Making Cloth and Clothing on the Frontier

Some of the works below are specifically about home cloth-making or clothes production in the early 19th century in the region of the Great Lakes States. Other works contain more general information about processes and materials used for cloth production, some of which were in use in America at that time. Below the citations for books and articles there are links to YouTube videos and a website.

For tips on reading online and downloading, see the note at the bottom of this page.

The Tale of the Spinning-Wheel

Litchfield, CT: 1903
Buel, Elizabeth Cynthia BarneyGo to Book

After a history of spinning from antiquity to colonial times, the author provides a detailed description of processing flax for spinning, and includes other material on home cloth production in the northeastern U.S. in the colonial era.

The Tailors’ Guide: containing Systems of Draugting Frock and Sack Coats, Pants, Vests and Shirt, with Valuable Improvements, Warranted Superior to anything ever offered to the Trade

Milwaukee: Starr 1868
Cole, L. E.Go to Book

The Preparation and Spinning of Flax and Wool as Practiced by the Pioneers of Central Illinois and Demonstrated by Pioneer Men and Women at Meetings of the McLean County Historical Society

Bloomington, Il: 1912
Custer, Milo Go to Book

A small booklet with a description of the processes and equipment used for spinning in frontier Illinois.

Home Life in Colonial Days. Illustrated by Photographs gathered by the Author of Real Things, Works and Happenings of Olden Times

NY: Macmillan 1917
Earle, Alice MorseGo to Book

Chapter headings are:

-Homes of the Colonists
-The Light of other Days
-The Kitchen Fireside
-The Serving of Meals
-Food from Forest and Sea
-Indian Corn
-Meat and Drink
-Flax Culture and Spinning
-Wool Culture and Spinning, with a Postscript on Cotton
-Girls’ Occupations
-Dress of the Colonists
-Jack-knife Industries
-Travel, Transportation, and Taverns
-Sunday in the Colonies
-Colonial Neighborliness
-Old-time Flower Gardens

The Country Dyer’s Assistant

Brookfield, MA: Merriam 1798
Ellis, Asa Jr. Go to Book

An American handbook from the end of the 18th century for making and using dyes for coloring fabric. The author says that the procedures described here could be used in the home as well as by professionals.

Home Manufacture of Furs and Skins: A Book of Practical Instructions Telling how to Tan, Dress, Color and Manufacture or Make into Articles of Ornament, Wear and Use

Columbus, OH: Harding 1916
Farnham, Albert BurtonGo to Book

This handbook describes many procedures that presumably were very similar to those used on the frontier a century earlier to make items of clothing from furs and skins. There are many illustrations.

The Art of Weaving, by Hand and by Power, with an Introductory Account of its Rise and Progress in Ancient and Modern Times. For the Use of Manufacturers and Others

NY: Baldwin 1844
Gilroy, Clinton G.Go to Book

Chapter headings are:

-Plain Weaving
-Weaving Double Cloth
-Figured Weaving
-Lace Manufacture
-Spooling, Warping and Sizing, by Power
-Plain Weaving, by Power
-Fancy Weaving, by Power
-Figured Weaving, by Power

Yarn and Cloth Making; An Economic Study. A College and Normal School Text Preliminary to Fabric Study and a Reference for Teachers of Industrial History and Art in Secondary and Elementary Schools

NY: Macmillan 1918
Kissell, Mary Lois Go to Book

This textbook is divided into two parts: Yarn Making and Cloth Making, and covers a variety of processes used throughout history for both. The Yarn Making section explains the principles of spinning and describes the following “spinning types”. There are numerous illustrations and there appears to be a bibliography at the end of every subsection, and another at the end of the book. Spinning types are:

-Hand Spinning
-Grasped Hand Spindle
-Supported Hand Spindle
-Suspended Hand Spindle
-Jersey and Asiatic Wheels
-Saxony Wheel
-Jenny Frame
-Water Frame
-Hand Mule
-Self-Acting Mule
-Flyer, Cap and Ring Spinning Frames

Weaving types are:

-One-Beam Loom
-Weighted Warp Loom
-Two-Bar Loom
-Frameless Two-Bar Loom
-Two-Beam Loom
-One-Shaft Treadle Loom
-Two-Shaft Treadle Loom
-Perfected Hand Loom
-Draw Loom
-Jacquard Loom
-Plain Power Loom

“Pioneer Life: Paper No. IV”

Indiana Magazine of History Volume 3, Issue 4, December 1907, 182-188

Bloomington: Indiana University
Parker, Benjamin S.Go to Article

In this paper on frontier life in Henry County, IN, the author describes the clothing worn by pioneers there at the beginning of the 19th century.

“Hunting Shirts and Silk Stockings: Clothing Early Cincinnati”

Queen City Heritage Volume 45 (Fall 1987): 23-48

Cincinnati: Cincinnati Historical Society
Shine, Carolyn R.Go to Article

This article by a former curator of Costume and Textiles at the Cincinnati Art Museum describes clothing commonly worn in Cincinnati and in rural and frontier areas at the end of the 18th century.

The link at the button leads to a list of journals. Click on Queen City Heritage and find the article using the citation above.

Household Manufactures in the United States, 1640-1860: A Study in Industrial History

Chicago: University of Chicago 1917
Tryon, Rolla Milton Go to Book

Chapter 6, “The Products of the Family Factory”, contains a section entitled “Wearing Apparel and Household Textile Supplies” on pages 190-216. Included here are explanations of all the processes involved in home production of linen, woolen and cotton textiles. There is also a discussion of other products used in wearing apparel on the frontier, such as leather and other animal skins, cattle and buffalo hair, and lint from nettles.

Warp and Woof; the Story of the Textile Arts. The Linen Industry

Boston: Educational Publishing 1912
Very, Edith Go to Book

Chapter headings are:

-Historical Notes
-The Flax Plant
-Processes of Manufacture
-Flax Culture and Linen Manufacture in the United States

YouTube Videos

“Flax Processing”

AmericanFrontier (5:38) Go to Video

“Flax Spinning”

AmericanFrontier (2:08) Go to Video

“Weaving on Mount Vernon’s 18th Century Loom”

HistoricMountVernon (3:45) Go to Video


“American Frontier Weaving in the 17th and 18th Centuries”

R. John Howe: Textiles and Text Go to Video

This website page was created from a presentation by re-enactor Janice Hensley at the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. The site has photos of equipment and processes used on the American frontier for making cloth and clothes at home, mainly from wool. A number of typical outfits and clothing articles made for re-enactors are shown, as well as samples of various types and colors of fabric. There is a bibliography at the end.

For more books like this, visit section 677 “Textile Fabrics” on the Manufacturing, Chemicals, Textiles & Handicrafts page in our Century Past Free Online Library.

Tips for Reading Online and Downloading

More than half the books on our website at History of the Great Lakes States are hosted by Internet Archive or Open Library. They are sister organizations and use the same online viewer application. In most cases this viewer will give you nearly perfect text if you;

1. switch from the double-page to the single-page view by using the icons in the bottom right corner, and;

2. Keep zooming in until the text snaps into a clear focus.

Using the single-page view allows you to scroll pages down with your mouse wheel.

You can download books from these two sites by clicking on the book name at the top-left corner of the page (in the viewer) to get to the download menu.

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