Early Settlers & the Weaving Industry
Most of the Original 13 families who settled Germantown had Mennonite connections, some dating back several generations. Several families were related to one another by blood or marriage. Most came to the New World experienced in the production of cloth, with skills needed for the production of high quality linen.
Because linen weaving involved many steps, individuals and families specialized in the complementary skills needed for the whole process. Flax was planted, harvested, processed and spun within the individual households. The yarn and thread was woven by professionals into cloth, which was dyed and bleached by specialists. There was even an agent to provide marketing services.
Those who were weavers include the three Op den Graeff brothers, Jan (Johan) Lucken, Jan Lensen, Lenart Arets and possibly Amraham Tunes also known as Abraham Klinken. Tones Kunders was a blue dyer and Johannes Bleickers may have been a bleacher. Wilhelm Strepers, although listed as a yeoman, also seems to have been involved in the linen business.
Although many textiles continued to be imported, the weavers of Germantown began to produce a variety of linen and woolen items which were homespun, hand loomed, hand knitted, and home dyed. The new German immigrants brought with them technologies and practices that differed somewhat from those of their Pennsylvania neighbors from Britain. These differences are apparent in the textiles they produced, especially in bedding items and in some of the weave-types and processing steps.
Many steps were involved from the planting of the flax to the weaving of the final items. Everybody was involved in the process. Women often helped with breaking the flax. Children helped in the drying process and became more involved as they got older. Bleaching, dyeing and weaving were professional trades. First, the flax was planted. Flax reaches maturity in about 100 days, and when it is harvested, the entire plant is pulled out of the ground (the fiber used for weaving is in the stem). Plants were then dried for up to 30 days, when the flax seeds were removed by “batting.”
Then the flax plant was put through a process called “retting” to separate the wood portion from the fiber (dew retting, where the flax was exposed to rain and dew, was the most common). After retting, the flax was dried again, for up to 20 days. Once dried, the flax was broken on a flax brake to break the bark. “Scutching” or “swingling” removed additional hard pieces from the flax. Finally, “hackling,” using a comb, created fine linen threads.
This linen was spun into thread and wound for future use. If it was to have color, the thread was bleached and dyed (each of these processes was done by a professional). Bleaching took place by laying the linen out on the ground, wetting the linen daily and letting the sun bleach it out, which took up to 30 days. The most popular form of dye was indigo.
Finally ready for weaving, the linen was woven by professional weavers into bedding, clothes, curtains, tablecloths and more. Linen items were then marketed and sold.
Germantown quickly became known for its high quality linens, and developed a textile industry that persisted through the early 1900s.
Download a list of the Original 13 founding families of Germantown who arrived from Krefeld, Germany on the Concord.
Support provided in part by
Germantown Mennonite Historic Trust - 6133 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia PA 19144 - (215) 843-0943 - firstname.lastname@example.org