ralph), supervisor of weaving at the School.

The Ozarks region, Mrs. Lucas explained, is one of the few in the United States where this handicraft survived the years on industrialization of textile manufacturing. The Industrial Revolution began in the textile industry in England, shortly before the opening of the American Revolution. It was in progress at the time of the birth of our nation. How industrialization came to the infant United States and helped in our phenomenal national growth is a separate story, but its start in this land was also in the textile industry. Commercially produced textiles, woven on water then steam-powered looms soon replaced the hand-weaving almost everywhere.

Skills in weaving and spinning, along with the flax seeds needed to produce linen fibers, the sheep for wool, and later cotton seed for cotton fiber, were brought to America on the early sailing ships, with the settlers. After industrialization, the skills were lost except in the more remote areas, such as the Appalachian foothills. An interesting sidelight of the transition period that Mrs. Lucas contributed was the itinerant weaver’s role. He, with his loom, would arrive in the household and become a resident until the family’s supply of homespun yarns was made into cloth.

He often favored the homes where the cooking and perhaps the wine were to his taste. The family enjoyed his presence because he served as the source of much news and more than a little gossip. But areas such as the Appalachian foothills were too remote for such visitations, and the home weaving continued. The roots of many Ozark families reach back to the Appalachians; the looms and the knowledge of how to use them came with the early settlers and lived on during the years of isolation, into the modern times. As Mrs. Lucas talked it became quite evident that textiles are closely related to the land’s economic and historical development.

Mrs. Lucas teaches the art of weaving to The School of the Ozarks’ students today in a workroom on the upper floor of the Edwards Mill. From time to time, she and the students create items such as a coverlet to order, in quite intricate patterns.

Present at the meeting were several members who are active in the art of weaving. Marie Corrington’s large blue and white bedspread ("coverlet," in the old term) was on display. Esther Beveridge was wearing a coat and dress ensemble of nubby silk fabric she had woven and tailored herself. Mrs. Lucas, whose production includes miniature coverlets of very fine thread as well as the full-sized ones and the ever popular placemats, was wearing a stole of Icelandic wool, shaded from brown to white, all natural undyed colorations. Others added interesting sidelights to an informative meeting.


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