Emily M. DeArdo

writer

Colonial Williamsburg

Yarn Along No. 60: Yarn in Colonial Williamsburg

yarn along, history, knittingEmily DeArdo1 Comment
Freshly dyed yarn in the weaver's shop at Colonial Williamsburg

Freshly dyed yarn in the weaver's shop at Colonial Williamsburg

This is an extra special yarn along, because today we're not talking about knitting, we're talking all about yarn! We're taking a field trip to CW and the Weaver's! 

A few months before I visited CW, I heard that it was possible to buy yarn that was completely handmade by the artisans at Williamsburg, using 18th century methods. Of course, this piqued my interest! I knew that I was going to want some of this special yarn. 

The yarn at CW starts with the wool, of course. The wool comes from their herd of Leicester Longwool sheep. 

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Leicester Longwools were developed in the mid-18th century by Robert Bakewell of Leicester, England. The breed became popular throughout the British empire; George Washington purchased Leicester Longwools for his flock at Mount Vernon. 

According to the Leicester Longwool Sheep Breeder's Association, "The fleece of the Leicester Longwool is prized by hand spinners and crafters for its curl, soft handle, and lustrous beauty... The wool dyes exceptionally well, maintaining the purity of color; the natural luster still shines through. This premium wool is very versatile, working well for combing for worsted products, carding for woolen products, and felting projects. " 

The sheep are very rare these days, and CW plays a big role in keeping the breed alive. 

So, we have this gorgeous wool, which looks like this, in its raw state: 

Check out that curl! 

Check out that curl! 

The wool is incredibly soft, even in this "raw" state, and really pretty. At least, these pieces are!

The sheep shearing is done by other people. Before it reaches the weavers, the wool also has to be skirted (taking out pieces that are too short or too matted to use), and scoured (cleaned). 

After the wool is clean and dry, it's ready to card. 

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Here you can see a few things--raw wool, that needs picked over (in the crock), wool that's been cleaned, but needs carded (back basket), carded wool that's being spun (on the spinning wheel), and finished thread/yarn on a bobbin (in the yellow basket, foreground). The bobbin will go into a shuttle, to be used in weaving, as seen below. 

The weaver is holding the shuttle in her left hand; here, she's weaving linen cloth. 

The weaver is holding the shuttle in her left hand; here, she's weaving linen cloth. 

After the wool is spun, either with a drop spindle or on a spinning wheel, and the appropriate thickness reached (I'm simplifying, massively, for our purposes), it's time to dye!

At CW, there's an entire book about how to dye with their natural dyes. Since the colors are all natural, it's really hard to reproduce exactly the same colors. In fact, it's probably impossible. So when I went to buy my yarn, I chose two skeins that were close--but they're not identical. 

You can see, even dyed in the same vat, they're different--but close enough! The differences really drive home the hand-dyed nature of it, for me. 

You can see, even dyed in the same vat, they're different--but close enough! The differences really drive home the hand-dyed nature of it, for me. 

Here's what the CW website says about 18th century dyeing: 

Nature provided the colors used in dyeing textiles in the 18th century. Today, Colonial Williamsburg’s weavers use the same 18th-century recipes for dyes – all safe enough to drink. An insect called the cochineal from South America makes the color red. 70,000 cochineal are needed to make a pound of red dye that can turn everything from leather to makeup and frosting red – including paint and textiles. Brown comes from walnuts, blue from indigo from South Carolina, Spain, or South America. Purple comes from the Spanish log wood tree, and turmeric from India gives yellow its hue. Orange comes from the root of the madder plant.
Wool is the easiest fabric to dye; cotton is more difficult, and linen is the most difficult of all – the dye tends to sit on the linen, in a sense, not in it. Dyeing was often done on plantations, using different colors of clothing to identify slaves from the same plantation – colorful and expressive folk art came from this practice as slaves used the rich colors to express individuality. (For the rest of the article, click here.) 

As you can see, the weavers at CW get incredible colors from their natural dyes! They were really beautiful, even more so in person. 

I hope this post gives you a taste at how difficult it is to make yarn, especially if you're doing it completely by hand!  I'm so glad I was able to purchase some of it! 

If you go to CW and are looking for yarn, I found it for sale in the Prentis store and at the Milliner's. Be warned: It's going to cost you more than the $10 skein at Jo-Ann's! But I hope after reading this you'll see why, and appreciate the artistry that goes into handcrafting yarn. 

Some articles, if you want more: 

"Everything you've been dyeing to know about 18th century weaving", Making History Now

"Weaver", history.org

"Weaving, Spinning, and Dyeing" Colonial Williamsburg Journal

Hamrick, Max. Organic Fiber Dyeing: The Colonial Williamsburg Method. AQS Publishing. 

