Pine Mountain Settlement School
DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH
Weaving at PMSS 1930’s-1940s
Series: By Topic – Arts & Crafts
DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Weaving at PMSS 1930s-1940s
MARGARET MOTTER AND THE COLONIAL COVERLET GUILD
Margaret Motter was a worker at Pine Mountain Settlement School in the 1920s and 30s and again in the 1940s. Serving as a Principal & Teacher 1928 – 1938 and as the Publicity Representative and Head of English Department from 1946 – 1949. She was a prolific writer and a clever and persuasive speaker. Even more important to the School was her dedication to fund-raising for the school. Many times she was asked to represent the School and to travel to distant cities to speak to special audiences that might find the programs at Pine Mountain worthy of support. Many times she managed to bring weaving into her talks.
Weaving had long been one of Miss Motter’s favorite crafts and she found many ways to integrate comments on the weaving program at Pine Mountain into her public speaking tour. One group that shared her interest was the Colonial Coverlet Guild* in Chicago, Illinois, where she spoke on November 10, 1948 . it is clear the Miss Motter enjoyed this talk , as did her audience. To accompany the talk to some 80 members of the Guild, she brought along many of the coverlets and weaving samples from the school. She described the origin of the patterns, dyes, and some of the stories that came from the community related to weaving. She described how for many years weaving was a part of the curriculum of the School and many of the community children were taught to weave. She emphasized how the art stayed with a number of the graduates and in some homes in the Pine Mountain valley which established their own looms and weaving as a cottage industry to provide additional income for the family. Pine Mountains efforts to encourage weaving were shared by Fireside Industries which broadly supported craft in the Appalachian mountains.
When Margaret Motter addressed the Colonial Coverlet Guild* she wrote out her talk in her unique abbreviated form and years later left Pine Mountain a copy of this talk and others, as well. Her talk is transcribed below. Many of the abbreviations have been expanded in this version and individuals are identified, where known. The talk is a window to weaving activity at the School and the role Miss Motter and others had in encouraging the continuation of mountain traditional craft by integrating the craft into the Pine Mountain educational programs. Further, the focus on weaving was melded to the social out-reach of the School and was used to engage the broader community and to stimulate the potential for economic independence for many women in the community.
TRANSCRIPTION OF MOTTER TALK
MESSAGE TO COLONIAL COVERLET GUILD
November 10th 1948
By Margaret Motter
Many of you are familiar I am sure with the institution and the dramatic beginnings of Pine Mountain Settlement School, but any sort of message about our school is incomplete without mentioning the name of William Creech, affectionately known as “Uncle William.” Here was a man with a 3rd grade education but with great vision who dreamed for 30 years of a school which would “holp” his people.
When he gave his land (all he had) [not quite!] he wrote some men in his un-lettered hand which we treasure. I want to give you the closing paragraph to remind you of the ever-recurring challenge from Uncle William to carry on —
“I don’t look for wealth for them ….
So through the years Pine Mountain has been serving an isolated rural community as an extension, hou.-sec [?], vocational high school and as a center of culture, and social and economic welfare.
Uncle William believed it was “better for folkes children to learn how to work with their hands…” In following this advice of Uncle William Pine Mountain has had from the beginning what we call a work program. Pupils pay $10.00 – $15.00 month if they can afford it and work 2 1/2 hrs. per day and longer on Saturday. This work program serves dual purpose. Children are made to feel the value of the education that they are earning thru work. [It] keeps [their] self respect, values and dignity of work itself and besides, through the work program the school is kept going. The children learn over a period of years and do all kinds of work connected with homemaking, farming and some trades or vocations. All work is done under supervision and changed every 9 weeks. Children have on whole a fine attitude ….
“One thing I don’t like …….” [?] [Comment by Brit ?]
Now, a very popular part of our work program as well as an elective study during school hours is our weaving. I want to give you a few details about this department since you have been good enough to share in making this department function.
Our weaving room has recently been enlarged and we have space for more looms and better looms. We have by no means enough to meet the demand. We have 9 looms and one small one owned by the teacher. 6 of these were made at Berea, one at Pine Mountain after the Berea Style — 5 of the looms are 40″ and 4 are 22″-24″. Since 6 of the looms were at Pine Mountain before 1924 I guess it is not an understatement [page 3] to say they have not the latest improvements!
Our teacher informed me that a Swedish weaver told her we are doing very well indeed with the equipment we have. So you can see as time goes on we shall need to replace these older looms with better ones and to purchase a pair of badly -needed scales [?] for the weaving room.
I have brought you some samples of weaving done by our girls. We use rags from feed-sacks which are dyed at the school and woven into rugs. Old rayon stock and any kind of woven underwear can be transformed in the weaving room into lovely bags. We have a neighbor who does some spinning for us and other yarns we buy.
I mentioned that our weaving is very popular. Some girls who learned to weave have been able to get a loom at home and have continued in their work. Two of the senior girls have been especially interested “in weaving and confided in the teacher that they hope they’ll get a loom as a graduation gift from their home folks. The girls love to weave a skirt to wear on May Day and have a chance to participate in the colorful “Weaver’s Dance”.
Weaving does go on in some of the homes (as I mentioned), i.e., sample curtain [cur. ?] material [mat.?] woven by one of our neighbors. [The] Swedish pattern sells for $1.95 a yard. I am reminded at this point of the way I happened to get one of my coverlets when I was at Pine Mountain in the fall of 1928. In the office welcoming children as they arrived — In came last years student with a younger sister by hand and [a] coverlet over other arm. “I brung —– “
That coverlet was definitely a home product, brown from walnut hulls and dusty rose from madder. Just as lovely today as when I bought it and I love to think that little Della [Hayes] — now a successful nurse — had her start at Pine Mountain because her sister had learned to weave at our school and had a loom at home.
