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Textile Town Preserves Heritage after Lost Jobs

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Volunteer Cristoba Carter with
Books about Englewood History

“I’m just a volunteer,” apologized Cristoba Carter, when I inquired about the tiny museum and adjacent antique store.  She and a friend were spending the day hosting visitors like me who might happen to pop into downtown Englewood, in rural Southeast Tennessee.  Turns out, everybody’s a volunteer, and what they do is impressive.

Two years after the last textile mill shut down, they still preserve the town’s heritage through the Englewood Textile Museum. Several people sell antiques in the store, with booth rentals being enough to maintain the historic collection.  The nonprofit group that runs the museum hosts craft classes.

A few local businesses remain in what Carter describes as a once-booming industrial center.  Between 1850 and 2009, more than 20 mills made everything from long johns to dresses to socks.  Both of Carter’s parents worked in textiles.  “That’s where I was born, in Sock Hill,”  she motioned and told me that section of Englewood is just across the railroad tracks from the old storefronts where we were standing.  “It was big business,” but Carter and her friend explained that in the 1980s, business started dying.  One after another, local dress shops were replaced by a new generation of discount retailers.  Those new stores often didn’t sell things made in the Southeastern mills or anywhere in the United States for that matter.

Artistic Director Gail Anderson of the Community Action Group of Englewood wanted me to be sure to tour the Little White House while I was in town.  The house on the National Register of Historic Places was once home to a founding Englewood family.  Now it helps tell the story of textiles with a pristine collection of  everything from vintage couture to layette to World War II uniforms.  Dozens of townspeople helped sort, mend and wash donated clothes during the war at what they called the rag mill.  Those clothes were sent to war-torn countries like Poland to help needy families there.

The storefront museum display is a densely woven collection of textile history in itself.  It showcases hand-stitched items as well as factory-made examples of quality clothing.  The display shows a mannequin at a typical sock-finishing machine.  Details include a box of loops left over from the bit of sock that gets trimmed off when the machine stitches the toe closed.  Some people wove bonnets from those surplus loops.  Today, you might find the loops as part of a potholder weaving kit.


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