WELLS RECORD 13 PMSS Fireside Industries 1913-1928

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: BIOGRAPHY – Staff
Series 03: HISTORIES
PMSS Fireside Industries

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WELLS RECORD 13 PMSS Fireside Industries 1913-1928

TAGS: WELLS RECORD 13 PMSS Fireside Industries 1913-1928, Evelyn K. Wells, weaving, settlement schools, Fireside Industries, Florence Daniels, William Creech, Ethel de Long Zande, Katherine Pettit, Hindman Settlement School, Helen Wilmer Stone, vegetable dyeing, blue-pot, indigo, Farm House, Far House, community craftspeople, cottage industry, economics

WELLS RECORD 13 PMSS Fireside Industries 1913-1928 by Evelyn K. Wells is a detailed report of the Appalachian program that engaged weavers and craftsmen in a self-sufficient industry for the Pine Mountain Settlement School community.

WELLS RECORD 13 PMSS Fireside Industries 1913-1928: Fireside Industries

The ideal behind the development of this department has been to preserve all that was beautiful in the old mountain dyeing and weaving, letting only those things develop out of them that grew naturally, rather than to bring in outside ideas which did not belong to the mountains. Thus, we have used homespun wool, instead of that sent to the factory to be spun, and have avoided mercerized cotton and have religiously followed the old recipes for our dyes, never permitting the use of aniline dyes. that we are one of the few places in the mountains to appreciate to the full the artistic value of the old dyes, made of barks, roots and herbs, is evident from the fact that every weaving teacher who has come to us, has had to learn about the dying here.

Before there was any organized department, Miss Helen Wilmer Stone, housemother at Farm House for eight years, worked away at the dyeing and spinning as a sideline, losing no chance to get a recipe from a neighbor, or collect some beautiful piece of weaving, bartering old clothes for wool and the labor of preparing it, and one summer setting up a loom at Far House.

It was very early decided that when the Old Log House should be free of the hospital and the office and a family of children, it should be used for the weaving department. In 1921 this arrangement was possible, and Arlena Hall, Becky May Huff, Rhoda Melinda Lewis, Ralph Triplett and one or two others, went to weaving there. After a year, however, it was discovered that the place was too cold and dark and crowded for weaving, and the department reluctantly abandoned it for the present Library of the Schoolhouse. In 1924 it entered its present quarters in the new Girls’ Industrial Building.

The salary of the weaving teacher was paid for four years by the Southern Industrial Educational Association in Washington, but the breaking up of that organization terminated this arrangement. For the last two years, the Colonial Coverlet Guild of America [See Margaret Motter Talk for the Colonial Coverlet Guild of America] has contributed towards this salary.

IN 1921 the baskets, made for us for years by Mr. and Mrs. Wiliam Causey and sold by the office, were transferred to the Fireside Industries Department for handling.

In 1926 the Fireside Industries accounts were taken off the books of the School, to be kept independently by that Department.

Wells Record 13 PMSS Fireside Industries 1913-1928

“Mr, & Mrs. Bennett Hall.” Man whittling & woman. [nace_II_album_080.jpg]

The work of Frank, Bennett and Hiram Hall, begun at the instigation of Miss Medcalf at Line Fork in 1924, has grown to great proportions. It began by one of the Halls making Miss Medcalf for a “pretty,” a walnut walking stick with a carved handle, and the first carved broom handle was suggested by that. In 1927, Bennett Hall alone estimated that he had made $200 out of his broom and stool making. What it has meant to the three brothers as an occupation on a creek ridden by moonshine making, and what it has meant to the countryside as an example of a family industry, is told in the Notes for November 1925.

Because of the famous non-fading quality of the old blue coverlets of the mountains, we have always had the greatest interest and curiosity about the making of that color. Our attempts to reproduce the old fadeless blue, by means of the blue-pot recipe, were for years unsuccessful and the first really good blue was obtained in 1924 by Miss Lucy Nicholson [staff at PMSS] and Mrs. El Nolan. The subject of where to get good indigo was gone into. The old people whom we questioned had gotten their indigo through the country stores and we found that the brand they used was o longer obtainable. This led to the experiment of growing indigo plants, and in the fall of 1925, Miss Edna Fawcett, a former worker at the school came back to make indigo from our plants. Miss Fawcett was then in the employ of the Government and came at their expense, but at our request. [See booklet: Margaret Furry and Bess Viemont, Home Dyeing with Natural Dyes, 1935.]

