When the McDiarmid family arrived in Canada, from Perthshire, Scotland, in the early 1860s, the lots on the riverfront were already occupied, primarily by families of loyalist origin. The immigrants who flooded into Canada in the middle of the 19th Century were obliged to seek land in the back townships, and the McDiarmid House was built during this stage of the province's development.
Since its arrival in Upper Canada Village, the house has been used for demonstration of spinning and weaving. In the early 19th century, farmers might have grown a little flax and kept a few sheep to provide for their clothing and other household needs, such as blankets and sacks. Early settlers had to be self-sufficient for their clothing needs, and every house had a spinning wheel and hand loom.
Sheep were kept for the production of wool. The sheep were sheared in spring time, when they no longer needed their heavy coats. The wool was then carded and spun into yarn, which could be used to make blankets and clothing.
Farmers also grew flax to make linen. The plant stalks were soaked and split open, and then left out to dry. The fibres were then combed and spun into thread. Until the growth of the cotton industry in the United States, linen thread was commonly used.
The spinning wheel was used for both wool and flax. Early models were quite large, and very simple. The spinner had to walk back and forth as she worked, and the wheel had to be turned by hand. Later models had foot treadles, which were easier to operate, and made the production of wool easier and more efficient.
As communities grew, the production of wool and linen began to change. Carding mills were established to sort and clean the dirty wool, but spinning and weaving were still done at home. As textile mills became more common, settlers had the opportunity to purchase a wide range of fabrics and design, and home production declined.