INTERVIEW WITH: Ruffin Hill, W.......e...a. ver and Spinner ' ~ . . .
Interviewer: Esther MacMillan
Date: August 3, 1980
Place: Institute of Texan Cultures
M: I love your accent. Where are you from?
H: I'm originally from North Carolina.
M: Where do you live now?
H: I live in Austin.
M: Do you want to tell me about that Ruffin? It is such an interesting •.....
H: In North Carolina and Virginia it is not an uncommonAname. It's not real
common but it's not uncommon. It was my great grandfather's surname. ~hroughout
my family it has been used as a first name, always with males, except me. I'm
the only female that ever had it but now I have a grand daughter that has my
M: I love names. Have always been interested in people's names. When they're
unusual like that, it's just fascinating.
What we're going to talk. about today is spinners and weavers.Spinners
and weavers ... it should .•... no
H: You have to spin it first.
M: Tell me how you got started with this.
H: Well, I used to be a painter. About ten years ago, my daughter picked just a
f~ame and started making a sort of a loom and weaving. I thought, "Gee, that
looks like fun" and I saw a little city course about weaving and I took it and
enjoyed it and then I got. into .. of course when you do just a little bit then
you want a ~ig loom and I bought one big loomjthe more I got into it, the more
I got into it and now I have three large looms and four small looms. Then I got
into the band weaving. I had a western hat and made a band and the people who
make the hats were interested in the hat bands and so most of my business at
this point is custom hat bands.
H: for Texas Hatters of Austin.
M: Oh, really?
H: I do things like this: weave names in; different designs.
M: Do you have a shop?
H: NO, I do it for a hatter, I do custom bands for custom hats.I have
a studio at home. I have about half my house as a studio~ I have two
rooms just full of it.
M: What kind of material do you use for these hat bands?
H: M6stly cotton; I use some wool and recently I've gotten into doing
silk. For some real fine Panama hats; so they're a little more elegant
M: Isn't silk terribly hard to weave with? IT's so fine.
H: No, it's beautiful. It's slick and smooth which makes it go easy.
Because when you're changing threads on the warp, if it's not smooth it
will be sticky and will catch on each other and you tend to not get a
clear shed. So when you have a smooth yarn for the warp, particularly,
it is easier to work with.
M: What is the texture of the silk? Is it like a piece of silk thread?
Or is it coarser?
H: You can get any ..• That that I use is, oh lid say is about the thickness
of a piece of wrapping thread like you'd wrap around a package.
M: Ah, so it's not too thin.
H~NO, not what I use. You can get it finer.
M: And this is pure silk? You aren't fooling with un-natural stuff.
H: This is 100 percent natural silk I've been dying it with black
walnut hulls, Mexican hat wild flowers. The dying is a lot of fun. We don't
do that for Festival because the people next to us do that.Most of the
people who are with the ~ ? we do do that tof.
M: You buy whatever thread you're going to be using and then you dye it
yourself, mostly. That makes it more fun.
H:Most of the people who come down here to the Festival with me do more
spinning than they do weaving. Some spin their yarn and knit with it.
M: They do? Do they dye their wool?
M: I noticed it's all natural out there. They aad little kids combing
H: After you get the wool and wash it, then you have t~ get the tangles
and to line up the fibers before you can spin it. The better you comb it,
it's called carding, the better piece of yarn you get when you spin.
M: I noticed yesterday, there was a woman showing a little girl , yesj
and that twisting with your hands as it moves on the spindle , is that
what it's called?
M: there's a certain technique about that, isn't there. You don't just
suddenly start •• ..
H: You don't actually do the spinning yourself. You try to pull it out in
an even consistency and if it's the drop spindle, that twists it or in the
spinning wheel, the wheel makes those fibers twist.
M: So you yourself don't ••• . I didn't know that.
Have you ever been in northern Mexico, driving along and seen the
Indian women spinning as they trot?
H: live seen pictures of it; I've never actually seen it.I think in
Bolivia they do that and in Greece.
m: The first time we went to Mexico, we were driving, I can't remember
where, I had read about this) and here was this Indian woman trotting and
spinning as she went. It was perfectly fascinating. How you could run at
the same time you were spinning your wool ....
H: I couldn't do it walking, much less running.
M: Isn't it amazing? Do you do much wool?
H: Yes. Wool for spinning is the easiest fiber to spin. Because wool, if
you look at it closely is just really tiny little hairs that are real
kinky, they actually have scales on them under a microscope, What happens
is that when those little fibers catch to each other then they latch
on to each other and as they twist it makes it strong,
M: Kind . of locks.
H: With that kink in the fiber, it also has elasticity so it will ,nap
back whereas cotton or linen, when it stretches it's stretched. With
wool, you can pull it and stretch it and then it will snap back. Which
makes it easier to work with, especially with beginners.
