An AT-Home ACtivity Packet

How do we get from natural resources to material we use for clothes?

Early settlers who came to Western North Carolina harvested fiber from animals – probably sheep or goats – or plants – like cotton and flax. They would have then prepared the fiber to spin into yarn. Once they had made yarn, they would dye and then weave the yarn into fabric to be used to sew clothing.

While machines do much of the work today, with this activity you can begin to understand the amount of time and effort it would have taken to make one garment.

Make Yarn

Take a regular household cotton ball.  Pretend this cotton has come straight from the boll, or protective case, it grows in.

Try to carefully pull the fiber from the cotton ball, twisting it as you pull.

This gives you a little idea of how to twist or spin fiber into yarn using either cotton or wool.

Spinning wheels helped this process go faster and many families had a wheel. People still spin fiber on a wheel today.

When a settler had enough yarn, they would weave the yarn to make fabric.

Watch this short video of weaving on a barn loom to see the process early settlers would have used. It is called a barn loom because it was too big to fit in the house, so it was often kept in the barn or on the porch.

Here, they are weaving with linen, which is a plant fiber, and similar to weaving with cotton.

Weave your Yarn

Since it’s very time-consuming to spin yarn, we’ve provided yarn to you in this kit. In fact, we have provided everything you need to weave. You should have:

  • Two pieces of 100% cotton yarn. A long piece (40′) and a shorter piece (8′).
  • A square of cardboard with notches 
  • 2 paperclips
  • 3 Tea bags for dyeing
  • Printed instructions 

Once you perfect this weaving, you can make your own loom of any size with cardboard.  The piece included in your kit is a 5″x5″ square, with small slits every ¼” on two opposite sides.

The first step in weaving is to warp your loom.  The warp is the set of yarns stretched in place on a loom before you begin to weave. 


After setting your warp, you will tie the shuttle (or paperclip – or tape the yarn to the end of a popsicle stick!) and begin the lengthy weaving process. Follow the videos for more instruction.

When you have filled your warp with the weaving and are satisfied, finish the process by cutting the long piece and tying it to the remaining piece of the warp. If you like, you can also follow the instructions below for dyeing your fabric. 

Dye your Weaving

The last step for you is to dye your fabric. There are many natural dyes you can use. The example we use here is tea.  You could also use marigolds, tumeric, or onion skins.

Using tea is very easy.

Note: If you used yarn that is not 100% cotton the dye will not hold.

Put 1-3 tea bags in a bowl and add very hot water.  The more bags, the darker the color. You can press and stir the bags with a spoon to release more tea. Put your woven piece of fabric in the bowl.  Check your fabric often. When you like the color, take it out, rinse it, and let it dry.


Activity and photographs courtesy of WNCHA volunteer, Lynne Noble.