Definitions  

Acetic Acid—Vinegar, used to neutralize alkaline dye baths and can heighten some colors.  
Alum
—Potassium sulfate (also known as potassium alum or potash alum), ammonium sulfate, and sodium sulfate.  Potassium alum is found in the minerals kalinite, alunite, and leucite, which can be treated with sulfuric acid to obtain crystals of the alum.  Used as a mordant in dyeing, it fixes dye to cotton and other fabrics, rendering the dye insoluble.  Modern mordant alum is potassium aluminum sulfate.  
Argol
—Crude tartar.  
Bismuth
—A heavy brittle highly diamagnetic chiefly trivalent metallic element resembling arsenic and antimony chemically.
Bluestone
—Hydrated copper sulfate  
Bunch
—Five pounds of factory thread, ready to be spooled for weaving.  One bunch of thread can produce fifteen yards of cloth.  
Cards
—A pair of paddles, usually rectangular in shape, with handles attached.  Each card is covered on one side by little bent wire teeth, pitched at an angle.  These teeth are embedded in a backing which was leather in the 19th century.  Wool cards have 12 to 13 teeth per inch.  Cotton cards have longer, finer and closer-set teeth than those used for wool carding.  There were only three hand card factories in the U.S. in 1860—all in Worcester County, MA, but they were also produced in Europe.  
Cards, Breaking
—Cards that separate woolen fibers.  
Cards, Roll
—Cards that comb wool into rolls.  
Chalybeate Water
—Water impregnated with salts of iron.  
Clock Reel
—See reel.  
Cochineal
—A red or scarlet dyestuff consisting of the dried bodies of female insects which resemble mealybugs and feed on cactus.  The dye is very powerful and very expensive per pound.  It is produced in Mexico and Central America.  
Color Fast
—Dye which retains its intensity when repeatedly washed or exposed to light; also washfast, lightfast.  
Copperas
(Green vitriol)—Ferrous sulfate heptahydrate, is obtained as a by-product of industrial processes using iron ores that have been treated with sulfuric acid.  Used as a mordant (fixative) in textile dyeing and printing.  Modern copperas often goes by the name of "iron mordant."  Small amounts will darken or sadden colors, but copperas itself can also be used as a dye.  During the War, Southern women made copperas by soaking rusting iron in vinegar.  
Cream of Tartar
—Potassium hydrogen tartrate, prepared from argols and also synthetically from tartaric acid.  
Dent
—The space between two wires or reeds on a sley.  
Domestic Cloth
—Inexpensive white and unbleached cotton cloth from American mills.  
Dressing the Loom
—The process of making the loom ready for weaving.  
End
—A warp thread.  
Factory Thread
—Usually cotton, sometimes wool, weaving thread, usually produced in five pound bunches.  
Foot-Powered Loom
—A treadle operated loom as distinct from a table loom.  
Ginning
—Separating the cotton seed from the fibers.  
Handloom
—Any of various looms or weaving devices operated wholly or partly by hand or foot power.  Modern "handloomed cloth" may be produced on a machine but the shuttles are changed by hand.  Machine loomed cloth is set up and the operator can just let it go.  
Hank
—840 yards of cotton thread, weighing one pound.  
Harness (Shaft)
—A device for raising and lowering the warp threads on a loom.  
Heddle
—The string or wire loop in the harness that does the lifting or lowering of the warp threads to form the shed.  
Homespun
—As a mid-nineteenth century term may mean: 
           
a.  All handspun and hand woven 
           
b.  Factory spun warp, handspun filler, hand woven 
           
c.  All factory spun, but hand woven 
           
d.  All factory spun and factory woven in the South, where home=South; supposed to resemble true hand woven 
           
e.  Fake homespun—factory spun and woven in the North, considered a cheap imitation. 
           
To determine if a piece of fabric is handwoven, check to see if there is variation of thread count at various places on the cloth; if it is a plaid or strip, fold the fabric to see if the spacing is exactly consistent; cloth is usually not perfectly rectangular; usually has no selvedge or less than ¼" and it is the same as the rest of the cloth; usually single ply, not two-ply up through mid 19th century except for blankets or coverlets.  Synthetic dyes "run"—natural dyes never run (except perhaps if a mouse urinates on indigo cloth) but may fade, eat out, or change colors (information from Rabbit Goody's "Identifying Historic Textiles" course—highly recommended!]  

