Compiled by Vicki Betts
“How is it that while in Ohio the spinning-wheel and hand-loom are curiosities, and homespun would be a conspicuous and noticeable material of clothing, half the white population of Mississippi still dress in homespun, and at every second house the wheel and loom are found in operation.”—Olmsted, Frederick, law. The Cotton Kingdom: A Traveller’s Observations on Cotton and Slavery in the American States. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1943. New York: Da Capo Press, 1996, p. 506.
“I found the East Tennesseans a plain, honest, industrious, old-fashioned people. . . . They are dressed, almost without exception, in coarse, strong “domestic,” as the home-manufactured cloth of the country is called. It is woven on hand-looms, which are to be found in nearly every farm-house. Domestic is, in fact, an institution, not of Tennessee alone, but of the entire Southern country. In the absence of manufacturing establishments, the interest in this primitive private industry has not been suffered to decline. It stood the South in good stead during the war. All classes wore it. Even at the time of my visit, I found many proprietors of large estates, the aristocrats of the country, wearing garments which had been spun, colored, and woven by their own slaves.”—Trowbridge, J. T. A Picture of the Desolated States; and the Work of Restoration, 1865-1868. Hartford, CT: L. Stebbins, 1868, p. 243.
Ladies’ Relief Society.
September 24th, 1861.
. . . The Ladies of the “Society” are to have a “fair,” next Tuesday evening, and hope for the sake of the cause prompting it, to have a full attendance. Tickets for admission 25cts. The ladies will appear in southern homespun.
—Southern Confederacy [Atlanta, GA], September 27, 1861, p. 2, c. 1-2.
“. . . for in came the young ladies one by one, questioning me with a persistency which would have done honor to the far famed inquisitiveness of a Vermonter. . . Then they showed me cloths they had spun and woven or themselves—saying “I’ll wear homespun as long as I live before I’d depend on Yankees for it—wouldn’t you?” Of course, I said I would. . . . Seabury, Caroline. The Diary of Caroline Seabury, 1854-1863. Edited by Suzanne L. Bunkers. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991, p. 91. Location: between Chickasaw and Island no. 40 or Buck Island on the Mississippi, July 30, 1863.
“This lady had two young daughters, who were busy weaving and spinning. They had on dresses spun and woven by themselves. This ancient work is all the fashion now, as we are blockaded and can get no other kinds of goods.”—Cumming, Kate. Kate: The Journal of a Confederate Nurse. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959, 1987 reprint, p. 64. Location: Ringgold, GA, September 8, 1862
“October 13, 1864—We have got our wool ready. . . at last, Oh! I am getting so tired picking, coloring, carding, spinning, etc., I would secede from it if I could conveniently.” [quoting Amanda McDowell, White County, TN]—Irwin, John Rice. A People and Their Quilts. Exton, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1984, p. 19.
“Hoops were discarded by some, but upper class women tended to cling to the billowing skirts for dress occasions; they also made relatively little use of homespun, depending instead on re-made finery of prewar times or on new clothing obtained from outside the South. A young Georgia aristocrat wrote one of her friends in March 1863: “I am going into the [Federal] lines . . . and expect to get the prettiest wardrobe which Paris or France afford. . . . I am so delighted, for really I have not felt lady like for the past two years, my wardrobe has been in such a dilapidated condition.”—Fannie Baylor to Virginia King, March 23, 1863, as quoted in Bell Irvin Wiley, Confederate Women. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1994, pp. 168-169.
The Homespun Dress
We have received the following spirited letter from our sprightly correspondent “LOUISE,” which we take the liberty of publishing:
Messrs. Editors:–Do give me your sympathies and attention for a brief space, while I tell you what a mortification I suffered Sunday on account of wearing a home-spun dress. . . Well, Messrs. Editors, I bought me a home-spun dress, had it made up and wore it to church on Sunday last. When I took my seat, I looked around and saw a smile, or a sneer, on the lips of our “would-be” aristocratic ladies. They whispered and nudged each other, and were even rude enough to direct their glances straight at me. If they call that good manners, their code and mine slightly differs on the subject. I am only a little girl, and I felt like crying, but I managed to listen with tolerable attention to the sermon. Just as soon as I got home I sat down to write to you about it, feeling sure of your sympathy. I just made up my mind that every one of those ladies I saw laughing at my home-spun dress were nothing but “Yankees.” . . .
