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Wooden Bobbins: Woven in History

October 21, 2011

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Back in the 1800s, villages along rivers witnessed the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Textile mills from England were replicated here, spawning the growth of entire towns and cities.

Not far from where my store is located, you can see sprawling brick mill complexes in cities that were once synonymous with textile manufacturing. When the textile industry migrated south in the mid-1900s, many of the mill buildings were shuttered and sat empty for years.

Though some mills were sadly lost to fires or demolished to make way for new development, locals have a tendency to hold on dearly to the history of the region (and their money!). We don’t discard things easily. That’s why hundreds of these sound structures have been converted into handsome residential and commercial real estate.

A handful of specialty textile mills are still in operation today, but most of the automated looms and machinery that produced generations of fabric are long gone. Fortunately, some relics from this industrial period–wooden bobbins–have been salvaged and are being put to use once again.

Bobbins and the machinery they ran on were some of the greatest inventions of the Victorian Era. Originally created to manage the piles of thread and yarn that would be mechanically woven into cloth, bobbins helped to revolutionize textile manufacturing.

The automated weaving machines would have hundreds of spindles operating simultaneously, with each spindle holding a bobbin that either released or collected the thread. Most mills had wooden bobbins made specifically for their machinery, which accounts for the many varied shapes and sizes of these spools.

Traditional wooden bobbins have been retired from current manufacturing. Modern economics does not favor the use of wooden bobbins since a great deal of handwork is involved in making them. And wooden bobbins are not well suited for today’s synthetic fibers and high-speed machinery.

Primarily made from ash, birch, and other hardwoods, bobbins have withstood the test of time. Each one has its own “battle scars” that give it unique character. The folks at Ma’s Bobbin Works have gathered thousands of these antique treasures and found clever ways to make them into charming and useful items for everyday living.

My favorite wooden bobbin creation from Dirk and Ann Poole, owners of the business, is their electrified candlesticks. Unlike those ivory-color plastic plug-in candles with clear or colored C7 nightlight bulbs that we see in windows at Christmastime, these bobbin candlesticks can be used year-round. Thanks to the weighted base that’s inherent in most bobbins, they don’t fall off the windowsills like the plastic ones.

I have several of these illuminated bobbins placed throughout my store, and they make the place feel inviting and welcoming. They sell especially well at the holidays, as do the bobbin kaleidoscopes, but my customers buy utilitarian and decorative wooden bobbins all the time. I think that this is because they are an affordable way to own a piece of history from a bygone era in America.


Jim Therriault
Founder and Proprietor, New England Everyday Goods, Peterborough, NH.
http://newenglandeverydaygoods.com

Just a stone’s throw down the road from The Old Farmer’s Almanac headquarters, Jim operates a little store that specializes in practical products with interesting stories.

Jim’s official title on his business card reads “jack of many trades, master of none.” That comes from a diversified career that spans working in publishing, marketing, advertising, sales, and retail across a variety of industries ranging from information technology to citrus to footwear. Based on all the different jobs he has held, Jim whole-heartedly feels promoting and selling goods crafted in America is as good as it gets.

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