New Hampshire’s Most Expensive Colonial Necessity

So, what are you guessing was colonial New Hampshire’s most expensive necessity?

If you think that tea is the answer, *bonk* that is NOT correct. Tea, although extremely expensive, was not considered a necessity.  The New Hampshire colonists, just like everyone else in colonial America either “went herbal” by growing or picking local plants as a substitute, or they went without.

The answer is CLOTH.  Cloth was the most expensive necessity in the eighteenth-century American world.  It was labor- and resource-intensive, and therefore costly to make. For most families, fabrics and clothing represented the largest expense of all their household goods. Garments were passed down from one generation to another (as frequently seen in colonial wills). During this time tablecloths were more valuable than the tables they covered.

During the early seventeenth century, in New Hampshire, as in England, male handicraftsmen wove cloth as a specialized craft. By the end of that century and the beginning of the new one, cloth-making throughout New England became decentralized and feminized, conducted in most households by women and their daughters, rather than by men.

Colonial Spinning Wheel, photograph copyright Janice W. Brown

Colonial Spinning Wheel, photograph copyright Janice W. Brown

Cloth made in New Hampshire prior and during the American Revolution was mostly of cotton and flax, both plants having been cultivated in the colonies. The process of cloth making was lengthy and complex.  Wool was not used until later, as the British at first prevented sheep and wool from being imported to the colonies.

Once the cotton or linen thread was available by spinning, it was necessary to bleach and then dye the thread, and then weave the thread into cloth, using a loom. Once woven, the cloth needed to be cut and reassembled using a pattern, then hand sewn into actual clothing. Various tools and implements were needed throughout the process.

An outfit of clothes could take months to make. Many colonists had only two outfits – one for every day, one dressy.

Janice

FURTHER READING

The Spinning Wheel Sleuth

Parts of the Spinning Wheel

-Women’s Vintage Sewing Patterns- Colonial America-

Colonial Lady’s Clothing – A Glossary of Terms

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