Annie (Banton) Green

Reprinted from Traditional Crafts of Rural People
by Joanne Morgan


“Knitting and Sewing”

There was a time in Newfoundland when just about everything was handmade including clothing, quilts, and other necessary items. People living in outport Newfound-land did not wear designer jeans and brand-name clothes. Most clothes was either knit from homespun wool or sewn with whatever material was available. The actual knitting and sewing was only a small part of women’s work. Wool had to be gathered, washed, carded, and spun before a sweater could be knit. Used material pieces, such as flour bags, had to be scrubbed white with lye made from ashes. Then there was the mending of the clothing which included darning mitts and patching holes. Families were larger then and money was scarce, so people used the things available. Nothing was thrown away until it outlived its usefulness.

Skills, such as knitting and sewing, developed out of necessity. They are referred to as “crafts of necessity.” These skills were then passed on to the younger generation. Factory-produced goods replaced homemade items, and many of these skills were no longer needed. For example, spinning wool is no longer a common practice because it is much easier to buy wool in stores now. If you have the money to spend, you can basically buy what you want.

However, today there is a growing popularity in homemade knitted and sewn products. A hand-knitted sweater can fetch a fine price at a craft fair. Quality and the care taken to make a product is valued.

On the next few pages, Annie Green tells in her own words about the things they made years ago. Knitting and sewing was a part of their daily routine. Being able to knit and sew was expected of a young woman then. Even though Annie has not taken any sewing lessons, she has become a respected seamstress in her community. Over the years she has 1<1itted and sewn for people, but refused to accept payment for it. She takes pride in her work and enjoys helping others.

Annie Green – Knitting and Sewing As a Way of Life

My sisters and I learned to knit and sew on our own. Our grandmother was a good one for that and I guess that is who we turned after. When we lived across the bay in St. Jones Without, we would make our own clothes and quilts. We would make it for our own use then. We never sold anything.

In the Spring of the year, the sheep would be sheared. The older women mostly would shear the sheep, but I can remember helping my mother. They could shear them quickly too! The wool had to be washed before it was used. We would wash the wool in big tubs and then spread it out on the rocks to dry. Then we would card the wool and spin it out. In the winter when it was cold, spinning would be done in the house. In the summer we would spin in the grub house where there was lots of room, or up in the stable where the animals were kept. We wouldn’t spin in the house during the summer because there was a bit of dust from it. My mother didn’t know how to spin. My grandmother would spin for her. When we got old enough, my sister, Myrtle, learned how to spin and then I learned. You had to do those things then. You couldn’t go to the shop and buy it.

To spin the wool for sweaters, the thread would have to be pulled out very fine. As you were turning your wheel, you were stretching out your wool. If you held it too tight, it broke off. For mitts and socks, the wool had to be spun coarse. My mother used to knit some nice mitts out of spun wool. She would knit double and single mitts. The men’s double mitts would have two colours. Mostly then was black and white, but I knit them different colours now. My grandmother would put fringes around the wrists to make them look nice. Single mitts would have just the one colour. A lot of people liked the thumb and finger mitt. Some people called mitts “cuffs.”

Before we go to bed, we had to darn the men’s mitts and sew canvas palms on over them. Everything we wore had patches on it. Not much like it is now. We even turned coats. When they were faded and worn on one side, they would be ripped apart and sewn together with the faded side in. The coat would last twice as long.

My mother had a foot machine that we learned to sew on. It was a Singer. There was a foot paddle you had to move back and forth to keep it going. So your foot always had to be moving. There was a wheel on it too. You would start it with the wheel and foot paddle. They were wonderful to sew on. I wish I had one like it now.

I used to make dresses, baby clothes, men’s overalls and jeans. I made a lot of dresses over the years and fixed a good many. We didn’t want any patterns then. I could make a dress now without using a pattern if I want to. I don’t have any patterns for the aprons I make now. I just spread out my bit of material and cut it out. Years ago I didn’t make the aprons so fancy as the ones I make now. I didn’t have so much time then. We had too much to do. We also had to make baby diapers. They were made out of flannelette. You would get enough flannelette to make a good many diapers for the price of a pack of pampers today.

My grandmother had all kinds of quilts with nice patterns. I didn’t sew many patterns, not then. I would make quilts by covering old blankets or sheets with strips of material. One strip would be one colour and another strip would be a different colour. Some were done by machine and some by hand. For patchwork quilts, I’d take the bit of material and whichever way it is cut, I would sew it on.

We used to make a lot of things out of flour bags. Flour came in big cloth flour bags then, and they were all put to good use. We washed them out and whitened them. We scrubbed everything by hand on the washing board. Years ago we steeped the ashes to make lye. You’d put some ashes in a tin, fill it up with water, and steep it. Then you’d put it in your clothes to take the dirt out. That would get anything out.

We’d get four flour bags and joined them together to make flour bag sheets. They were so white. They were the only kind of sheets we had years ago. The flour bags were just the right size for a pillow case. They would be done in fancy embroidery. The pattern would be traced and then stitched on.

Aunt Chrissy’s birthday and mine came on the same day. You’ll always see Aunt Chrissy coming with something for me. One year she gave me a laundry bag made from a flour bag. It had LAUNDRY marked across it and a couple little flowers embroidered onto it.

We used to get the flour bags and whiten them out to make bread cloths. A bread cloth was used to cover up your bread when you made it. Across the corner BREAD was marked in embroidery
thread. Now I use wax paper to cover up my bread, but I’m going to make one soon. I wouldn’t get a flour bag now, but I’d buy a piece of white material.

We also used flour bags to make the men’s oil clothes. They’d be soaked in linseed oil and dried to made them waterproof. We’d make everything out of flour bags, including tea cloths, pillow shams, nightdress bags, aprons, pudding bags, and pudding cloths. We even made underwear from flour bags, but I never wore none though, not to know about.

People spends a lot of money now that we didn’t spend years ago. We used to make whatever we want then. We couldn’t go to the shop and buy it. Times certainly have changed.


Uploaded September 2019

PDF of original article by Joanne Morgan