Lily Mills of Shelby, North Carolina

We tend to think of the textile industry as makers of fabrics, but there really is a huge range of products that can be classified as textiles.  My state, North Carolina, has long been a grower of cotton, and much of the industry here involved the production of cotton products.  Much fabric was made, especially in the big denim mills like Cone, and also jersey knits were an important product.  Equally important were products like towels, socks, stockings, and bedding.  But one of the largest components of the industry was the spinning of yarns.

Lily Mills was located in Shelby, on the edge of cotton country in the piedmont of North Carolina.  It was founded in 1903 as the Lily Mill and Power Company by John Schenck.  It was one mill of a growing industry in the area, and by the 1940s, there were twenty spinning mills in the Shelby area, some of which were also making products that were then marketed by Lily Mills.

The range of products made by Lily is pretty amazing, everything from regular sewing thread to yarns for handweaving to heavy rug yarns.  To help promote their yarns they also published instruction booklets and marketed small looms for the home weaver.

Probably one of the most interesting things about Lily Mills was their relationship with the Penland School Of Crafts.  Penland, located near Spruce Pine, North Carolina, continues to be a highly regarded school for craftspersons.  In the late 1940s Lily Mills helped finance the Lily Loom House at Penland.  Weavers who attend classes today still work in the Lily Loom House.  In return, weaving instructors at Penland wrote booklets for Lily Mills, such as Practical Weaving Suggestions.

By the looks of the variety of booklets on eBay and Etsy, Lily Mills must have published booklets for every yarn they made.  There is an astounding amount of material.  And though I’ve never seen an example, I’ve read that during the 1940s they also marketed sewing patterns.

I found these sample cards a few weeks ago while traveling through the area.  I was struck at how fresh the colors remain.

There was no date on either card, but I’m guessing that the code at the bottom of them dates them to 1961 and 1962.

And while it has nothing to do with textiles, the Lily Mills has an important connection to the development of bluegrass music.  In the early 1940s banjo player Earl Scruggs worked at Lilly Mills and stayed with a fellow musician.  The area around Shelby was evidently a hive of three-fingered banjo pickers.  The style Scruggs developed became the standard for the bluegrass banjo.

8 Comments

Filed under North Carolina, Southern Textiles

8 responses to “Lily Mills of Shelby, North Carolina

  1. Lizzie…enjoyed your Lily Mills info. Thanks for adding probably the little known fact about Earl Scruggs working at Llily years ago. I will pass that info on to my son who is a Scruggs fan.

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  2. Glad to hear that people are still learning to weave at Penland. It’s not an easy craft to learn or pursue because you need access to a big loom!

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  3. It was interesting to read about the connection to the Penland school and weaving. I have done weaving in the past and appreciate the patience, skill and creativity involved.

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  4. Micha'el Dans

    we have a lily 6 cord thread box and a lily thread box showing sewing threads.. boil-proof colors some threads included, looks to be 50years old plus . are these items worth anything found them in an attic

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  5. Pingback: Updates – The Rest of the Story | The Vintage Traveler

  6. Wonderful! I have some Lily reels (well, a Lily reel) in my haberdashery collection but didn’t know exactly where they were based. Good to know, Lizzie.

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  7. my grand father worked there many years ago ruffin self

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