1860's "Homespun" Handkerchief


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This kerchief was designed by Cheyney McKnight of Not Your Momma’s History to pay homage to enslaved artisans on southern plantations before and during the Civil War.  Cotton homespun (domestic) fabrics made on southern plantations were primarily spun, dyed, and woven by enslaved women, who made fabric to clothe the enslaved population, as well as to be sold by their enslavers for profit. The skill and expertise of these women are spoken of highly by formerly enslaved interviewees in the WPA slave narratives found at the Library of Congress 

Tempie Durham who was enslaved in North Carolina spoke about “Mammy Rachel who did the dyeing on the plantation where she was enslaved. Larger plantations often had separate specialized facilities for spinning, dyeing and weaving.

“Mammy Rachel stayed in de dyin' room. Dey wuzn’ nothin' she didn' know 'bout dyein'. She knew every kind of root, bark, leaf an' berry dat made red, blue, green, or whatever color she wanted. Dey had a big shelter whare de dye pots set overr de coals.”

“Mammy Rachel would fill de pots wid water, den she put in de roots, bark an’ stuff an' boil de juice out, den she strain it an'put in de salt an' vinegar to set de color. After de wool an.' cotton done been carded an’ spun to thread, Mammy take de hanks an' drap dem in de pot of boilin' dye. She stir dem 'roun’ an' lif’ dem up an’ down wid a stick, an’when she hang dem up on de line in de sun, dey was every color of de rainbow. When dey dripped dry dey was sent to de weavin’ room whare dey was wove in blankets an’ things.”

Enslaved weavers thanks to the skill and knowledge of the enslaved dyers had a wide variety of colors available to them from which they created beautiful striped and checked patterns.   Lizzie Norfleet, who was enslaved in Mississippi, describes one such pattern.

“All of our clothes was made on the place. The cloth was woven right there too, that they was made of. The dresses for the women was beautiful, one dark stripe and one bright stripe. Folks them days knowed how to mix pretty colors." 

Through these interviews we discover how the dyes were made, and what patterns they were weaving into the homespun.  This insight was important in informing the final design and colors of this handkerchief.

  • Measures approximately 36 inches square. 
  • Hand loomed cotton.
  • Lightweight and hand hemmed.
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