The plants which the children had set out and tended through the difficulties of a very dry summer, carrying pails of precious creek water some distance every evening, were ready for her, and for days we watched as she worked. The boiling down of bushels of leaves to a final saucer-full of dry powder, with all the intermediate processes, revealed to us why the raising of indigo belonged to the days of slave labor and not for us. Wonderful blue dyes were made, and the blue-pot set, and a comparison made of the old blue-pot set, and a comparison made of the old blue-pot method of the mountains with the sulfuric acid method. It was demonstrated past doubt that the raising of indigo and making of our own dye is not for us, but that yarn dyed in the mountain blue-pot, from commercially prepared indigo, is a better blue than that obtained in any other way.

Wells Record 13 PMSS Fireside Industries 1913-1928

“Dyeing.” Two women with buckets and vat. [Aunt Sal and Ethel de Long ?] [nace_II_album_062.jpg]

The development of the Summer and Winter weave which began with Miss Eleanor Stockin, who worked out this old-fashioned method, and grew to flower with Miss Florence Daniels, has been one of the things the Fireside Industries Department is most proud of. This weave differs from the overshot in the winding of the warp [note to side: “in being a closet weave with not long skips.”] and the need for more treadles and harnesses, sometimes as many as twelve treadles and nine 7 harnesses being used. Any pattern may be woven by the overshot method. The name comes from the cool, white appearance of the predominating cotton thread on one side, and on the other, the rich warmth of the wool.

It is interesting to remember that Becky May Huff, the first girl ever to come to Pine Mountain, wove the first coverlet in the department in 1922, and for some time was the only student who could do pattern weaving; that Allene Nolan, the first girl to learn weaving at Pine Mountain and set upon her loom at home, helped by the selling of her blankets to pay for the Nolans’ new kitchen and stove to say nothing of stimulating her mother to take up her forgotten art again and become our finest coverlet weaver; that Oma Creech learned to weave at the School, and worked on Aunt Sal Creech‘s old loom, her grandmother dyeing the wool for her and setting up the loom again. Her first blanket was a copy of a very old one in the Creech family. When Hattie Howard, who had learned at the School and set up her own loom at home, came back for a summer vacation with a coverlet which paid her whole year’s schooling; and  when later Delphia Turner brought in three at the end of a summer, this paying for herself and a little sister for a year, weaving as a profitable trade for our girls was on its feet.

Wells Record 13 PMSS Fireside Industries 1913-1928

Woman weaving at “Old Loom.” [nace_II_album_020.jpg]

An interesting custom which has been observed from the day Becky May’s first coverlet was displayed in the dining room, is the showing of every new piece off the looms with an explanation from some weaving girl of the dyes and the pattern.

The Fireside Industries Department has grown in the face of great difficulties. Before there was any organized department, with a full -time teacher, there was constant education going on; children were being taught to value the old pieces in the School ; Miss Pettit’s and Mrs. Zande’s beautiful collections were always on display in their own houses and being loaned to the others; every new worker who came in, was told their history and significance; every bit of weaving, even a few feet from an old coverlet or blanket, was saved, every chance was given to encourage interest. Uncle William planted our flax crop the first year, all the neighbors who spun could sell their yarn at the school. Everyone looked forward to the day when we should be gathering all these threads of interest and activity into one department.

Wells Record 13 PMSS Fireside Industries 1913-1928

Girl’s Industrial. Interior view of weaving room with looms. [II_6_swimming_draper_boys.jpg]

When the department actually began it met the obstacles that hampered all our work, — the delays of collecting the right materials, the constant sacrifice of the department of its best help, when epidemics, canning, or other school crises came, so that sometimes the bests weavers were gone some time from the weaving room, the working in of the younger children at sewing rags for rugs, winding bobbins, etc; the labor of carding, spinning, dyeing, setting upon warps, all preliminary to the actual weaving, the uncertainty of the dyeing, so that sometimes the work of days must be done again to secure the right color, the expeditions to the woods for the right barks and roots, some of them very rare.