Indigo
—A blue vat dye obtained from plants in the genus Indigofera, by the mid-19th century grown mostly in India and Central America although it was still cultivated in home patches in the southern U.S.  
Jeans
—A twilled cotton or wool and cotton cloth, often used for pants or suits, including uniforms.  
Lazy Kate
—A type of spool rack, either upright or side-by-side.  
Ley or Lye
—A strong alkaline liquor that contains chiefly potassium carbonate obtained by leaching wood ashes with water.  In cloth production used for scouring.  
Lime
—A caustic highly infusible solid that consists essentially of calcium oxide often together with magnesia, that is obtained usually in the form of white to grayish lumps or pebbles of calcining limestone, seashells, coral, or other forms of calcium carbonate.  
Linsey-Woolsey
—A finely woven material with warp of handspun linen, and filler of handspun woolen yarn.  Both linen and wool were of single ply each.  By the 19th century, the South had largely substituted cotton yarn, often factory spun, for linen.  
Logwood
—A black or dark blue dye produced from the heartwood of a tree which grows in Mexico, Central America, the West Indies, and northern South America.  
Loom
—A frame or machine for interlacing at right angles two or more sets of threads or yarns to form a cloth; Width usually 45"-54", but width of cloth determined by use, not loom.  
Madder
—Dye produced from the roots of Rubia tinctorum, a Eurasian herb, mostly grown in West Indies, England, Holland, although it was also grown in the United States in home patches.  It produces moderate to strong red colors.  
Mordant
—A chemical agent which combines with both the dye molecule and the fiber molecule, producing a permanently fixed insoluble color on cloth.  The most common home mordants in the mid-19th century were copperas and alum.  
Mordant Assistant or Chemical Assistant
—A chemical that increases the effectiveness of a mordant, such as cream or tartar and washing soda.  
Muriatic Acid
—Hydrochloric acid.  
Niddy-Noddy
—An angled stretcher, made of wood, predating the clock-reel as a primitive device for measuring skeins.  
Osnaburg
—Coarse, unbleached cotton cloth.  
Plain or Tabby Weave
—Weave is completely balanced and has no right or wrong side—over one thread, under one thread.  
Ply
—A technique of twisting two or more strands of yarns together in the direction opposite to the single twist.  Knitting yarns and sewing threads are plied.  
Queen's Delight
Stillingia sylvatica, a woody shrub which grows in dry soil from Florida to Texas and northward to Virginia and Missouri.  It produced a black dye.  
Quercitron
—A yellow dye produced from the inner bark of the black oak, which grows throughout the eastern US, with Georgia, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas supplying the greatest quantity in the mid 19th century.  
Quill
—The paper tube or corn husk on which a bobbin is wound.  
Reed or Sley
—A device on a loom resembling a comb and used to space warp yarns evenly.  
Reel
—A piece of equipment with two crossed wooden arms with yarn holders on each of the four ends.  The reel was placed on a stand, allowing it to pivot to wind off the spindle yarn.  The reel had a circumference of about 6½ feet.  Clock reels had gauges that ticked with each rotation on a simple wooden dial.  Forty turns of the winder made a "knot" of 80 yards, and seven knots made one skein, or 560 yards of yarn.  
Repeat
—A unit of pattern, the distance before the pattern starts repeating itself.  
Roll or Rolag
—Batt coming off of the cards, with an even density throughout, loose and fluffy.  
Roving or Sliver form of Cotton
—A slightly twisted roll or strand of textile fibers  
Saddening Agent
—Addition to the dyebath of iron mordant, which ultimately dulls the color.  Dyeing in an iron vessel has the same effect, particularly on bright colors.  
Selvedge
—The firm edge of the cloth, usually the last four or six warp threads.  Handwoven selvedges are the same as the body of the cloth, unless at the very edge where there may be double threads  
Shed
—The opening between two layers of warp ends.  
Shuttle
—Any device for carrying the weft across the loom through the shed.  
Sizing or Dressing
—A finish applied to fabric to add body, usually added to the warp to make it smoother and therefore easier to weave; usually a form of starch.  
