Saturday, September 17, 2016

Early Settlers: American History for Kids

We carded, spun and wove wool like the early settlers.

Many of the first American colonies were complete disasters, and despite devastating hardships, some managed to survive. Once settlers began to arrive in the new world, they had little contact with Europe and therefore had to be self-sufficient. One of their many chores was the making of clothing.

Before the widespread availability of cloth made possible from the industrial revolution, settlers had to create their own cloth. This was done primarily by carding, spinning, weaving and then sewing the wool from sheep. 


After a sheep is sheared, the wool needs to be cleaned as it is full of feces, dirt and plant matter. The next step is to card the wool. Basically carding is brushing the tangled hairs to straighten them out. Much like a long haired child's hair is brushed each morning. However, carding wool is done after the wool has been removed from the sheep and with large brushes with metal bristles.



Once carding is complete, the wool is spun into a ball of yarn. Twisting the fiber makes the strands stick together in a way that is difficult to pull apart. Spinning was originally completed with hand-held spindles as shown in the photo below. As time progressed spinning was accomplished with personal spinning wheels. Once the industrial revolution took place, spinning was done in factories with machines that automated the process making less work for the average household and greatly reducing the cost of fabric. Please see my Craft Page for more child spinning activity posts which include recommendations for purchasing supplies.

Once the process of spinning is complete, the yarn can be woven into cloth. There are countless weaving techniques which are used to either create simple cloth, or create cloth with detailed patterns. You can find several child-friendly weaving projects on my Arts and Crafts Page as we are a crafting family that has been doing weaving projects for several years.

Dying is the last step of preparation before the cloth is ready to be stitched into clothing. Actually, dying, or coloring of cloth can be done between any step in the process. The cleaned fiber, yarn, woven cloth, or completed clothing can all be colored using the same techniques.

The early American settlers used natural materials such as Forsythia blossoms, berries, leaves, oak bark, walnut husks, or coffee beans to dye their fiber. Each of these materials results in a dull hint of color. Today, food coloring, Kool-Aid, as well as commercial dyes can also be used many of which result in much brighter results.


The basic steps involved in dying wool is to gather the dye material.


Boil the dye material in water.


Soak the yarn, fiber or cloth in the boiling liquid until it takes up the color. The trick is to get the wool to take the color. To do this with most natural materials it is necessary to use a mordant. Mordants allow the dye to be absorbed by the fiber so that it won't wash away leaving you with beautifully colored fiber.

The early settlers faced many challenges and often perished due to their lack of understanding of life in the new world. Many were desperate for liberty, while others were taken to America. With time, the settlers learned how to survive in the new harsh climate and grew strong enough to fight their own oppression. Please join me in future weeks as we explore the motivations for the early colonists to relocate, their relationships with Native Americans and the beginnings of the Revolutionary War.



Check out these great blog hops for more educational activity ideas.

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