In her book, Home Life in Colonial Days, Alice Morse Earle recounts “…spinster is the only one of these variously womanly titles that survives; webster, shepster, litster, brewster, and baxter are all obsolete.” Spinster (a female spinner) is the only word that I could define in that list and guessed that a brewster was a brewer, but did not know it was specifically a woman brewer. Webster is a female weaver of cloth. Shepster is a female seamstress; litster is a female dyer and baxter, a female baker.
The season is upon us for annual sheep and wool festivals, and webster, shepster, litster & spinster will be in attendance at the upcoming Fiber Festival of New England. I am particularly looking forward to visiting the booth of North Light Fibers from Block Island, RI. North Light Fibers (or NLF) runs a year-round mill that produces their own range of yarns, stunningly dyed in vibrant and natural colors. One might ask what is so different about this particular cottage industry? NLF is located on Block Island, RI; in the summer the population swells to 15,000 and ebbs to 900 in the off-season. The founders recognized the need for a new business model for the island, one of light industry, to bring much needed economic sustainability.
Similarly, our own small town relies heavily on the tourist industry during the summer months and needs additional light industry to tide us over the long winter. Recently, a new ‘brewster’ and her brewer mate came to town, retrofitted an existing structure, and hung out their shingle as “Big Elm Brewing”. Allison Schell reports on The National Women’s History Museum site that women were the ‘brewsters’ in early colonial America, in taverns but mainly in homes. Apparently, Martha Jefferson, wife of Thomas, was the brewster in their household.
With most of the outdoor autumn chores completed, it is time to set my sights on indoor stitching and knitting projects, which might require a bit of procuring at this weekend’s Fiber Festival. Over the winter months, I hope to be knitting by the fire and sipping some of our local brew!
Alice Morse Earle, Home Life in Colonial Days, (Grosset & Dunlap, 1898), p. 187.
Allison Schell, “Women + Beer: A Forgotten Pairing,” National Women’s History Museum website, http://www.nwhm.org/blog/women-beer-a-forgotten-pairing/