Discover Mill Work

Machines make jobs

In a textile mill a worker's job was named for his machine. A spinner worked with a spinning frame; a knitter worked with a knitting machine; a weaver ran a loom. Each of those machines and workers had subsidiary service workers- spinners had oilers, bobbin boys and girls, and sweepers. To get yarn to the spinning machines required Openers, Lappers, Carders and Slubbers. To get yarn on the loom required Spoolers, Slashers, Drawing-in Hands and Fixers. The Head Fixer, also known as the Master Mechanic, had to keep the power distribution system running "with every belt on the tight pulley" as well as supervise the Engineeer and Firemen in the Wheel House and Engine House. Mill workers included children under 12, often orphans or children of widowed mothers who had no local families to support them. Black men worked outside jobs in the "Mill Yard," or served as firemen feeding wood and coal to the boilers. Black women did not usually work in mills until the 1960s, with few exceptions such as the Coleman mill in Concord. 

Fore more information see this 13-minute video- 


Cotton Mill Processes

Lapper or Picker House


Raw cotton was brought to the mill from the gin in bales, which were opened in the Lapper House and evened out into sheets on the Picker machine. This was a hot, dusty environment and any spark could create a fire or explosion which might destroy the whole mill. For this reason Picker Houses were separated from the factory

Card Room


The rolled laps were put on carding machines to comb, straighten and condense the fiber into "roping." Drawing machines and roving frames pulled and twisted the fiber strands into smaller and tighter coils of cotton, wound onto wooden skewers which could be fitted to a spinning frame.

Spinning Room


Spinning frames, which stretched loose cotton into tight yarn, were developed in Britain in the 1760s. The 'Spinning Jenny' and "Slubbing Billy" were early attempts to mechanize home spinning, but Arkwright's 'water frame' or Throstle created the textile mill. Other inventors improved on the Throstle until "Ring Spinning" became the most efficient and preferred method.

Winding Room


The first textile mills were only spinning mills, and  spun many different kinds and weights of yarn. Some mills used specialized spinning machines called Mules or Jack Frames to make high 'counts' of yarn such as sewing thread. Yarn used for filling in a shuttle (the horizontal weave) had to be wound on Quills. Yarn for warps (the vertical yarns) were wound on beams and sent to the Slasher. Yarns for twine, cord or rope went to Twisters or Braiders. There were many different 'counts' (sizes and weights) of yarn, which were sold by the Bobbin or the Bundle.  Deep River's first mill, built at Cedar Falls in 1836, was only a spinning mill.  

Slasher Room


Mechanical weaving puts a lot of stress on the warp (vertical) yarns, which are pulled through the harnesses as the new cloth is woven. To strengthen the warps they were run through a bath of hot starch, and slowly dried on turning copper cylinders heated with steam. Warp yarn wound onto a warp beam was ready to be put on the loom and the pattern "drawn-in" through the harness, heddles and reed of the loom.

Weave Room


Power loom weaving was first developed in England in the 1790s, but took almost 25 years to become reliable. Francis Lowell travelled to England in 1813 and brought home knowledge which he used to build the first power looms in his mill in Waltham, Mass. An emigrant Scot, William Gilmore, in 1817 brought with him even more advanced loom designs which became popular since they weren't patented like the Lowell loom. Both inventors also designed necessary preparatory machines like slashers and quillers, without which the looms were useless. By 1825 there were as many weaving mills as spinning mills. The Franklinsville mill was Deep River's first weaving mill, opening in March 1840.