Many homes throughout the Ulster countryside were dual-purpose dwellings. Families kept a room for the hand loom on which to weave linen.
This particular cottage, a replica of a weaver’s house, has three rooms and the middle room houses the handloom. There is only one bedroom so they needed a settle bed in the kitchen for children or an elderly relative to sleep in. The settle bed is a bench which opens out into a bed.
The man of the house would spend long evenings weaving linen thread into cloth. His wife helped by preparing the thread by spinning the flax fibres into yarn and his children would card and comb the flax in preparation for the spinning wheel. Weavers’ cottages had to be clean because linen was easily spoiled by soot. They were also well lit so that the weaver could see to repair broken threads.
Landlords encouraged this cottage industry to create more wealth in the countryside. Linen manufacture meant that small patches of land could sustain a family although prices did fluctuate. During slumps weavers would often emigrate and seek better opportunities in America. Production kept increasing through the 1700s to the mid-1800s. Unfortunately prices kept falling after 1815. Factories produced cheap linen thread by 1830 and home spinning stopped. In the 1850s linen factories replaced hand weavers and by the 1890s farmers stopped growing flax altogether.
At present, wool spinning and weaving are demonstrated in this house.
Look at the big hand loom. It uses a flying shuttle. This increased the weaver’s output but long term it caused prices to drop faster. Weavers ended up being worse off.