Colonial Williamsburg

travelEmily DeArdo2 Comments
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I've been to Williamsburg before, but it had been a long time--five, six years or so?--and I was excited to come back, because I adore colonial history, but also because there were some new things I wanted to see, like Liberty the briard (their new mascot), and the Market House. And the last time I visited CW, I wasn't a knitter, so I didn't care about the weaver's shop. This time, I wanted to get my hands on some completely CW produced yarn, and I was very interested in visiting the weaver and seeing how colonial yarn and fabric were made. But that is a completely separate post--tomorrow's yarn along. So those of you who love knitting and textiles can geek out with me, and those of you who don't can move along. 

This is an overview post--I'll be doing a post card with specifics--addresses, hours, websites, etc.--later this week. 

We got to Williamsburg on Friday evening, and after checking in at our hotel, we went to Merchant's Square for dinner. It was Freshman move in day for William and Mary, which abuts CW, so there were lots of Bright Young Things and their parents swarming around. But that didn't stop me from getting a Divine Sandwich. 

Virginia Ham and cheddar on French bread, with house dressing. Because you have to have the house dressing at the Cheese Shop. 

Virginia Ham and cheddar on French bread, with house dressing. Because you have to have the house dressing at the Cheese Shop. 

We walked around for a bit and went in and out of the shops before going back to our hotel. The Historic Area opens around 10:00, and I wanted to be there pretty early since it was going to be a warm day (low to mid 80s). I also was going to bring my big sketchbook and I wanted to get in some sketching!

Saturday was a great day. I had three goals for the day: Sketch, meet Liberty, and buy some CW made yarn. The yarn they sell is completely made at CW--the wool is from their Leicester Longwool sheep, and it's made completely on site. Again, more about this tomorrow. I achieved all my goals!

Recently dyed yarn in the weaver's shop 

Recently dyed yarn in the weaver's shop 

Liberty is a briard, a breed of dog probably brought to America by Thomas Jefferson from France. You can read more about Liberty here

I am not really a dog person, but she's so cute! 

There are actually two Liberties--a brother and sister pair of Briards that take turns appearing. These pictures don't really capture it, but she's a pretty big dog! Her handler also said that the breed changes color as they age, which I thought was really interesting. The colors of her fur now are not the colors it'll be as she grows/ages. 

Speaking of animals, I was also really excited to see the Leicester Longwool sheep, which are part of CW's Rare Breeds program. They are super cute! (More on them n the yarn post.) 

Sheep with their herder in front of the Randolph House. 

Sheep with their herder in front of the Randolph House. 

 

I had a lot of fun sketching the historic district. When you sketch outside, people comment, which I don't mind. It's sort of fun. I'm adding some more notes and collage bits to the pages, so they're not done yet, but when they are, I'll share them here. 

I always love going into the milliner's shop, which sold clothing, accessories, and toiletries, as well as sewing and knitting notions. CW actually has a milliner and mantua (dress) making shop, as well as a separate milliner shop, both based on historic records from the colonial era. In the former, you can see pieces being made and even try on colonial stays. The work the milliners do is exquisite. 

You can buy complete outfits from them, or, if that's too rich (and the outfits cost hundreds of dollars, which makes sense, given the work involved!), there are muffs, mitts (fingerless gloves), hats, handkerchiefs, and other smaller items. 

For lunch, we ate at The King's Arms, one of CW's four taverns. 

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I had peanut soup and Virginia ham with sweet potatoes and a tiny biscuit. Delicious. 

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On top of the peanut soup are "sippets"--basically day-old pieces of bread that have been toasted, like croutons. Sippets are technically made from Sally Lunn bread, a popular Colonial recipe. Peanut soup is divine. I'll be posting the recipe soon! 

After lunch we spent a few more hours in the historic area before we had to leave to go to Mass at a nearby parish. But we were back for dinner at Chowning's. 

We shared this "crock of cheese". And it was delicious. 

We shared this "crock of cheese". And it was delicious. 

We were seated on the second floor which gave a neat ambiance to the meal. By the end of the meal we were the only ones there! (There were more people below in the two dining rooms on the first floor.) 

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CW was a lovely start to our vacation, and a nice break in the 10 hour drive from Columbus to Duck. We got to relax, sleep in nice beds, and have a good time. 

On Sunday we left around 7:30 and headed to the Outer Banks! 

Vacation

travelEmily DeArdoComment
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We're back!

This was one of the longer vacations we've (my parents and I) taken--we left on Friday, August 25, and got back last night, so 10 days of vacation. And every one of those ten days was fantastic.  

I've got so much to write about, especially since our vacation was really like two-in-one--we spent two nights in Colonial Williamsburg before spending the week in Duck, so I've got both places to talk about, and pictures to show, and all sorts of things to discuss--like yarn and colonial weaving and books and the beach. 

So this is just a teaser to say I'm back, happy September, and there's much more coming!