Frances Goodrich’s Mountain Homespun—with intriguing elements of travel book, folklore study, sociological tract, “local color” fiction, and personal memoir—is an account of one of the earliest programs to revive mountain crafts. Goodrich, educated at the Yale Art School, started out as a religious social worker and was assigned by the Presbyterian Home Missions to Buncombe and Madison counties in North Carolina. Her book tells of the early days of Allanstand Cottage Industries, one of the first of the handicraft revival programs.
Mountain Homespun provides information about the processes and the meaning of traditional mountain crafts that is not to be found anywhere else. Goodrich touches on basketry, quilting, and other crafts, but her focus is on weaving, spinning, and dyeing. Of particular interest is her information about how to read weaving drafts—recipes for the spreads—with their marks that tell the weaver how to thread the loom and in which order to “tramp” the pedals.
As Jan Davidson’s introduction shows, Goodrich’s work was not initially intended to preserve mountain crafts, but to use them for social and economic purposes as part of a campaign to “uplift” the mountain people. Hers was a cultural intervention of massive proportions that changed the methods of production, the materials, the tools, the motives of the workers, and, eventually, who was doing the work. The story told in Mountain Homespun sheds light on what happens when urban intellectuals intervene in the folk process—and what the intervention does to the folk and the objects they make. Mountain Homespun is thus not only essential for those who would understand the history of such organizations as the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild, but instructive for cultural workers as well as today’s buyers of “mountain crafts.”