—Southern Illustrated News, November 8, 1862
A Womanly Appeal to the Ladies.
From the Columbus Enquirer.]
. . . You who, in the first flush of your patriotism, gave twenty five and thirty dollars for homespuns and ostentatiously wore them, do not now discard them because they wash badly and cost so much; but get a wheel and cards, if you do live in a city, and make one for yourself, and not only that, clothe your husband, bother and little ones. Petition your President for a few cargoes of cotton cards to be sold to you at cost. Petition him to forbid, and that immediately, importations of all dry goods, save necessaries for the army. . . —Memphis Daily Appeal [Atlanta, GA], February 6, 1864, p. 2, c. 6.
Correspondence of the Richmond Sentinel
Columbus, Ga., March 21.
Atlanta is one of the most thriving and enterprising cities in the Confederacy, and its eligible situation promises to make it one of our most important. . . . Ten years ago it was but a village. It now numbers 18,000 inhabitants, and everything about it indicates prosperity. . . The war has not changed the habits of these people much. In fact, Georgia has suffered less from the war than any State in the Confederacy. The contrast between this and Virginia is wonderful. In Atlanta and Macon the ladies dress as in times of peace, have an abundance of fine clothes, and ride in fine carriages, drawn by fat, sleek horses. Fine bonnets and silk dresses are as thick as blackberries. Homespun by the city ladies is not much worn. It is not becoming, they say, and gives them rather a plebeian appearance. Their example, were they to dress in homespun, would certainly have a very salutary effect. It would beget habits of economy in all classes, and make people more self-reliant, contented and happy. . . . –Southern Confederacy [Atlanta, GA], April 10, 1863, p. 1, c. 3-4.
Letter from Ripley.
Ripley, Mississippi, January 12, 1863.
. . . The wife of Chaplain E. H. Osborne, of this place, once sported her moiré antique, and double jupe brocade, and fancy gaiter boots. Now she sports a pair of boys boots, No. 3 and a homespun dress, the manufacture of her own hands, rejoicing in her independence. She is of the opinion that Jeff Davis is an appreciative gentleman. But while a spirit of independence has arisen, among our honored country-women, who toil rather than depend on the Memphis cotton trade for linen and flummery, there are hundreds of wagons going from this county of Tippah to Memphis, laden with cotton, which they exchange for goods and greenbacks, introducing the latter into the country, depreciating our currency, buying up greenbacks in order to trade with the Yankees, giving two dollars in Confederate money for one in greenbacks.—Memphis Daily Appeal [Jackson, MS], January 24, 1863, p. 1, c. 2
“September 13, 1864
If it [the war] lasts much longer I do not know what Baby and I am to do for clothes. We are both very needy. Some people run the blockade and get things. I believe your Pa would go in rags before he would trade with the enemy. I could not go in their lines but if I had money or cotton and could get the chance, I would supply myself with clothes.”—Sarah E. Watkins, Winona, MS to Mrs. L. A. Walton, in Dimond, E. Grey and Herman Hattaway, eds. Letters from Forest Place: A Plantation Family’s Correspondence, 1846-1861. Jackson: MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1993, pp. 322-323.
“Do you realize the fact that we shall soon be without a stitch of clothes? There is not a bonnet for sale in Richmond. Some of the girls smuggle them, which I for one consider in the worst possible taste, to say the least. We have no right at this time to dress better than our neighbors, and besides, the soldiers need every cent of our money. . . Heaven knows I would costume myself in coffee-bags if that would help, but having no coffee, where could I get the bags?”—“Agnes”, Richmond, VA to Mrs. Richard A. Pryor, January 7, 1863, in Pryor, Mrs. Roger A. Reminiscences of Peace and War. Rev. ed. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1908. Reprint ed. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1970, p. 266.
