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