Hands to the Spindle
Texas Women and Home Textile Production, 1822-1880
Texas History - Women's Studies
6 x 9, 160 pp.
9 b&w photos., 12 line drawings.
Pub Date: 03/01/1996
Clayton Wheat Williams Texas Life Series
  cloth
Price:        $19.95

978-0-89096-699-0

Published by Texas A&M University Press

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1996 Summerfield G. Roberts Award, presented by the Sons of the Republic of Texas
1996 Liz Carpenter Award, presented by the Texas State Historical Association

Hands to the Spindle

Texas Women and Home Textile Production, 1822-1880

By Paula Mitchell Marks
Illustrations by Walle Conoly

It is said one piece of fabric can tell of the hardships, blessings, and realities of a woman’s life, as well as her community’s life.

In nineteenth-century Texas women’s hands created most of the clothes their families wore, the blankets used to cover their tired bodies, and the textiles that furnished their homes. Spinning, weaving, dyeing, and knitting of clothing and linens gave them the [palette] to display their abilities and their dreams of a better future. These day-to-day activities of Texas women spinners and weavers come to life in the award-winning author Paula Mitchell Marks’ Hands to the Spindle.

The hum of the spinning wheel and the clatter of the loom provided regular accompaniment to the lives of many Texas women and their families.

Producing much-needed garments and cloth also provided an escape from the worries and isolation of frontier life. One charming early chronicler, Mary Crownover Rabb, kept her spinning wheel whistling all day and most of the night because the spinning kept her “from hearing the Indians walking around hunting mischief.”

Through the stories of real women and an overview of their textile crafts, Paula Mitchell Marks introduces readers to a functional art rarely practiced in our more hurried times. Photographs of some of their actual handiwork and evocative pen sketches of women at work and the tools and dye plants they used, skillfully drawn by artist Walle Conoly, bring the words to life.

Written in an interesting and informative style, this study, the will be valuable for western history buffs, specialists in the field of spinning and weaving, and readers interested in adding another dimension to their knowledge of women’s studies.

Paula Mitchell Marks is a professor of history at Saint Edward’s University in Austin. She has written highly acclaimed books on western history, including Turn Your Eyes Toward Texas: Pioneers Sam and Mary Maverick, also published by Texas A&M University Press.

What Readers Are Saying:

“Like all truly great works, it transcends pat categories. Readers will find none of the trendy cant and rant one has come to expect from the sisterhood of gender feminists. Dr. Marks demonstrates a clear admiration for her subjects, but never allows that affection to compromise her objectivity. This book would be a wonderful present from a mother to her daughter, but perhaps an even better gift from a father to his son. . . . The book is a delight to read, comfortable to hold, and a treat for the eyes.”--Stephen L. Hardin (from pre-pub copy, rec’d 4/24/96

“Like all truly great works, it transcends pat categories. Readers will find none of the trendy cant and rant one has come to expect from the sisterhood of gender feminists. Dr. Marks demonstrates a clear admiration for her subjects, but never allows that affection to compromise her objectivity. This book would be a wonderful present from a mother to her daughter, but perhaps an even better gift from a father to his son. . . . The book is a delight to read, comfortable to hold, and a treat for the eyes.” --Stephen L. Hardin (from pre-pub copy, rec’d 4/24/96

“What makes Marks’ book far from homely is its acknowledgment that for the majority of Anglo frontier women, the production of home textiles made up a big part of the workday. . . Walle Conoly’s fine pen-and-inks add greatly to the narratives and details of the lives of these cloth makers. . .” --San Antonio Express-News

“. . . With the use of memoirs, diaries and letters to ‘the folks at home’, Marks presents a study that leaves me with great admiration for both the spirit of these women and the textiles they created.” --“. . . With the use of memoirs, diaries and letters to ‘the folks at home’, M

“. . . Hands to the Spindle—the title taken from the book of Proverbs—is a valuable addition to the history of frontier women in Texas.” --Abilene Reporter-News

“. . . extremely well documented study. . .” --Choice

“. . . Marks’s detailed and thorough description of the work process from first crop to finished cloth bespeaks a great respect for the skills of home textile manufacture and the people who practiced them. . . .” --The Journal of American History

“. . . Scholarly detail combined with personal perspective gives life to the text, and readers gain understanding of evolving home textile production.” --Handwoven

“Paula Mitchell Marks’ admiration for the Texas pioneer women is evident in this delightful and informative essay. Readers interested in women’s history, fiber manufacturing history, and Texas traditions will enjoy her narrative’s skillful interweaving of stories with a historical look at settlers and their world. This is a spirited treatise that celebrates Texas women and their ability to adapt to harsh conditions and provide for their families. . . .” --Spin-Off

“. . . a welcome addition to the growing literature on women as bearers of important survival skills on the western frontier. . . . new insights for scholars in women’s and western history, for textile specialists, and for general readers. The bibliography exhibits the depth of research by the author in both regional history and spinning and weaving.” --The Journal of Southern History Vol. 63, No. 3

“. . . a well documented, readable, focused look at one aspect of daily life in pioneer Texas . . . Copious notes, an ample bibliography, and abundant illustrations from memoirs and prior studies of early studies of early home life in Texas make this book a storehouse of information for scholars and exciting reading for the nonprofessional aficionado of history and American studies.” --JASAT

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