“The Huntsville Advocate says that during the recent Federal raid into Florence, Ala., they burnt the three cotton factories of Martin, Weakley & Co., which worked up 4000 bales per year; the woolen factories of Darby, Benham & co., and of James Martin & Son—five factories. In Florence, they burnt the Masonic hall, one unoccupied tavern, two blacksmith, one coach and one carpenter’s shops, three unoccupied houses, one small residence, etc. They broke open every store in the place, took what they could carry of, robbed citizens of money, watches, jewelry, horses, etc., took off some Negroes, desolated and burned Mrs. James Jackson’s place, etc. They also burned several mills and tan yards in the county. This is a fearful inventory the memory of which should be cherished, for a proper application of the principle of lex talionis.”—Memphis Daily Appeal [Atlanta, GA], June 13, 1863, p. 2, c. 1
“At first few knew how to spin and weave. But my aunt, Mrs. Bennett, and some of the older women in the Byrd, Martin, and Johnson families had learned to spin and weave long years before, and they now gladly taught relatives and all others who wished to learn. Women from all over that section of the country went to them to learn how to manage the spinning wheels and the looms.”—Fleming, Mary Love Edwards. “Dale County and Its People During the Civil War” Alabama Historical Quarterly 19 (1957): 61-109.
“In a few days after our removal, she came to us apparently quite cheerful. . . Receiving her early education during the great struggle of our forefathers for independence, our mother was well acquainted with the manufacture of many articles in great demand, and of which the blockade had deprived us. Although she was then very old and infirm, being in her eighty-sixth year, she went industriously to work, carding and spinning and preparing for the loom her dresses and other wearing apparel. She thus set an example which the less skilled were not slow to follow. Many a poor soldier was thus covered with suits of jeans and warm blankets, woven in the hand-looms by those, who received their first lessons from one, who had outlived her generation.”—Paschal, George W. Ninety-Four Years: Agnes Paschal. Washington: M’Gill & Witherow, 1871. Reprint ed. Spartanburg, SC: Reprint Co., 1974, pp. 338-339.
1 good carder can card 1 lb. of cotton per day
5 lbs. of cotton makes 1 bunch of spun thread
1 bunch of spun thread makes 15 yards of cloth
—The Southern Watchman [Athens, GA],
October 22, 1862, p. 2, c. 2
“It took almost two weeks of steady and earnest labor to spin enough thread for a dress, then another week to weave the fabric. Depending on the style and complication of construction, it could take an additional week to cut and stitch the garment by hand.”—Mills, Betty J. Calico Chronicle: Texas Women and Their Fashions, 1830-1910. Lubbock: Texas Tech Press, 1985, p. 19.
“I have sold some cloth at a dollar and half a yard I have a hundred yards to weave now wee can not buy no thread for chain wee spin all I have one confederate dress it is red chain and purple fillin I have thirty yards to weave for dresses wee have to collor with bark cannot buy Dye of no kind I will send you a peice in my next letter”—M. J. Pierson, Lamar County, TX, to Mrs. Winstead, November 21, 1863. Pierson, M. J. Letters. Texas State Archives, Austin, Texas.
“The ladies down south they do not denigh
They used to drink the coffey and now they drink the rye
The ladies in dixey they are quite in the dark
They used to bye the indigo and now they bile de Bark.”
–a poetic taunt of a Yankee passed on by a North Carolina soldier in 1864, quoted in Wiley, Bell Irvin. The Plain People of the Confederacy. Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1971, p. 49.
“. . . it does seem right diverting now Ma, to go visiting, & hear everyone discussing the merits of this, that, or other mode of dying, & how many cuts of such & such a No. it takes to fill a yd of such a No. & cc & so on, but aint it so different from a few years since, when all the topic under discussion would be fashion’s, & cc, but what amuses me with it all is to hear those that one year ago; (dident know a bear in a harness from I don’t know what;) now talking & advising as though they did it all from long experience, but aside from all joking I do think this war will be the making of a great many women.”—Clara Dunlap, Ouachita County, Arkansas, to Clarissa Dickson, May 23, 1862, in Sisters, Seeds, & Cedars: Rediscovering Nineteenth-Century Life Through Correspondence from Rural Arkansas and Alabama. Edited by Sarah M. Fountain. Conway, AR: UCA Press, 1995, p. 129.
