Pioneer Domestic Crafts

Because of poor transportation and scarcity of markets pioneer families were often isolated, and life centered on the home where the arts of husbandry and domestic crafts reached a high degree of development in the 1840s—and most of the domestic output was left largely to women.  Candle and soft soap making were regular household chores. Among household utensils, the most important were the cooking irons, a heavy iron frying pan, a bulbous iron pot with a lid, and a few knives. Serviceable bowls could be made by hollowing out cuts of maple with fire and tools. The gourd, of many sizes and shapes, played a conspicuous part in domestic life. The spinning wheel was in more or less continuous use by housewives to produce yarn for knitting woolen winter garments; home looms were less common. Early dyes came from the woods, until commercial indigo and madder (red dyes produced from the roots of the Rubia tinctorum) became available. Clothing was durable, and there was much cutting down and remaking of jackets and dresses from the wearables of parents and older children. Energetic housewives wove or made rugs and coverlets from scraps of blankets, sacking, sheets, towels, and old garments. Home gardens provided items for preserving and seasoning foods: sage, peppers, thyme, mints, mustard, horse-radish, and other herbs. Vegetables and certain fruits were preserved by sun-drying, or hung from attic beams; currants and berries were made into jams and jellies. Apples were made into apple-butter, with a quantity set aside to turn into vinegar. Mason jars for home canning were invented in 1858.


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