Sley or Reed
—A number of vertical splits of reed or wires set at precisely defined intervals between two horizontal rods, used for spacing the warp and beating up the weft.  Sleys were changed according to the type of fabric being woven, and were named according to the number of spaces per inch—such as a forty-dent reed.  
Sley, Double
—Two threads in each dent of the reed.  
Sley, Single
—One thread in each dent of the reed.  
Soda
—Sodium carbonate or sodium bicarbonate.  
Spinning Jenny
—An early multiple-spindle machine for spinning wool or cotton.  
Spinning Wheel
—A small domestic hand-driven of foot-driven machine for spinning yarn or thread in which a wheel drives a single spindle  
Sugar of Lead
—Lead acetate.  
Swift
—Adjustable wheel mounted on a frame to hold yarn for unwinding.  
Tabby weave
—Plain weave.  
Tannic Acid
—Any of various soluble astringent complex phenolic substances of plant origin used in tanning, dyeing, and the making of ink and in medicine.  It can be found in oak gallnuts, tea, sumac, oak bark, and mangrove bark (cutch).  
Threads
—A group of textile filaments twisted or spun together to make a continuous strand.  
Threads per Inch (Cloth Density)
—The number of parallel threads in a piece of cloth within one inch.  It may vary between warp and filler.  Homewoven cloth usually has 28-50 threads per inch; professional "fancy" weaver 50-60 threads per inch; machine woven 80-100 threads per inch except for some silks from France and some cottons from India.  
Tin Mordant
—Stannous chloride; dyers mixed muriatic acid with water and added powdered block tin obtained from a coppersmith or apothecary.  
Treadles
—Pedals used to raise or lower the harness on a loom.  
Twill
—A weave which gives diagonal lines in the cloth—the weft passes under one warp end and then over two, three, or four warp ends.  Twill will not rip in a straight line and holes are more easily patched.  Home produced twills are the same on both sides.  Jean is a form of twill cloth.
Vitriol—Any of certain hydrated sulfates or sulfuric acid.  Blue or Roman vitriol is copper (II) sulfate pentahydrate; green vitriol (also called copperas) is iron (II) sulfate; white vitriol is zinc sulfate; red or rose vitriol is cobalt sulfate; and uranvitriol is a native uranium sulfate.  Oil of vitriol is concentrated sulfuric acid.  
Walking Wheel
—Also called "great wheel" or "wool wheel"; the spinner paced back and forth while turning the wheel with her right hand and with the left guiding the fiber on the spindle.  All of the spinning wheels in Foxfire 2 were walking wheels.  
Warp Threads or Ends
—The strong threads running through the loom and lengthwise through the cloth.  
Warping Frame
—A square wooden frame with pegs a measured distance apart on which warp yarn was wound before proceeding to the warp beam on the loom.  Antique frames have pegs for as much as 20-30 yards, substantiating that warping was put on the loom for several projects at one time.  
Web
—The cloth on the loom.  
Weft Threads or Picks or Filling
—The transverse threads in the cloth.  
Woven Cloth
—Cloth in which threads interlace at 90 degree angles, can be cut and sewn, and is fast to produce.  
Yarn—Thread of any kind, produced by spinning, now most commonly used to mean plied knitting yarn.  

 

1 good carder can card 1 lb. of cotton per day

5 lbs. of cotton makes 1 bunch of spun thread

1 bunch of spun thread makes 15 yards of cloth. 
                       
                                                           

                                                            The Southern Watchman [Athens, GA]

                                                October 22, 1862, p. 2, c. 2

 

 

It took almost two weeks of steady and earnest

labor to spin enough thread for a dress, then

another week to weave the fabric.  Depending on

the style and complication of construction, it

could take an additional week to cut and stitch the

garment by hand.

 

                                                            Mills, Betty J.  Calico Chronicle:  Texas

                                                            Women and Their Fashions, 1830-1910.

                                                            Lubbock:  Texas Tech Press, 1985, p. 19.