Prelude to the First Edition
1. Flight from the City
II. Domestic Production
III. Food, Pure Food, and FreshFood
IV. The Loom and the Sewing-machine
VI. Water, Hot Water, and WasteWater
VII. Education--The Schoolof Living
IX. Security versus Insecurity
X. Independence versus Dependence
THE LOOM AND THE SEWING-MACHINE
WHEN I first became interested in thepossibilities of home weaving, my father told me a story which I have told over andover again because it illustrates most vividly the economic advantages of what Icall domestic production.
When he left his home in Hungary tocome to this country he was twenty-five years of age. That was not quite fifty yearsago. At the time he left Hungary the sheets which were in use in the family's ancestralhome were the same sheets which had been included in the hand-spun and hand-wovenlinens given to his mother as a wedding gift thirty years before. What is more, atthe time he left home they were still in perfect condition and apparently good fora lifetime of further service. After thirty years of continuous service those home-spun,home-woven, home-bleached, and home-laundered sheets were still snowy white, heavylinen of a quality it is impossible to duplicate today.
Now let us contrast the sheets whichwere in my grandmother's home with the sheets in our home today and in that of practicallyall of the homes of industrialized America. Compared with the luxurious heavy linenin my grandmother's home, we use a relatively cheap, sleazy, factory-spun, factory-wovenand factory-finished sheet, which we used to send out to commercial laundries, andwhich we replaced about every two years. With domestic laundering they last abouttwice as long. True, the first cost of our factory-made sheets is much less thanthe cost of the hand-made linens, but the final and complete cost is much greaterand at no time do we have the luxury of using the linens which in my grandmother'shome were accepted as their everyday due. I do not know what her linen sheets costin labor and materials fifty years ago. We pay about $1.25 for ours, and on the basisof commercial laundering, have to purchase new ones every two years. Our expenditurefor sheets for thirty years, with a family one-quarter the size of grandmother's,would therefore be $18.75 per sheet--much more, I am sure, than was spent for sheetsduring the same period of time in my grandmother's home. And at the end of thirtyyears, we would have nothing but a pile of sleazy cotton rags, while in the old homethey still had the original sheets probably good for again as much service.
Before the era of factory spinningand factory weaving, which began with the first Arkwright mill in Nottingham, England,in 1768, fabrics and clothing were made in the homes and workshops of each community.Men raised the flax and wool and then did the weaving. Women did the spinning andlater sewed and knitted the yarns into garments of all kinds. The music of the spinning-wheeland the rhythm of the loom filled the land. Perhaps one-third of the time of menand women--one-third of their total time at labor--was devoted to producing yarnsand fabrics which they consumed.
In the place of loom-rooms in its homes,America now has thousands of mills employing hundreds of thousands of wage-earners.Many of the wage-earners in these textile mills are children in spite of the campaignsagainst child labor. And the wages paid by these mills are notoriously the lowestwhich prevail in industry in this country. Instead of healthy and creative work inthe homes, we have monotonous and deadly labor in mills.
A trifle over a third of the productionof the cotton industry is used for industrial purposes. It is used by manufacturersin fabricating tires, automobile bodies, electric wire, and similar industrial products.Two-thirds of the production of cotton and nearly all of the production of the silkand wool industry goes to the consumer either as piece goods for home sewing, orcut up into wearing apparel by clothing manufacturers. This means that only to to1 per cent of the total number of factories and workers in the entire industry areengaged in producing for the needs of other industries. All of the rest are doingwork which used to be done in the home and much of which might still be done there.And our experiments with sewing and weaving tend to show that it can be done at anactual saving of labor or money.
If all the resources of modern scienceand industry were to be utilized for the purpose of making the spinning-wheel, thereel, and the loom into really efficient domestic machines (as efficient relativelyas is the average domestic sewing-machine), the number of textile-mills which couldmeet the competition of the home producer would be insignificant. And if modern inventivegenius were thus applied to these appliances for weaving, there would be no drudgeryin domestic weaving; a saving of time and money would be effected; the quality anddesign of fabrics would be improved, and everybody of high and low degree would befurnished an opportunity to engage in interesting and expressive work. Such improvedmachinery would occupy no more space than is now wasted in many homes and the loom-roomwould give to the home a new practical and economic function.
Our loom, in spite of the attachmentof a flying shuttle, which has increased its efficiency greatly, remains one of themost primitive pieces of machinery in our home. There is at present no really efficientdomestic loom upon the market. Most of the looms made for what is called "bandweaving" with emphasis on the silent word "art," are built upon archaicmodels or devised so as to make weaving as difficult as possible instead of as easyas possible.
