Citation: C N Trueman "The Domestic System"
historylearningsite.co.uk. The History Learning Site, 31 Mar 2015. 19 Feb 2016.
Before factories as we would identify them, all manufacture of products like textiles was done at home and on a small scale. Work was confined to a cottage with everybody doing their bit. Work done at home – hence the “domestic” in the title – was slow and laborious. Daniel Defoe, of “Robinson Crusoe” fame -wrote about his journey through Yorkshire in about 1720 and described how he saw small cottages, small scale production and each family working for itself. However, not everything was done under one roof. Defoe noted that in Norfolk those employed in spinning worked elsewhere to those employed in weaving.
The process in the making of wool for clothes was as follows :
cleaning of the wool after it had been sheared from the sheep. carding of the wool – this was brushing it to separate the fibres. If a comb was used, this would be to get the fibres parallel. The cleaned and carded wool would then be spun by spinsters. This was frequently done by young girls. If these girls had not got married at a young age, it was believed that they would remain unmarried all their life – hence the term spinster today. The finished product of the spinsters was called yarn. the yarn would then be woven by a skilled weaver using a handloom. The finished product would then be sold to a clothier.
Each of these processes probably took place in separate cottages and spinning was seen as a job for women while weaving was seen as a man’s job.
The picture shows a typical domestic system home. The single room is dominated by a spinning wheel which is being worked by a young lady – the spinster. Food is being cooked in the same room. A ladder on the left of the picture will take the workers to their bedrooms once work for the day is finished and a window allows for light and ventilation. The amount of yarn produced in such a situation is clearly minimal.