Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Emma Whitesell, July 27, 1977. Interview H-0057. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Whitesell describes weaving and spinning

Whitesell describes weaving and spinning. Researchers will not learn how to do so themselves from Whitesell's description, but this passage offers a look at the process of mill labor.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Emma Whitesell, July 27, 1977. Interview H-0057. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

CLIFF KUHN:
So then at Elmira what did you do?
EMMA WHITESELL:
I was spooling. But I would spool awhile and then they'd need me somewhere else. And I doffed, the next boys job. [Interruption]
CLIFF KUHN:
Now, you said you did some boys job at Elmira, what was that?
EMMA WHITESELL:
That was doffing. I doffed awhile, 'course I didn't do it long. I had learned to spin in that time. My daddy wouldn't let us work in the spinning room.
CLIFF KUHN:
Why was that?
EMMA WHITESELL:
Well, I'll tell you, way back then the spinning room was awfully rough. There was rough people working in there. 'Course they were good as ours I reckon. But he just wouldn't let us go in.
CLIFF KUHN:
How did you learn to spin then?
EMMA WHITESELL:
I would go and tear some ends down when we our roll, if it were denim, and then I'd go back in there and twist 'em up. I learned to spin that way. So they'd put me to spinning, my daddy didn't know that I was spinning 'cause he was upstairs fixing looms. Then they had a thing that you sprinkle filling—a great long thing, you put the filling in there and you'd run it through a sprinkler. I run that, and then they had put me in the draw-in room. I couldn't draw-in but I could hand-in. Then you had a hand-in woman and a draw-in woman and you'd have to hand it in to her. [Interruption] So I would run that machine and then they put me in the draw-in room. Then they put me in the cloth room. But where we inspected cloth wasn't in the regular finishing room, and I'd inspect cloth. And then I'd go down there in the finishing room and work down there. I'd do anything, inspect, back-up, pack, run the tending machine. They used to have different things to get done, you, know. Run through a calender or something, steam it. Well, I'd do anything down there.
CLIFF KUHN:
Do you prefer any sort of work to other kinds?
EMMA WHITESELL:
I'd rather weave than do anything I've ever done.
CLIFF KUHN:
Why's that.
EMMA WHITESELL:
But then they didn't have redraw, you had to spool. This was at Elmira that they had this. And I've done that. Then I was weaving at Elmira too, I run six looms. They was old wood's looms—I don't know whether you ever heard tell of 'em or not. Didn't have no drop eyes or nothing on 'em, had to fill your own shuttle. So I'd run six and eight; I have run eight looms.
CLIFF KUHN:
Were you working under your daddy?
EMMA WHITESELL:
No, poppa was loom fixer then. Lakeside was the only time that he was a supervisor. But he was a loom fixer at Elmira. Of course I worked on his section, and he had to fix my looms. This girl who come in here just now, she has run ten looms. But back then you know, a ten-loom weaver was a good weaver. 'Cause you had to keep up with it, no drop eyes or nothing, you had to keep up with 'em and see that they didn't make a bad place. And if you made a bad place you had to pick it out, and you had something like a comb—it was wire—and you'd pick it out. So, I wove over there until I got married—I was weaving when I got married. And I smashed. When they'd have a break out you know, they'd have to have somebody to put that break out in and draw in all them threads. Sometime it'd be about that wide. So I've done that.