The biggest market for these loomsis, I believe, in the institutional field. Weaving is one of the favored methodsof "occupational therapy" in the ever-increasing number of institutionsfor nervous and mental disorders which we are erecting all over the country. Thestrain of repetitive work in our factories and offices, and the absence of creativeand productive work in our homes, particularly for women, children, and the is turningus into a race of neurotics. Weaving is being revived, after a fashion, as a therapeuticmeasure to restore these unfortunates to health. What a ghastly commentary upon whatwe have called progress. Having taken the looms out of homes during the past centuryand transferred them to factories, we now find that the absence of the creative workthey used to furnish is producing an ever-increasing number of neurotic men and women,and an endless number of "problem" children. So our physicians are puttingthe loom into their institutions in order to make the victims of this deprivationwell again. Then they turn them, after curing them, back into their loomless homesto break down again.
The looms built for occupational therapyand hand-weaving generally are deliberately designed to increase the amount of manualwork which those who operate them have to perform for every yard of cloth produced.As a result the actual production of cloth is slow and laborious. Yet there is noreason why this should be so. The right kind of loom would enable the average familyto produce suitings, blankets, rugs, draperies, and domestics of all kinds of a qualitysuperior to those generally produced in factories and on sale in stores at a farlower cost after taking time and all materials and supplies into consideration. Theartistic and emotional gains from the practice of this craft would therefore be aclear gain.
In the average home, a loom which willweave a width of a yard is sufficient. Ours is able to handle fabrics up to forty-fourinches in width. While many things can be made on a simple two-harness loom, we findthe four-harness loom a more useful type because of its greater range of design.But every loom should be equipped with an efficient system for warping, and witha flying shuttle, if it is to enable the home-weaver to compete upon an economicbasis with the factory. Neither of these are expensive--in fact, the whole investmentin equipment in order to weave need not exceed $75 if one can make the flying shuttlearrangement oneself. The shuttle attachment on my loom was home-made and took meonly three or four hours to put together. With such a loom, even an average weavercan produce a yard of cloth an hour--and a speedy weaver, willing to exert himself,can produce thirty yards per day. Since it takes only seven yards of twenty-seven-inchcloth to make a three-piece suit for a man, it is possible to weave the cloth fora suit in a single day on a small loom, and in less than a day on a loom able tohandle fiftyfour-inch cloth.
Some idea of the possibilities of weaving,even without much experience, can be gained from our first experiences with blankets--onewas woven by a friend of mine who had never had any experience at all, in a littleless than eight hours. A similar one was the first blanket woven by my son--a somewhatbetter piece of work--in less than six hours. A third was a somewhat more elaborateaffair on which three members of the family each did a turn, and so I have no recordof the time it took to weave it. The yarn used in these blankets cost about $2.50for each blanket-- at a time when blankets of similar quality couldn't have beenpurchased for many times that sum. Even if the loom is only used occasionally, itwill earn handsome dividends on the investment at this rate.
Our experiments in the weaving of woolensfor men's and women's clothing have demonstrated the practicability not only of cuttingout of the budget most of the expenditures for ready-made garments, but even theexpenditures for fabrics. The accompanying illustrations of garments made from fabricswoven in the Borsodi homestead suggest not only the great variety of garments forwhich it is possible to weave the fabrics, but the fact that they are, if anything,more attractive than those which are usually on sale in retail stores ready-made.
The suit shown in the accompanyingpicture was made from yarn home-spun in the Kentucky mountains; the cloth was wovenand finished in our home; the suit was made up by a tailor operating a one-man shopnear our place. The yarn cost $4.50; the tailoring $30. I had it appraised by variousso-called experts at the time, and they valued it all the way from $60 to $90. Onefriend, who could not qualify as an expert but who has his suits made by Fifth Avenuetailors, said that he had paid $125 for suits no better than this one. Incidentally,the suiting was the first which I ever wove.
Demonstrating the Flying Shuttle on the Loom. There Are NoReally Efficient Domestic Looms on the Market. The Flying Shuttle Was Added to ThisLoom on the Homestead. With This Attachment, a Yard of Cloth Is Readily Woven inan Hour. The Suit Worn by the Demonstrator Was a Hand-spun Twill, Woven on This Loomand Made-up by a Local Tailor.
This matter of tailoring brings up oneof the amusing follies of modern civilization to which we pay no attention but forwhich we pay, nevertheless, over and over again. The strictly tailored costumes whichmen now wear have nothing but custom to recommend them. They require great skillin sewing; they are therefore impractical for manufacture at home. Yet they are artisticmonstrosities. They do nothing to set off the human form. They are not even utilitarian.Most of the hard work of the world is done by men who wear over-alls or cotton garmentswhich are not tailored at all. While suits are practical enough for the work whichmen do in offices, they are much too hot for indoor use--especially in houses whichare steam heated. A foolish convention, however, makes us all wear them. If we, however,once again took the designing of our garments into our own hands, it is possiblethat something much more attractive and useful might develop. We might experimentwith blouses, or even with costumes such as the Chinese wear. And apropos of blousesfor men, it is an amusing commentary upon the industrialization of Russian life underthe Soviets, that the old Russian blouses, which could be made in any household,are now being replaced by the conventional costume of Western civilization--whichhas to be made in factories.
