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Flax Cultivation on the Lüneburg Heath (1870s)

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The turners were responsible for making the spinning wheels, reels, whisks, regular and small bobbins, and were thus closely connected to the production of canvas in the farmer’s parlors; making good spinning wheels is harder than shaping columns and vases. The farmers’ wives and the chief female farmhands came to the workshop in person to express their wishes, especially when it came to repairs; after all, their performance depended very much on the quality of the wheel.

When autumn came and the potatoes and turnips had been harvested, the motto for the male farm hands was:

Bartholomew-tide has come,
Has taken away the afternoon meal,
Has brought along flails,
Now you shall thresh night and day.

For the maidens the spinning wheels were fetched from the attic, and spinning began in earnest. Grandmothers and young female farmhands would spin tow with a single-spindle wheel, but every full female farmhand and young woman would spin flax using a double-spindle wheel. Karl Marx may state in the first volume of Das Kapital: “People who are capable of spinning with both hands are just as common as people with two heads,” but in this case he is not correct. A farmhand who could not spin with both hands, i.e., using two spindles at once, would not have been hired by any farmer. In the evenings the young women gathered at one of the farmers' houses. These so-called spinning parlors were really something special; much tomfoolery was hatched, but many kind words were also spoken and good advice given; there was much singing. While feeding the animals in the barn [integrated into the farmhouse], they played forfeits or danced to accordion music.

Source: Heinrich Lange, Aus einer alten Handwerksburschenmappe [From a Journeyman's Old Portfolio]. Leipzig, 1925, pp. 44-48.

Original German text reprinted in Gerhard A. Ritter and Jürgen Kocka, eds., Deutsche Sozialgeschichte 1870-1914. Dokumente und Skizzen [German Social History 1870-1914. Documents and Sketches], 3rd ed. Munich: C.H. Beck, 1982, pp. 183-85.

Translation: Erwin Fink

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