“I dont need them until next winter, as I bought several calico dresses last winter & those with what I had will do me all this & next year, with care; but I wanted some homespun dresses to wear about home to save my others; as there is not a yard of calico, gingham’s, or anything else in Cam[en], except berage or swiss &cc.”—Ouachita County, AR, August 16, 1862, in Sisters, Seeds, & Cedars: Rediscovering Nineteenth-Century Life Through Correspondence from Rural Arkansas and Alabama. Edited by Sarah M. Fountain. Conway, AR: UCA Press, 1995, p. 140.
“I shall never forget with what pride I wore a brown homespun dress, woven in Fayette, Alabama, made ala Princess with train, corded up each seam with black, and a palmetto hat I had made from the heart of the palmetto bleached perfectly white, gathered from the swamp beyond the old Southhall place on Military road. . . . “—Garner, Helen R. “Personal Reminiscences of the War Times,” Dec. 4th, 1900, War Reminiscences of Columbus, Mississippi and Elsewhere, 1861-1865. Compiled by Columbus Chapter, U.D.C. West Point, MS: Sullivan’s, 1861, p. 15.
“May 30, 1864,
We are at last using homespun. Hemmed a dozen towels today, looking much like the dish towels of old. Little Sister is to have an outfit from the same piece, but she quite glories in the idea of wearing homespun and coming out a regular Texan.” [Tyler, Texas]—Holmes, Sarah Katherine Stone. Brokenburn: The Journal of Kate Stone, 1861-1868. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University, 1955, 1972, 1995, p. 286.
“During the war we were forced to do without many things that we formerly had bought from stores. For some of these things nothing could be substituted, but for many of them others were used which we pretended served the purpose almost as well as the originals. We had to pretend about many things in those days.”—Fleming, Mary Love Edwards. “Dale County and Its People During the Civil War” Alabama Historical Quarterly 19 (1957): 96.
“Later some of the neighbors called—Mrs. Wiley, Mrs. Cross, Miss Perry, etc. All were pretty women and were dressed in silk dresses protected by aprons, small, fancy aprons. Grown people’s nice clothes lasted pretty well the four years. With children it was different, we grew out of them.”—Garcia, Celine Fremaux. Celine: Remembering Louisiana, 1850-1871. Edited by Patrick J. Geary. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987, p. 105.
“The Industry of the Women of the South.—A letter from Lincoln county, Tenn., says: On the small farms throughout this section all is life, activity, and industry. . . The picture of the rural soldier’s home is at this time but a picture of primitive life. Throughout the country, at every farm house and cottage, the regular sound of the loom, as the shuttle flies to and frow, with the whirl of the spinning wheel, is heard, telling of home industry. Cotton fabrics, of neat, pretty figures, the production of home manufacture, are now almost wholly worn in Tennessee, instead of calicoes.”—The Southern Watchman [Athens, GA], August 12, 1863, p. 4, c. 1.
“This war is teaching us many things. Dying [sic], spinning, and weaving are no longer unknown mysteries to me. I think of making a compilation of all my practical knoledge [sic] on the subject and I intend for the future Peace or war to let homespun be my ordinary dress. The object of my ambition is to have a black watered silk trimmed with black thread lace. Think of it! How shall I feel when I pull of my russet yarn spun & woven on the Plantation & bedeck myself in that style! It seems so long since I wore a silk dress that I begin to doubt if I ever owned one.” [Halifax County, North Carolina, January 9, 1865]—Edmondston, Catherine Ann Devereux. “Journal of a Secesh Lady”: The Diary of Catherine Ann Devereux Edmonston, 1860-1866. Edited by Beth G. Crabtree and James W. Patton. Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, Department of Cultural Resources, 1979, p. 654.
