And she removed the fibers from the flax to make linen

Making linen at the Frontier Museum Scraunton Virginia

Her expression made my heart sing and the delight in her work made me want to be a better listener. She showed me an apron made from the cloth she had woven. Once woven on the loom it was washed, dried, bleached and made in to the apron she was wearing. Just beside the virgin cloth are the flax fibers that were combed with her two hands and previously had been beaten off the stems of the plant. She had seen it from the time it was a seed to the moment it was worn. She had moved me to tears with her devoted love for the preservation of heritage through the ages. She was there to demonstrate the hard work of early Irish settlers and their influence on the New World in America.

Frontier Museum woman at spinning wheel

There she sat at her spinning wheel with the stone and dirt floor beneath and it took my breath away. I was so taken by the sincerity and beauty of her that I was at a loss for words. She glanced at me and I at her and we each appreciated what the other was seeing. I was certainly in her moment and she knew it. She had wisdom in her movements as she carefully guided the fibers to the spool. The spinning wheel was humming to the rhythm and her foot was keeping cadence.

Frontier Museum Irish Home with lady at spinning wheelHer movements were ever so slight and she was aware of the texture between her fingers. If the newly bound thread had the slightest of bumps she stopped to correct the flaw. She spoke softly and told me of the history belonging to the home. It had belonged to a family from Ireland who were linen makers. The raised their flax from seed and with their family they would take the linen to market where it would fetch a price that was soon paid to the land owners for rent.

The Irish Home at the Frontier MuseumThis home was purchased in Ireland and reassembled at the Frontier Museum in Staunton, Virginia. The Frontier Museum is a living museum with homesteads from the 1600’s to the new world of America in the 1850’s. The purpose of the museum is to show how the different cultures from England, Germany, and Ireland had an influence on the America we know today.

1700's Irish home at the Frontier MuseumThis is just as the home stood in Ireland in the 1700’s. The stone wall surrounds the property and keeps the livestock from escaping. The front fencing housed the pigs. To the right were the cattle and across the street were the gardens.

1700's Irish Farm

They gather the flax from the fields and let it soak in the pond, then it dries, is stored until needed, then beaten to remove the fibers from inside the stalks.

The fibers are combed to remove any wooden remains from the stems. The softly combed fibers are attached to the spinning wheel and spun on to the spool. The spools are taken to the looms and woven into linen. The linen is sold and the family is assured they can pay rent on the land.

Irish Linen

The families that came to America passed down strong work ethics and beautiful linen making skills. The homes were simple and practical.

A keeping nook in a 1700's Irish HomeThe nook on the wall above the hutch is called a keeping spot. It is to keep medicine and valuables away from the hands of children or visitors. There were several keeping nooks around the room.

1700's Irish HomeAbove you can see the finished rough linen and the fibers used on the spools.

Irish Loom at the Frontier MuseumThe looms were rarely kept silent.

101_0326They were extremely hard working and dedicated to successes of the time. They were considered very successful.

14 Comments Add yours

  1. Jeanne Sammons says:

    Oh, Anna! I hope this is in the Autumn issue!!
    Your first photo captures the essence of this woman…remarkable! Thank you!
    And my other favorite (which I would love printed & hung) is #25 (a vertical shot in the slide show).


    1. Thank you so much Jeannie—your words bring me joy. I very much am thinking about using this in the Autumn issue. I’ll have to look at that photo you want 😉


  2. cyndy says:

    Beautiful post! Thanks very much 😉
    The photographs are stunning!


  3. Nola says:

    Oh, that first photo is amazing! It is such a treasure for someone to keep those skills alive.
    I love the keeping spots; we need some of those in modern homes! Now where’s my hammer and saw…


  4. Cathi says:

    We took a trip here with the kids about 10 years ago. The kids were 8-18 years old and absolutely loved it. They especially loved the work horses on the American farm. I need to get those pictures out and put them in a book or something. You’re pictures are much nicer! Thanks for the reminder.


  5. Phillip (UK) says:

    Only just caught up with this Anna. Absolutely fascinating post.


  6. mothernaturesgarden says:

    I love the linen weaver collage.
    Thank you and this may be my most favorite post ever. I do love how the natural light was a success and showed how truly beautiful this woman is.


  7. nancybond says:

    I thought exactly the same when I saw the first photo — it has the same quality of light as the Masters’ paintings. Beautiful, Anna, and what a wonderful story to go with it!
    Nancy, that means a lot to me coming from someone who knows so much about photography. I purposefully used natural light and turned off my flash hoping for this affect. You know I was thrilled beyond words when it uploaded. Some things are just pure joy to photograph aren’t they?

    I too loved this series of photos but some of it is because this woman was so special. She had a way about her that I fell in love with.


  8. Just beautiful. So many of your shots look like Dutch paintings with the light and shadows, the blue of her dress and the white of her headdress, the stone house. Really wish I could just pick up brush and paint and copy them. Amazing to know the labor and art that went into linen making.

    Could we do all that hard work now? Whenever I visit a place like that I come away feeling guilty for whining in the midst of my easy comfortable life, and vowing to remedy my lack of survival skills!
    This beautiful lady was so strong and she masterfully handled the beating of the flax to get the wooden pieces out. It was not easy.

    Thank you and I do love this series as well—perhaps better than any I’ve ever done. It means a lot to me how you expressed your thoughts about it.


  9. I have always wanted a set of linens sheets for my bed, but have held back as they are so expensive. After seeing what people used to go through, the hours that it would take, they seem dirt cheap. What a labour of love!
    And this delightful lady was truly working her labor of love. She was dedicated to the authenticity of the moment. I very much appreciated that fact. She must enjoy the spinning process because she was quietly going about it when I walked in to the house. She did not know I was coming but she sat spinning quietly as though she had transformed herself back in time and I felt privy to the moment.


  10. bangchik says:

    She aged with the art itself. She really showed passion in her work, identical to gardeners with garden and dirt. lovely photos ~bangchik
    I not sure that many could have done it so gracefully or with as much passion she showed. I very much enjoyed every minute.


  11. Heather says:

    That is awesome~ I loved that she used what she made, I can never seem to do that~
    Yes you do! You are the example of using what you make–my goodness you have chickens, a vegetable garden, beautiful yard and home—and you make the very most of all of it.


  12. Janet says:

    Artisans of an age gone by. Love the collage of her at her task.
    She inspired me to have more pride in what I do. This woman had a way about her that was warm and thoughtful. I would go back again and again if I loved in the area.


  13. Darla says:

    Speechless here!!!
    Just enjoy the moment as it rendered me speechless for quite a bit. I sat beside her on the bench and my usual chatty self became quiet in her presence. I did not want to spoil the moment with my own personality. I hope she felt the respect I had for her.

    All of the docents at this museum were respectful and loved what they did. They were very knowledgeable. One afternoon was hardly enough to take it all in.


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