|Bobbin Girl by Winslow Homer, 1871|
For most of human history textile production was done in the home. A woman produced what her own family needed, from spinning the wool to knitting garments or weaving fabric using primarily her own raw materials.
If a woman needed extra income she could hire herself out for piecework. A merchant would provide her with raw materials then return later to pick up the finished products. Pieceworkers set their own hours and were free to include their children or other family members as additional helpers, and were paid a price "per piece" rather than a set hourly wage. It was an inefficient system, with some producing more than others and merchants never quite knowing how many completed pieces they would receive.
|Mill Girl, 1908|
Why the silly names? "Gin," "jen" and "jenny" were common slang terms for an engine in the 18th century. But my hands-down favorite silly name is the spinning mule. Really, a mule? But the name is not as silly as it seems to us. In a world that depended on animals for transportation, everyone knew that a mule was the offspring of a female donkey and a male horse. Horses and donkeys are two separate species, but together produce an animal that is in many ways better than its parents - more sure-footed and hardy than a horse, while faster and less stubborn than a donkey. Combining the best features of the spinning jenny and a water frame and calling the new product a "spinning mule" sounds funny to us but would have been a perfectly understandable name for people of the 18th century.
|An early cotton gin, about 1790*|
With textile production automated to be faster and faster, it's no wonder that other industries picked up on textile inventions and modified them for their own industries.
|Photo from the Berroco Archives, 1950s|
My favorite part of the family history is 1968 - when the Wheelock family formed a new handknitting subsidiary called Stanley Berroco. There was never anyone named Stanley Berroco, so why the funny name? "Stanley," of course, was from the parent company name "Stanley Woolen Mills." "Berroco" combined the first syllables from the last names of two sales agents, Mr. BERglass and Mr. ROsenberg. Add a "CO" for company, and you have "BER-RO-CO." Later Stanley Berroco was reestablished as Berroco, Inc., and it has become one of the largest importers and wholesalers of handknitting yarns, patterns and supplies in the United States and Canada.
For the month of April we've got all of our Berroco yarn - that's over 30 brands! - on sale at 20% off.
Happy Knitting . . . .Scout
*Although this cotton gin engraving shows an idealized scene of slaves using a cotton gin around 1790, it was actually engraved some 70 years later and published in Harper's Weekly, December 1869.