“I must tell you of the first time I was ever well dressed. I have never felt that I was as fine or elegantly gowned as I was the first time I put on that new spring suit for church. I have had silks and beautiful, nice clothes and lovely hats and bonnets and pretty nice shoes since, but none could ever be compared with that lovely, beautiful costume. . . . I wish you could have one dress that would come as near to your idea of perfection, just the dress you had been dreaming of and wishing for, but never expected that it could be possible for you to really possess it; that would be too good to be true. Well, this was my dress. I watched and helped in the process of making from the picking of the cotton all the way through, for there was just one dress planned in the weaving of the cloth, it was a blue and small black check, fast good colors, the cloth was very smooth and pretty, mother had taken so much time and thought to make it the very best and prittiest [sic] of all the cloth she ever made. I am sure that that was one of the reasons I appreciated it so much.” Virginia Norfleet in Culpepper, Marilyn Mayer. Trials and Triumphs: Women of the American Civil War. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1991, p. 227.
“The people were wild with the “non-consumption” craze, going back to homespun jeans, lye soap, etc., long before the necessity was upon us.
“The young ladies were all preparing for a grand ball, that was soon to be given, and four of them were going to wear homespun dresses. . . . On this particular day we sat on the open portico and I was to read Beauveare to them. The four girls were sewing on their dresses, vile-smelling, common checked goods, such as we used for our servants at that time. They were making them with long trains, low neck and short sleeves, and the lace they were trimming them with was Pointe de Alencon, Honiton and Valenciennes, suitable for the dress of a duchess at a court ball. . . .
When the ball came off the girls looked as lovely as when in satin and lace, for the dresses fitted their perfect figures to a charm. One of the young men who had danced with all the four came to me, and taking me to one side, asked in a hollow whisper: “Miss Lizzie, what in heaven’s name is it that smells so awfully about those girls?” “Why, it is a new perfume they are using,” I said. “They call it patriotism; I call it indigo dye.” “Oh,” he said, “it is the dresses; why didn’t they wash them? It is a horid smell.”
I told the girls about it, and when they got home they were a beautiful blue all about their necks, and they hardly allowed the word homespun ever to be uttered to them until we really had to make it at home and wear it.”—Saxon, Mrs. Elizabeth Lyle. A Southern Woman’s War-Time Reminiscences. Memphis: Pilcher Printing Co., 1905, p. 18, 22. http://sunsite.unc.edu/docsouth/saxon/saxon.html.
“In the fall of 1860 I was here for a day in attendance on the State Fair of that year. I came as a pupil of Spring Bank school, near Kingston, [Cass County, GA] . . .
Now there is nothing very remarkable in a body of school girls attending a fair with several teachers, but this was unusual in that to show our patriotism at that critical time, we were all clad in homespun dresses made by our own hands, the girls, with two or three exceptions, all being under sixteen years of age. We were a proud set, and were confident of being the first to appear in Georgia cotton; so in our simply made blue and white and brown checks, with all eyes upon us we walked proudly from the Union Depot out to the grounds on Fair Street near the cemetery.
It is needless to say we took a prize through we were just a little bit crest fallen to find one other, not a school girl but a young lady, also wearing homespun, which was a much more showy, pretentious one than ours. In her dress, a clear, bright blue was the predominating color; a narrow buff stripe, with probably a red and white thread running through it, alternating with the blue about every half inch. It was made quite stylishly, as I remember; more of a riding habit, a pretty skirt and tight coat piped with buff and ornamented with numerous buttons. We understood that she herself has woven the material.”—Clayton, Sarah Conley. Requiem for a Lost City: A Memoir of Civil War Atlanta and the Old South. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1999, p. 30.
THE WOMEN OF TEXAS
The women of Texas, as a general rule, take as deep an interest as the men in the present momentous state of public affairs. They have participated in the public meetings, prepared banners, and joined in the processions; and we have already published some well written and interesting contributions, in verse and prose, which establish the fact that they can wield the pen with terseness and vigor in the cause of patriotism, justice and constitutional liberty.
