Friday, July 29, 2011

Family Recipe Friday: 1850s Recipe for Cleaning Wool,

James P. McPherson, my 2x great grandfather, was a flax dresser in Dundee, Scotland, before he and his new wife, boarded the Medora to sail to America.  Once he landed on the shores of his new homeland, he used his textile skills in the tailoring trade in New York City for the next eight years.

By mid-May of 1850, he had brought his family to Springdale, Wisconsin, where he used his tailoring skills to supplement his income, while forging a new life on his farm in Wisconsin.  Wool was important to him, as can be attested to by the affixing of this Rural New Yorker clipping to the front of his precious diary.

Within days of his arrival in Dane County, Wisconsin, J.P.  was measuring and sewing pants, vests, and coats for the men and boys.  During the first two years, he purchased wool from his neighbors  ---  at first by barter, and later by currency.  By 1854, he was starting his own flock of sheep.  In the spring of 1855, he sheared his own sheep  --- all nine sheep.

From 1850 through 1855, James P. McPherson makes no mention about how wool goes from sheep to cloth. ---  no mention of weaving or spinning.   Nor does he mention making garments of wool' however, he certainly notes when he made coats and vests of "sackcloth."    Nevertheless, it is certain that my great-great great grandfather was careful about cleaning his wool so that it was white and, soft --- well, at least if he followed the recipe..


  1. Joan, this was really interesting to read. I wonder if your gggrandfather used this method to clean his wool. I'm really surprised that the author of this article recommends the steps of putting the wool in hot water, removing and letting it drain, then rinsing it in cold water. I've cleaned a few fleeces in past years. He's right that boiling the wool will ruin it -- it mats (or felts) it, something I learned by experience. Experience also taught me that a sudden change in water temperature will mat/felt the wool. Maybe the author meant, but didn't say, (or maybe it was there but gone with the bits of missing paper) to use the same temperature of water as the drained wool. It was interesting to see the word "taggans." We moderns use the shortened "tags" to describe those dirtiest parts of the wool. Is this more than you wanted to know?

    I think it's so very fun that your gggrandfather pasted this in the front of his diary. And more than fun, it's wonderful that you still have his diary and so much information about him and his trade through the years. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Nancy, Thanks for the great comment --- as it gives even more depth to old JPs little recipe for cleansing wool. Thanks for reading.

  3. Gotta say, I do LOVE LOVE LOVE the photo of the recipe in his diary! Your recounting his history is wonderful as well, but that photo - -