[page 5] I am sure you are familiar with Dr. Allen Eaton’s book, Handmade in the Southern Mountains. [this should read, Handicraft of the Southern Highlands], One of the colored illustrations shows a striped blanket that we call Pine Mountain Blanket #16. I have one of these made by a mountain woman who was taught to weave by our teacher — wool from her own sheep and vegetable dye used. This is the type of blanket we always use for our prophets in the Nativity Play. [This same Pine Mountain Blanket #16 was used as a cover for the plaque which was un-veiled at the Centennial celebration in August 2013.] You can see that the weaving even goes into something special like that.
I say something special [is] Christmas at Pine Mountain is an occasion that one never forgets. With our sacrificial meals for our Charity Fund now we’ll have something to share with others; with our appealing dram [?] of lovely carols in dining room while decorated with garlands, wreaths, and tree; with our gay Mummer’s Play ; without charming Nativity Play in [page 6] the Chapel, it is an occasion for happy activity — [a] genuine pleasure. It has its effect upon children “Love and joy …” —“Hit’s peacefulest –“
Your share in our work is indeed heartwarming to the staff and the trustees. May we ask for your continued interest so that we may not fail to make Uncle William’s dream come true — I don’t want hit to be for this local. only —-” ——
*Swygert, Mrs. Luther M. Heirlooms from Old Looms A Catalogue of Coverlets Owned By the Colonial Coverlet Guild of America and Its Members – R.R. Donnelley and Sons : 1940 (1955).
Through Pine Mountain’s efforts and the support of the broad-ranging Fireside Industries, a strong program of support for the Appalachian craft was developed and weaving was strongly revitalized in the 1930s and 40s. In many environments, during the 1930s and 1940s the idea of a “cottage industry” which is characterized by contracted work completed at home and then marketed through a central agency, was a developed to support commercial interests — and often, profits. In the case of Pine Mountain, the idea was not new and was not exploited by the school for commercial reasons, but was incorporated into the educational program and into their primary goal of building “community.”
The idea of weaving at home was not unique to families in the Pine Mountain community but with Pine Mountain’s encouragement, it followed the model put forward by the “Fireside Industries” which flourished at centers such as Berea College, long a mentor for the School. Pine Mountain’s interest was also shared by many other rural settlement schools in the region, particularly in the early settlements in western North Carolina. What was unique at Pine Mountain was the measure of enthusiasm in the community for such work and the persistence of weaving as part of the education program at the school. Weaving has been an activity that has found a place at the School for the full 100 years of its history. Through the enthusiasm of Katherine Pettit and others, Pine Mountain’s interest in the long family traditions led to the introduction of weaving and dying in the first decade of the school. Katherine Pettit’s Dye Book is a classic in the genre. Under Pettit and others, weaving and the use of native plants for dyes later found a place in the curriculum of the school as a vocational tract that focused on spinning and weaving. When a more normalized curriculum was mandated by public instructions guidelines, weaving still remained as an elective and then as an after-school program at the School.
Unlike many regions of the Southern Appalachians in the 1940’s, the Pine Mountain valley had not fully abandoned weaving in some households. In many homes in the mountains, and in the Pine Mountain region particularly, many families retained their old looms and many of the unique patterns persisted through many generations of family weavers. Often scratched out on long strips of cloth, these patterns were family treasures.
What Pine Mountain brought to the “Fireside Industries” or “cottage industry” model was a renewal or revival of the long-standing culture of eager mountain weavers. Margaret Motter moved this enthusiasm along by carrying examples of weaving with her on most every talk she gave outside the School. Through Katherine Pettit’s early enthusiasm for collecting mountain “kivers” the attention to the beauty and skill of mountain weaving moved among the staff of the School like an aesthetic mantra. Workers discovered in weaving a sophisticated and beautiful local craftsmanship that utilized skill, intelligence, and tenacity — qualities that the community weavers had in abundance. The education that occurred between the workers and the community was mutual — and it continues to be mutual today, even as the “community” of Pine Mountain has expanded to include a broad public.
WEAVING IN 1949
A short piece written by Freshman student Mattie Mae Adams in the February 1949 PINE CONE, the student newsletter, describes a weaving experience at the School. 1949 was the last year the boarding school was in operation.
On my entrance to Pine Mountain I had a choice between science and weaving. I took weaving. At first I was afraid to weave. I was afraid I would make a mistake. It seemed hard for me to remember all of the names of the parts of the loom, and it was still harder to wind a bobbin. But it didn’t take me long as I have Miss Christensen for a teacher.
She started me off on a rug that she had already started herself. Afterward, I thought I wanted to make one for myself. Now we have started on our May Day skirts, which are very difficult, because I get my threads crossed and have to take them out. Then I have to re-wind a bobbin. The next thing I know I’m using the wrong treadles or mending a broken heddle. Broken threads are another difficulty. I have just mended a broken thread when I discover a mistake which has to be taken out. Then I usually take out two to that four.
Now all of these things don’t happen every day; but when one happens it seems as if they all happen at once. Even in spite of these hard tasks, I am glad I made the choice of weaving.
Mattie Mae Adams, Freshman
SEE ALSO: KATHERINE PETTIT – WEAVING