And when it came to country people taking it up again, the growth is even more surprising, for life in a mountain home is much more difficult than in a school community; there is the heavy farm work that takes in every member of the family during crop time, there are the boarders to be cooked for, there are the mistakes in the work, — the breaking of a thread or the failure of the dye-pot, which must wait till the next visit of the weaving teacher. The one day a week that she could give to extension work did not bring her very often to the Head of Leatherwood, or to Incline, or Big Laurel.

Considered in the light of these difficulties, the selection of facts given below shows a tremendous accomplishment and a fine record.

WELLS RECORD 13 PMSS Fireside Industries 1913-1928: CHRONOLOGY

1921-1922 Miss Daisy Bilbrey in charge at Old Log 6 children at work. Output: 58 yards blanket material, 15 yards linsey woolsey, curtains, rugs, counterpane material, etc Sales: $464
1922-1923 Miss Sabrina Ritchie in charge at Old Log 34 blankets and 45 yards rug material made. Allene Nolan and Oma Creech started at their own looms. Sales: $1,015
1923-1924 Miss Lucy Nicholson in charge at Schoolhouse The record for two months alone shows 6n yards coverlet material, 6 yards rug material, 3 blankets, counterpanes and tied lace made. The first successful blue-pot was set, weaving notebooks were started, the regular weaving class began, the student making themselves homespun dresses. Kenneth Nolan started work at his own loom. Sales: $388
1924-1925 Miss Eleanor Stockin in charge at Schoolhouse and later at Girl’s Industrial Building 3 new looms, 12 children working. Output: Martha Washington counterpane, 3 Tennessee Trouble coverlets. 2 Cross coverlets, 60 yards. rag rug material, 17n blankets, 6 runners., 14 yards curtain material, strips of samples, work n the summer and Winter weave. Many of these pieces went to the furnishing of the Old Log House. A loom was set up at the Medical Settlement. Mrs. E. Nolan made 7 coverlets, Mrs. Kenneth Nolan 6 blankets. The Hall brothers started work on Bear Branch. Sales: $797
1925-1926 Miss Florence Daniels in charge Loom at Line Fork Miss Fawcett’s indigo experiment. Sales: $1164
1927-1928 Miss Barbara Jenkins doing extension work Getting people to make tied lace and tufted counterpanes. Sale: $2,474

ADDENDA: A Weaving Teacher’s Report, 1926-1929

(Miss Florence Daniels, weaving teacher for 1926-1929, sends in the following report, which, although it duplicates somewhat the subjects that have already been said, is worth quoting.)


Jane Nolen 29 Coverlets and pieces (including five Coverlets woven for her 5 children
Jona Creech 2 Blankets. (Had to stop weaving because of heart trouble.)
Hattie Howard [See below]
Margaret Howard (Hattie’s mother) 11 Coverlets and pieces
Ophia Jackson 11 blankets. 3 coverlets and pieces
Delphia Turner 5 Coverlets and pieces
Tressie Wilder 3 Blankets
Redia Nolan 2 Blankets
Mrs. Crit Lewis 2 Blankets
Jim Lewis 2 Blankets
May Morgan 2 Blankets
Ruth Burdine Coverlet pieces
Alice Boggs Had not finished anything. She has since done several things and is planning to weave this summer.

The two things which give me most satisfaction among the few I accomplished are:

Teaching Mrs. Nolan how to do the Summer and Winter weave. She had never done any before. This was a chance to repay her a little for all she had done in helping the weaving teachers. Much credit is due to Becky May Huff in this, for she helped Mrs. Nolan adjust her loom after I had gone. I started Mrs. Nolan just before I left the first spring. I took Becky May down there when we tied up the loom, so she would be sure to understand it. It always takes a lot of adjusting when a loom has a different tie-up, especially when new harnesses and treadles have been added. The cords stretch and have to be evened. Beck May helped with that after I had gone. As far as I know, all that Becky May knew about Summer and Winter weave she had learned that same year when I taught her how to weave a simple pattern in that, on my loom. Mrs. Nolan has become very much devoted to Summer and Winter weave, and says she likes to weave that kind better than the other.

