Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How Cottage Industries Added to Farm Family's Income

Many of you can probably remember driving through the countryside or going to a small town several years ago and seeing chenille bedspreads hung on clotheslines near the road, waving in the breeze. A hand-lettered sign at the display would announce FOR SALE. The salesman would be present to show the chenille patterns in those not on the line so the customer could choose one to his liking.

No doubt, some of these spreads were made in what has been termed "cottage industries," by farm women who wanted to earn a little more money, especially in the wintertime when the work was lighter on the farm.

This practice was done during the 1930s when our country was still in the Great Depression.

I can remember my aunts, India, Avery and Ethel Collins, making chenille bedspreads. The "laid out" (already patterned) broadcloth the size of a double-bed bedspread was brought to their house by the representative from the factory. With the designed spread, he also brought the thread they were to loop by hand into the spread and then cut the many stitches needed to form the chenille. It took many hours of work to finish one bedspread. The man who had delivered the designed cloth would leave maybe six spreads to be finished. About a month later, he would return with another batch and pick up the finished products. They were paid the agreed-upon rate for each completed spread.

As a child, I can recall my fascination with their work and how bright patterns of flowers (the usual design) came to life as they stitched in the colored heavy thread. There were some of the less common patterns sometimes. Some of these included a peacock with spread wings, a scene from nature, or a landscape scene. When finished, these latter patterns looked gaudy. Had we in our farm community been buying one of the finished bedspreads, we would not have chosen the gaudy patterns, for we were conservative, even in home decorations. But the peacocks and other designs were popular at the roadside sales places.

Where did the traveling "bedspread man" get the spreads for the farm women to work on? A factory in Dalton was our North Georgia supplier. Not then equipped in the factories to do the chenille tufting, they hired it out to farm women. It was a mutual benefit - to the factory and to the women who meticulously sewed in the designed spreads that were left with them.

On winter nights, when the outside chores were done and supper (the evening meal; we always called it supper then) was finished and the dishes washed, my aunts sat down near the fireplace, each with a voluminous spread on which they stitched until bedtime.

It was a time of purpose and also of storytelling and fellowship. I remember the talk around the spread-making. Tales of their early schooldays and who taught them in the one-teacher country school; stories of ancestors who came into Choestoe before the Indians left; how-to accounts of how they learned to weave on the large loom in the weaving room and make the wool cloth they tailored into Grandpa's suits - all of these stories fascinated me. My love for history no doubt was born as these dear aunts sewed the spreads delivered to them in the "cottage industry" era and told stories of past times.

Perhaps many more readers remember the days of the chenille spreads and how the women got paid for sewing in the designs. By today's standards, the pay would seem miniscule but every dollar could be used in those days to purchase items not produced on the farm.

Those were days of solidarity of family and of abiding by the Puritan work ethic, Hands found work to do that they could do. And they did the work to the best of their ability. It was from watching my aunts make those spreads that I learned an important life-truth: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might" (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Mar. 13, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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