I am going to deviate from my normal routine today. I am not going to focus on a person or a family and look at their history. I instead have chosen to do a story about an artifact that we have at our museum. I think it helps tell a tale that explains a certain aspect of the German Lutheran immigration in 1839. The artifact is the spinner’s weasel. Here is the weasel we have at our museum.
Actually, this weasel is not really found IN our museum. We have it on display inside the Christiane Loeber Cabin which is located next to the Log Cabin College in the park across the road from the church and museum building.
The spinner’s weasel is a device used to measure off a fairly standard length of yarn called a skein. A skein is 80 yards of yarn. Here is the description of this machine you can find on Wikipedia.
“Spinner’s weasel or clock reel is a mechanical yarn measuring device consisting of a spoked wheel with gears attached to a pointer on a marked face (which looks like a clock) and an internal mechanism which makes a “pop” sound after the desired length of yarn is measured (usually a skein). The pointer allows the spinner to see how close she/he is to reaching a skein. The weasel’s gear ratio is usually 40 to 1, and the circumference of the reel is usually two yards, thus producing an 80-yard skein when the weasel pops (after 40 revolutions).”
We display our spinner’s weasel in the Christiane Loeber Cabin because Christiane had a particular interest in textiles and weaving. It is reported that Christiane had a dream of raising silkworms and producing silk. Sadly, she is one of the first immigrants to die, succumbing to disease on April 7, 1840.
We also have a spinning wheel on display inside our museum. Here is that device.
The spinning wheel worked in conjunction with the spinner’s weasel. In this photo, you can see that as the yarn comes off the spinning wheel, it is collected and measured on the weasel. The lady is Charline Parker, who is shown using these machines at Knott’s Berry Farm.
One of the reasons the German Lutherans left Germany was the fact that some of them had become unemployed. The Industrial Revolution had started, and machines began taking the place of human workers. The Industrial Revolution began in the textile business. Much of the textile industry was conducted in the homes of German people before the Industrial Revolution began. Now those jobs were being done in factories by machines.
Proof of how this revolution impacted these German Lutherans is the fact that the occupation that was most represented among the immigrants was the weaver. If you include all the immigrants from the five Stephanite ships, the Gruber Group, and the New York Group, you will find that there were 49 weavers in all. There were also others like tailors and seamstresses who were involved in the use of textiles, in addition to people like Christiane Loeber who was interested in textiles and may have learned how to use some of the tools of the trade.
Another interesting aspect of the spinner’s weasel has to do with its possible connection to the nursery rhyme/song, “Pop Goes the Weasel”. Although there are many versions of the lyrics to this song, the most common American version is as follows.
- All around the mulberry bush,
- The monkey chased the weasel.
- The monkey stopped to pull up his sock, (or The monkey stopped to scratch his nose) (or The monkey fell down and oh what a sound)
- Pop! goes the weasel.
There are several theories about the origin of this song. One of these theories connects the song with this spinning device called the weasel that goes “pop” when it has reached the proper measurement of yarn. Many of you grew up experiencing this “jack-in-the-box” toy, most of which played the song, “Pop Goes the Weasel”.
We have plenty of artifacts in our museum that show that so many of the original immigrants came to America with either a skill in the area of handling textiles or a love for the products made from textiles. If you come to see us and want to see the weasel, make sure you ask a worker to show you the Christiane Loeber Cabin. A visit to our museum can give you a feel for this passion for textiles among those who came on the ships. Here is a weaving exhibit we have inside the museum.
I happen to believe the passion for textile crafts still exists among many current residents of this area.