M: Aboat how wide are most of the bands you're making . for hats?
H: Generally they're about 1 1/8 inches .... l to 1 ~ inches. If you get
much wider than that, unless you have a very high crowned hat ••• it's ---M:
When the custom hat guy says to you, " I need a l~ inch band for Mr.
$0 and $0, he wants wool." Now is he going to tell you what color he
want; and what design?
H: Yes. He doesn't usually tell me what fiber he wants. I have samples
set up and photographs and he says, "I like that design, or "I'm a ski
instructor, (which is one I've done) Could you do one with a ski instructor
woven in?" •.• a ski jumper, that's what it was. $0 I take graph
paper and first draw it off because you're working~stitches, which would be
H: and then I take a piece and you start trying it out. Adjusting your
pattern as you see what doesn't look right. Until you get what you want.
M: It sounds like an absolute impossibility to me. I don't see how ...
H: A lot of them I've worked out ••• I worked out a little thunder bird,
which is extremely popular, people like Indian designs. The thunder bird
is one of the prettiest . I figured that out and I must have made 500
with thunder birds in them. People will pick out the colors. Or they just
see one they like.
M: And you can accom8date them.
What kind of a loom is that called, when yoJre doing the narrow bands?
H: There are two kinds . The way I do that is with card weaving. Just
little square cards with 4 holes in it and you put the threads through the
holes in a certain sequence, a certain color sequence • Then you turn
those cards and by turning them,you've got two threads on top and two on
the bottom and you put the weft thread through and then you turn it again
and it locks it in and that's the way you make your shed. But your pattern
comes out with those long threads as opposed to most looms like we use down
here. You will notice that the pattern is that thread we go across with,
which is the weft thread.
M: Are you familiar with Mexican weaving? You get back into the villages
and they've got what they call the strap ---
H: back strap
M: and they're sittipg with the strap around their backs attached to a
tree. What kind of a loom is that?
H:lt's a back strap loom. You do a similar type weaving •.. r also do
have bands with inkle weaving, which is you make a two shed thing with
over and under but your designs comes in your warp threads or how you
pick up the threads. The back strap weaving and the inkle weaving
H; the basic thing is the same thing. I do it on a small loom because
it's easier to handle. I haven't got a good tree to tie up to . You
know the Mexican belts? with the little figure designs? that's the type
of weaving that I do.
M: It's so interesting. I had some people in here yesterday who were
making baskets and they didn't know anything about MExican baskets
and I said, "You've got to go to Mexico and go off into the villages
and see~ They said they hadn't been able to work with bamboo. I said
they make their cheap tortilla baskets out of bamboo. And there's so
much marvelous weaving going on in Mexico, too.
H; And Ecuador. Most of the beautiful Panama hats come from Ecuador.
This one comes from Ecuador. I had them cut out •. this is a custom
designed, custom made hat.
M: Yes, indeed~ So you can get your tail out~ It does what you wantj
it shades. Are you having good response? Are people interested in what
H: If you bring a spinning wheel out, it's like magic. There was something
magical about spinning. The stories about spinning, it was always sort of
magical.My experience in giving demonstrations in a number of places, I
would say that people at least 80 years old remember carding the wool for
their mothers or grandmothers. They never did any spinning. I believe from
that generation 'til now, it wasn't lost, but there was nobodj doing it on
a regular basis. You read the stories; you look at a spinning wheel and
you think that piece .of string you see around there is the yarn spinning.
That's just the drive band for the wheel. Your spinning the yarn down here
somewhere. There's something magical about it.
M; There are fairy stories about spinning and weaving and th~t sort of thing
Are you ever tempted to do any spinning yourself?
H:Oh, I do spin. I don't have time to do as much of it as I would like
M: You have enough orders for hat bands to keep you busy?
H: I sure do. I also do wall hangings and table runners and panchos and
shawls, and things like that. I don't do as much of it now because I
do have so many hat band orders.
M: Do you have somebody helping you?
~o, It's my thing and I have never found anybody that is as interested
in that type of weaving for the bands as I am. I taught my daughter how
to do it and if people want to learn) I'll teach them but . .. you know how
you have your thing, you develop your thing, and you'd kind of like to
keep it that way. You get very selfish about some things you do.I've never
wanted to find anybody to help me do it.
M: We 11, you say, "the peopl e I've brought with me". ARe there 1 ots of
people in Austin weaving and spinning?
H: There sure are. Because the University is there, you get a number
of young ones but there an awfully lot of people in all age groups that
do spinning and weaving.
There is an organized group in Austin of weavers and spinners. I used to
be a part of it but in the last few years I haven't been very active with it.
Some of the people I bring are members of t~t group but they' are all friends
of mine that I know that spin and would enjoy the festival and would work
M: But people are interested?
H: They sure are.