With women's garments, the field forweaving and for the needlecrafts, even with prevailing styles, is much broader. Thegarments illustrated show coats, suits, and dresses all made from fabrics woven inour home. I presume I am rather prejudiced in the matter, but it seems to me thatthe garments Mrs. Borsodi has produced in our home compare favorably with those whichmost women buy ready to wear today.
The sewing-machine is a most importantpiece of domestic machinery It is doubtful whether any other piece of machinery payslarger dividends upon the investment made in it. Yet it remains a tool, to be usedwhen needed and laid aside, perhaps for months at a time, when no sewing has to bedone. In combination with the loom, the sewing-machine takes on new significanceboth economically and artistically. What I have here in mind can be made clear byquoting from an article by Mrs. Borsodi in The Handicrafter, which describesone of her suits:
The suit was made from a twill suiting. The yarn was a weaving special; the warp tan No. 136, and the weft a lovely green, No. 755. The weave was a simple twill made with four treadles operated 1, 2. 3, 4 and repeat. Four yards of material 27 inches wide were used. The suit was based upon a Vogue pattern, which was modified in many details. Since I had never before tailored homespun, it took many more hours of time to produce the suit than a second one could possibly take. Immediately upon cutting the material by the pattern, I stitched twice around the cut edges on the sewing-machine. This prevented the material from unraveling. I then proceeded much the same as in making any other coat and dress. Finally, after much pressing into shape, I have a suit which has repeatedly been called very good-looking, and which I know gave me more joy in the weaving and making than I ever had in purchasing a similar product from any store. Outside of fur, it is the warmest coat I have ever worn.
It is difficult to compare the cost with a factory product, because I could not afford to purchase this quality and character of material made up. To get this quality of material one would have to go to an expensive house indeed, and to get this particular style of material at the time I finished the suit, it would have been necessary to go to a stylish and even exclusive house because it was just coming in. Taking all these things into consideration, a valuation of No would represent a most conservative price.
In judging the hours spent in weaving and sewing, please remember that this was the first time I had done either, and, even on a second garment of this type, the time of weaving and the time spent in sewing could be considerably reduced. Also, I could make an even better-looking suit a second time.
In charging fifty cents an hour for my time, I think I have given the benefit of a relatively high rate to the factory, for few factories pay this price for such operations as were performed. To be sure, the factory has its designers who are well paid, but then I paid for my share of such service in the Vogue pattern upon which I relied for assured fit and style. And in addition to the saving on the suit, I had the pleasure of developing a creation of my own.
One-half pound warp at $3.00
One pound of weft
Two yards of lining at $2.50
Labor weaving, 5 hours at 50¢
Labor sewing, 12 hours at 50¢
It should be borne in mind that theabove costs refer to a period when prices were in general fully twice as high asthey are today. Both the cost above as well as the price of a garment with whichto compare this suit should therefore be understood as establishing relative savingsrather than actual savings today. The record, however, can stand examination no matterfrom what standpoint it is viewed. It would show a nice dividend upon the investmentin domestic machinery even after full allowance is made for the time spent in makingthe suit. It is significant that the two yards of silk lining--purchased factorymade-cost almost as much as all the rest of the fabric for both materials and weaving.
What the sewing-machine alone can dois shown from another record from Mrs. Borsodi's cost book.
This covered an afternoon frock, appraisedat the time it was made as worth $49.50.
|Three and a half yards of silk|| |
|Pattern and findings|| |
Cost exclusive of labor
|Earned in thirteen hours (a more skillful worker could have made the frock in less time), assuming a similar frock could have been purchased for $4g.so and that the time spent in shopping for the ready-made garment |
and the superior fit and indi vidual style of the specially made dress is disregarded
Value of afternoon frock
Some of the value in this frock lay,I presume, in its "style," something for which women pay a great deal ifthey are intent on keeping on with the latest developments in Paris. The sewing-machinemakes it possible to secure style without having to patronize the most expensivestores and to pay a premium for this service.
Some of the Products of the Loom-room and Sewing Room
On the Left--a Dress, and a Suit, TwoBlankets, and a Wall Hanging. All Home Woven and Home Sewn. On the Right--a Home-wovenand Home-sewn Coat with the Yarn Home Spun in the Kentucky Mountains. The Hat, theHandbag, and Even the Gloves--which Were Crocheted--Were Also Home Made. The FabricIs a Rich, Deep Red; The Weave Is a Novel Herringbone Effect.
The coat shown [on page 55] was made onthe same warp as the man's suit previously referred to, but with a heavier weft.It cost about $3.50 in yarn and about 24 hours for sewing and weaving. The fabricis a distinctive herringbone effect; it is exceedingly warm; it promises to wearalmost indefinitely; the design and color express Mrs. Borsodi's personality. Whatmore could be expected of any garment than that it should be attractive, useful,inexpensive, and that its production should furnish a creative outlet for the artisticabilities of its maker?
To me the part which our loom and sewing-machinehave played in creative living is, if anything, more important than the service theyhave rendered in making us less dependent upon earning money.