A lady writes us from San Antonio: “Rather than that the South shall submit to Lincoln’s administration, I will wear for the rest of my life home-spun or penitentiary goods, and shoes made by our negroes, and will dispense with aught but the most absolute necessaries.” This lady’s grand uncle raised a regiment in Virginia, in the Revolutionary War, equipped it throughout and led it to battle; her grandfather was the ensign of the regiment; her father and three of his brothers—all Kentuckians—did good service in the war of 1812-1814—her brothers have fought well for the Republic of Texas, and since, in Mexico, for the Untied States.
We notice in our State exchanges numerous communications by ladies, all of the same strain, all for the South resisting Black Republican rule.—Galveston Weekly News, February 5, 1861.
Marshall, Texas Sept 15 1862…the spinning machine spins thirteen yards of cloth per day—they have two looms weaving now, one in Eliza’s house & the other in Dr. Flemings. Widows by the Thousands, ed. M Jane Johansson, 2000, pg. 28
Marshall, Texas Sept 24th 1862…Every one is very busy making cloth & there is a good deal for sale at $1 & 1.25 per yard for common plain negro cloth….cards are $15 and 20 dollars & very scarce. Widows by the Thousands, ed. M Jane Johansson, 2000, pg. 41
Marshall, Texas Oct 4 1862. She was very busy helping Mrs. Lipscomb weave a piece of cloth for Mr. Lipscomb’s clothes. Widows by the Thousands, ed. M Jane Johansson, 2000, pg. 42
…your mother is making 90 yards of cloth a week—two looms going all the time. Widows by the Thousands, ed. M Jane Johansson, 2000, pg. 44
Spring Hill [Texas] Nov 19 1862. We are getting on very well weaving. When we weave coarse cloth we average 100 yards a week. Aunt Betsy has wove a very pretty piece of Jeans to make Pap, you, bro Hugh and Levin some clothes. The old spinning machine is doing very will. They spun 19 yeds yesterday. They will get 100 yds this week I expect. They generally get 90 yds a week. Widows by the Thousands, ed. M Jane Johansson, 2000, pg. 60
Marshall Texas Jan 6th 1863. She did not have any thing to dye with but bark so it is not pretty colored—white & lead coered died [sic] with swamp willow. Widows by the Thousands, ed. M Jane Johansson, 2000, pg. 78
Harrison co Feb 19th 1863. Your mother keeps her spinning Machine making 15 yards of cloth a day. Willis & two women spin from light till dark. She has made nearly two thousand yards of cloth. Widows by the Thousands, ed. M Jane Johansson, 2000, pg. 103
Undated. Your mother keeps her machine spinning all the time. It takes Willis & two women to attend to it & reel the cotton, they spin the warp for fifteen yards every day—she has had a beautiful piece of fine white flannel…she says the women who have younmg babies are spinning with the hand. Widows by the Thousands, ed. M Jane Johansson, 2000, pg. 117
Spring Hill TX Dec 6th 1863. I have nearly made up my piece of cloth that came out of the loom the day you left—I have made several garments for myself and Theophilus. I have bough a pair of cards gave $40 for them—I get much more cotton spun now. Widows by the Thousands, ed. M Jane Johansson, 2000, pg. 171
…Your mother is going to have plain cloth wove for the government, she gets the spun cotton from Capt Kingsbury has engaged to weave 120 yards by Christmas.
Spring hill tx jan 18 1864. Cotton Cards that were selling for $0 a month ago are now $80. Widows by the Thousands, ed. M Jane Johansson, 2000, pg. 196
Spring Hill TX Jan 29 1864. I sent to Jefferson by Cousin Henry to get me a pair of fine cards, they are selling for $75.00… Widows by the Thousands, ed. M Jane Johansson, 2000, pg. 202
Srping Hill Feb 26th 1864. You spoke of a uit Lt. Dukes had & expressed a wish for some like it and said you thought it better taste to wear home made goods—it is cheaper for you to wear any other kind and I know it looks better than the homespun—the latter is so smutty and dirty I do not like it. Widows by the Thousands, ed. M Jane Johansson, 2000, pg. 219