The Shuttle Crafters

After the Civil War, industrialization greatly reduced the need to produce handmade goods because factories and machines could produce store-bought items more quickly, more cheaply, and in larger quantities than they could be made in the home. Nevertheless, the Dougherty family of Russellville in Hamblen County continued to train and teach younger family members the traditional crafts of dyeing, spinning, and weaving. In 1923, during a period of rural craft revival, the Dougherty family established the Shuttle-Crafters, an independent weaving center that displayed, taught, created, and provided an outlet for homemade textiles. With limited job opportunities in this rural area, women produced these textiles and yard goods and taught these skills to women who wanted to continue the work of their grandmothers.

Working out of a rebuilt cabin near the family home, Sarah Dougherty, Mary Ella Dougherty Wall, and Rebecca Dougherty Hyatt created many crafts. Using antique looms, spinning wheels, and dye pots, the three sisters developed their own designs and colors, in addition to continuing to use the old draft patterns for hand-woven textiles. They used their ancestors’ recipes for traditional colors in dyed yarn, while continuing to experiment with their own hues. They produced items using wool, cotton, and silk and favored locally grown cotton and wool. They made many of the coverlets with vegetable-dyed yarns, often with natural colors identical to earlier works.

Descendants of Revolutionary War drummer J. Adams of Virginia, the Dougherty sisters were the product of six generations of spinners, weavers, and dyers. Their ancestors were part of the migration of settlers that came down from the Appalachian Mountains to settle in the many valleys between the ridges. With them, they brought not only equipment for these crafts but patterns, recipes, and most importantly, the knowledge needed to continue the crafts and survive on the frontier. Their great-grandmother, Nancy Smith Flannery, was a professional indigo dyer. Their mother, Mrs. Leah Adams Dougherty, was known for her skill and knowledge of natural dyes and herbs used by Cherokee Indians. The weaving center at Russellville displayed five generations of weaving products, along with the coverlets, curtains, petticoats, and pocketbooks made by the students and workers.

Sarah Dougherty was very active in promoting the Shuttle-Crafters’ business. She demonstrated weaving in 1948 at the first fair held by the Southern Highlands Handicraft Guild in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. She was also in charge of and organized the carding and spinning exhibit. Dressed in period costume, Mrs. Dougherty gave many demonstrations at shops and fairs of dye plant cultivation and dye formulas handed down in her family. Sarah functioned in several roles at Shuttle-Crafters, serving as designer, teacher, production manager, and marketing director. As a result, Shuttle-Crafters’ products were available in many parts of the country.

Shuttle-Crafters was an independent business and was not supported by or affiliated with any religious or benevolent organization. Unlike similar craft centers established throughout the region, many of these groups established in the 1920s were seen as a way to promote and revive the handicrafts of the Southern Highlands while providing skills and training for the people, especially women in the rural areas suffering from depressed economic conditions. The formation of the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild served to promote and organize the activities of these smaller institutions and aid in the marketing of their products. In 1934, the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild held its fall meeting at the Shuttle-Crafters’ log cabin facility, but the Shuttle-Crafters did not become part of the retail trend to develop quickly made and inexpensively sold items to tourists who visited the Smoky Mountains. The loom center gained a reputation for high-quality work and artisanship, and House and Garden magazine featured it in 1942. The State of Tennessee honored Sarah with an award for “Excellence in Hand Weaving and Design.”

Even after the Shuttle-Crafters’ business closed, Sarah Dougherty remained active in the community and was instrumental in establishing the David Crockett Tavern Museum. This local museum contains many of the items that originated with the Dougherty family and the Shuttle-Crafters.

Suggested Reading

Christi Teasley, “Tennessee Textiles,” A History of Tennessee Arts: Creating Traditions, Expanding Horizons, ed. Carroll Van West and Margaret D. Binnicker (2004)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title The Shuttle Crafters
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date June 15, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018