Spinning and Weaving

Feature Story February 2006
Spinning and Weaving
(written in 1942 by Elma Heim Griffiths)
Since weaving seems to have been one of the main occupations of the first Heims in this country, John, Gottlieb and their married brother Jacob all being weavers, I feel that perhaps a little about the art would be of interest. Jacob Heim was the last one of the Heim men to do weaving. His youngest daughter, Mary Heim Shafer, of Ridgeway, Ontario, still remembers how it was done. Also one of his grandsons Jacob S. Heim, remembers a great deal of it. From these I have gotten the information for this story.

The flax seed was “broadcast” over the ground in May and raked in with the hand rake. It grew from 12 to 24 inches tall, depending on the season, and had many pretty, pink blossoms. In September it was pulled in bunches called “wrists” because each bunch was to be about the size around a persons wrist. These were tied and shocked up in a little shocks until partly dried. Then they were taken to the house and kiln dried in a sort of oven of rocks out of doors. Just as it was needed to work on, not all of it at once. When it was quite brittle, the seeds were removed by pulling the bunches of stems through a long toothed, steel comb. This was called a “heckle”. All the flax seed was sold for making paint, except that needed for the next year’s crop.

The stems were then put through a home made machine called a “flax break.” This breaks up the center core of the stem and leaves the long, tough fibers. These fibers were then pulled through a series of steel toothed comb. Coarse, medium and fine, the teeth of which were about three of four inches long. This was done in order to separate out all but the very best long fibers. These were spun into thread and yearn. The thread was used for weaving and sewing and the yarn for knitting summer hosiery.
The spinning was usually done in the evenings by the girls and women. Some of the spinning wheels were hand made and many are still in the possession of the various families in Pennsylvania and Nebraska, though the art of spinning is lost. The weaving looms were sometimes hand made and some were bought. Jacob Heim did weaving whenever he had time to spare from his farm work. He did custom weaving for anyone in the settlement. In later years when cloth could be bought in the stores at reasonable prices he wove only the rag carpet. They often left the linen cloth the natural color, but sometimes bleached it. Also brown checked and blue checked cloth was woven, walnut bark being used for brown dye and indigo for blue. They never faded.

For the wool, they started by washing the sheep. The sheep were penned near a stream and were taken one at a time into the running water. The wool was rubbed and squeezed to get the dirt and burrs out of it. This was done in late May. When they were thoroughly dry again the sheep were sheared. The wool was carded by hand at first and later was taken to the carding mill in Hepburnville. The wool was spun on a large wheel made for that purpose, not on the same one used for the flax. After spinning it was dyed and used for knitting stockings, socks, mittens, and scarfs, and for weaving blankets and cloth for men’s and women’s winter clothing.

Jacob Heim’s loom is now being used by Helen S. Fisher, daughter of Charles F. and Hannah Heim Fisher of Warrensville, Pa., and a great granddaughter of Jacob Heim. She uses it for making rugs and shopping bags.