M: I've asked this of everybody and over and over again they're saying to
me, "It's the children, it's the young kids •.•••
M: that are asking the questions~
H: We have a lot of adults asking questions. It's interesting: as an
adult you get a little shy about asking questioning •.. you think, "well,
maybe I should know about it" and so they'll let their kids, they get
their kids interested. But we get a lot of adults . Especially men, who
are mechanically minded. THey are interested in how that machine works.
M: A lot of men are weaving, for goodness sakes,
H: In some countries, the men were the weavers and still are. The
women were the spinners and the men were the weavers.
M: I have for years collected those sisal bolsas in Mexic~_a1l sizes,
and use them~arrYing everything in the world, The men make those. They
also knit. I have 4 heavy wool yarn sweaters and the men make those.
And on the edge of the rebozos that are sometimes made on a strap 100m
the men tie those fancy, complicated fringes. Interesting, isn't it, that
those macho people down thefe. This is over the centuries?
H: I believe, historically, traditionally, the men were the weavers and
the women were the spinners. I think in some of those middle Eastern
countries like Pakistan, some of those countries, it's still true.
The spinning wheel itself has the names •.•. the names of the parts are
all female names. Like there is the "maiden" ,"the mother of all", in
England the word spinster vame from the unmarried women who were spinning.
M: That's interesting!
H: I can't remember now, offhand, all the little parts but most every
part of the spinning wheel has a name that is related to feminine.
M: When you
it was fun
accepted . the invitation to come down here, did you come because
, but,You also think that maybe you could share something?
H:I didn't come the first year. I didn't really know about it until after-wards.
Then the second year, O.T. Baker, I was at the State Arts and
H: Crafts Festival in Kerrville with this weaving group from Austin
and he approached me, I happened to be standing there, about our group
coming down here. He was mostly interested in spinning but we also did
weaving. so~OrganiZed people from that group to come down. I did that for
three years and you know as organizations go, as volunteer groups,
it was not too active at that point and he asked me if I would just organize
my own group of people ... to come down. My husband, who does no kinds of
crafts, he doesn't work with his hands at all ..• he's a professor at U T/
he encouraged me to dO~ A and said he would help me. My daughter had young
friends who were weavers , knew how to weave and spin. Some I brought
down here didn't know how to do any of it until I brought them down and
they've learned down here, too. There are some things we can show them
how to teach people to do very fast. Everyone I've brought down wants
to come back next year.
By the end of today, they'll be dead tired but they'll want to come
back next year.
M: I have not had one negative reaction from anybody I've talked to. Every
body loves it; they love the family feeling; the warmth'
H: There are people you've made friends that are just Folklife friends.
You never see them any other time. But you always see them next year.
M: It's just wonderful.We're so apt to get off in our own thing and
especially living in the city, this is just so charming.
H: I have done demonstrations in many places, in a lot
classrooms, I have never worked with any group •••• the
Festival may change .•. but the attitude toward the people coming here has
never changed.I've never dealt with anybody that was nicer to deal with.
From the person storing your goods , to the person giving you your tickets
to your rooms, it really is marvelous.
M:Last year all the tapes tney had made last year were erased by mistake
and so they're trying to catch them all up again this year and that's
what I'm helping with.
H:They may have talked with oae of the men that is a spinner.He had so
much interesting information and if that got erased r sure am sorry.
M: Is there anything you want to add on this tape that should be on
for the record?
H: Not that I know of . r can't think of. It's fun. It's like a disease;
if you get into it and you just get deeper and deeper.
M: You started as an artist so you have an artistic bent for design and
that sort of thing in the first place. That didn't hurt you any.
H:When I picked up this kind of medium, I have never wanted to do any
other kind of craft, art.
M: Was it painting that you did before? Do you keep that up?
H: Haven't touched it since I started weaving. I really like what I can
do with thatAknowledge with weaving better than I did with paints.
M: Design, color, proportion ••• ? texture?
H: You can get more with weaving, because you do get more texture.
M: You weave with wool, cotton and silk.
H: Some linen,
M: But you're not fooling with dacron and all that artificial stuff. I
think that's great.
H: It doesn't really lend itself to .•.• it 's great for sweaters, clothing,
but I don't do too much in clothing and it doesn't lend itself to having
an attractive appearance.
Weaving is prettier when it's not so consistent. If the yarn is not
consistent, it makes it prettier.
M: One of the basket makers spoke of the faut that a thing is so much more
____ • .t:: _ _ ..L
H: A machine can always do it better than I can. They can make it perfect.
M: That's an interest i ng point isn't it? The .woman started out and then she
enlisted this man to make baskets with her. And she said, "I knew that
he could accept imperfections" That's the handcrafted stuff!
H: If you want one that's perfect, buy one made by machine. It doesn't make
M:I think you're wonderful to give your time to talk to me. Thank you.
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