winter

Category : Colonial
Date : December 19, 2013
Comments :

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant:  if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.

Anne Bradstreet, Meditations For My Dear Son Simon Bradstreet, #14, March 20, 1664

Winter is upon us and Tuesday dawned with the thermometer reading -0 degrees (we think the thermometer can’t “read” below zero, but we know better).  Snow began falling at daybreak and continued all day.  Six inches of puffy sparkly snow was added to the 10 inches already sitting on the ground.  We awoke to a winter wonderland on Wednesday morning—all the tree branches delineated by the snow, right up to the top of Mt. Everett, the highest peak in the southern Taconic Mountain range.

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With so much snow on the ground, we hunker down indoors.  Time appears to go more slowly, enabling one to linger and concentrate on indoor projects and projects of the mind; a contrast to the last days of autumn, where the chores mound up and come at you with a fierce but still appreciated intensity.  However, now we can also relish in the fruits of our labor from the kitchen, for example, with apple sauce and apple butter as well as frozen herbs/parsley logs (thanks to Margaret Roach over at A Way to Garden and root vegetables.  In the studio, I am thankful that I collected so many leaves, bundled and dried goldenrod, and gathered and soaked black walnuts.  Now, I will be able to fire up those dye baths for both paper and textile.

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What chores did Taphenes, Abigail, Lucretia, Mary, Sarah, Elisabeth and Elenora concentrate on during the winter in this house?  Had they set aside wool to spin and dye?  Did they knit socks?  Were they using the linen they had set out to bleach for weeks in the sun—called ‘grassing’ in America.  In her book, Home Life in Colonial Days, Alice Morse Earle reports:

 “In the winter months the fine, white, strong linen was made into “board cloths” or table cloths, sheets, pillow-biers, aprons, shifts, shirts, petticoats, short gowns, gloves, cut from the spinner’s own glove pattern, and a score of articles for household use.  These were carefully marked, and sometimes embroidered with home-dyed crewels, as were also splendid sets of bed-hangings, valances, and testers for four-post bedsteads.”

She continues, poetically:

“The homespun linens that were thus spun and woven and bleached were one of the most beautiful expressions and types of old-time home life.  Firm, close-woven, and pure, their designs were not greatly varied, nor was their woof as symmetrical and perfect as modern linens—but thus were the lives of those who made them; firm, close-woven in neighborly kindness…………….I am always touched when handling these homespun linens with a consciousness of nearness to the makers; with a sense of energy and strength of those enduring women who were so full of vitality, of unceasing action, that it does not seem to me to they can be dead.”

If I squint, I can imagine that the snow covered pastures are instead fields of finely woven linens, rippling in the breeze, awaiting their winter transformation.

The American Puritans Their Prose and Poetry, edited by Perry Miller (Doubleday Anchor Books, 1956), p.278.

Alice Morse Earle, Home Life in Colonial Days, (Grosset & Dunlap, 1898), pgs. 234-5.

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