GALLERY: WELLS RECORD 13 PMSS Fireside Industries 1913-1928

ADDENDA: (Continued)

The other thing which gives me a nice feeling is some of the work I did in starting people weaving in their homes. Mrs. Ophia Jackson had never woven a bit and hardly seen a loom until she decided to try to support herself and her three little children after her husband was shot. Dr. Withington deserves a lot of credit for helping her to get a loom, and for encouraging her. Ophia did not have much self-confidence, and I was afraid she would get too discouraged and stop before she got a good start. I made a good many frantic trips down to big Laurel during my free hour and dinner time ad a bit more, just to encourage her and let her know I was behind her work. Since Alafair (my horse) was lame, I hiked, and my! how I hurried She did nicely, as we knew she would, and enjoyed weaving, and found it worthwhile financially. The next spring when she was living over on Leatherwood I taught her how to weave coverlets. She certainly proved an apt pupil. I have heard from someone since that she was making all her living expenses by her weaving, but I can’t vouch for that.

Of course, the Howards’ weaving was another pleasant achievement. Certainly, Hattie [Howard] can be proud of having taught her mother how to weave coverlets and to do the vegetable dyeing.

May Morgan, one of the last whom I taught, has done quite a lot of blanket weaving since I left, according to her sister, and has been pleased with her results.

Tressie Wilder did some nice weaving just before I left, and has woven several blankets. She had been wanting to weave for a long time, and finally, Dorse made her a loom. He was the loom-maker for most of the people who began to weave in their homes. Since he did that on rainy days and in his spare time, that brought him some extra money.

The first year most of my extension work consisted in tramping along the road and stopping in at the various houses to teach the women how to make tied lace. I remember how I found one woman who was left-handed and, on the spur of the moment, I had to teach her left-handed. After that, I found another woman who was left-handed, and it was very simple to teach her.

I had a weaving class at Big Laurel with several very enthusiastic weavers. “Little Alice” Boggs, who is one of the weaving girls here (Berea) got her first taste of weaving at that time. Unfortunately, the loom was burned in the fire and there was no opportunity to continue that class.

The first half of the third year I was able to use Nell (horse), and of course was able to cover more territory in less time. The last half of that year, and the whole of the net, when I had Alafair (horse), I was able to [get] around even more, because I could always depend on having a horse, without worrying about whether plowing, or mail-time or something else would interfere with my trips.

The receipts for last year (1928-1929) amounted to $2,583.60.

Another change we made the second year, besides taking over the accounts, was to attend to weighing and stamping the packages we sent out. It takes a good deal of time to calculate all that business —zone, weight, insurance, etc.

I never felt particularly satisfied with the dyeing as a whole. It is something which needs careful and undivided attention, which I could rarely give to it.

The mail orders grew a lot, I think.

 See Also:
EVELYN K. WELLS Staff Interim Director Biography


KATHERINE PETTIT Weaving at PMSS Beginnings

EVELYN K. WELLS Guide to Excerpts from Letters Home 1915-1923

Back To:
WELLS RECORD OF PINE MOUNTAIN SCHOOL Guide 1913-1928 – 22 sections of early in-depth history of the Pine Mountain Settlement School gathered by Evelyn K. Wells from 1913 to 1928.


EVELYN K. WELLS Publications and Talks

Wells, Evelyn K. The Ballad Tree: A Study of British and American Ballads, Their Folklore, Verse and Music, Together with Sixty Traditional Ballads and Their Tunes. New York: Ronald Press, 1950. Print.

EVELYN K. WELLS “A Little True Blue American,” Over Sea and Land: Our Southern Mountains, November 1920, p. 140.

EVELYN K. WELLS Harvard University Address 1955Re: Folk Music. July 21, 1955.