25: Historical Weaving (transcript)
Welcome to Episode 25 – Historical Weaving. When you think of weaving in colonial times, do you imagine a farm wife sitting by the fire weaving on her loom? Come learn the truth about the weaving in early America from noted weaver and historian, Marjie Thompson. After that we’ll talk with Fireside Fiber Arts, a modern day loom manufacturer who manages to bring old world charm to their looms through custom wood carvings. In the end essay, Finishing Matters, I talk about a little problem I’m having with my weaving and the reason I envy 18th century weavers.
I promise not to spend the whole show talking about WeaveZine, the new on-line weaving magazine, but I would like to say thank you for all the emails and encouragement after the launch. It was a lot of work learning how to put the magazine together. Your enthusiasm and enjoyment makes it all worth while.
I have found a great on line demonstration of hem-stitching, and that is at the Encyclopedia of Needlework (dot com). I’ll have a link to that on show notes.
Our sponsor this episode we’re welcoming back Cotton Clouds. They’re a great on line retailer of all things cotton, and they also carry a tempting line of a hundred percent bamboo yarn in two weights – 2100 yards per pound, and 6300 yards per pound.
Right now I am perusing one of their Bambu 7 colour cards for a project I’m planning, and I have to say, the shiny colours are just stunning. There are over a hundred and ten colours, and even the ones that aren’t my personal favourites, hello, orange! – they have enough tones and variations that I could see all kinds of shadow weave possibilities and combining different colours to get subtle shadings. It’s kind of causing a little bit of project vapour lock because there are so many different possibilities and the phrase “one of each, please” keeps running through my head. But, that is not in the budget – don’t worry Eric, I’m not going to mortgage the kid’s college fund to buy bamboo yarn. Promise!
The other cool thing I found when I was plinking around on the Cotton Clouds website is cotton punis. These can be a little bit hard to find, which is why I was so excited to see them. They’re my absolute favourite put up for spinning cotton. They have them both in plain, or hand dyed colours by Chasing Rainbows.
SM I’m here with Marjie Thompson and she knows a tremendous amount about historical weaves and has generously offered to share that with us. So, welcome to the show Marjie.
MT Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
SM So how did you first get interested in historical weaving?
MT Well, I always wanted to learn to weave. We moved out into the out skirts of Columbus, Ohio, and there was a weaving shop there.
I started taking lessons. By the time my son was in all day kindergarten four years later, I was working the day he was in school. I was a history major in college, so it was a perfect fit for somebody who really didn’t want to teach junior high history.
So I became a weaver. Like everybody else, dabbled in just about everything that was out there in the late 70’s, early 1980’s. My major teacher was a tapestry type weaver. I went off in a completely different direction!
SM The area that you focus mostly in is the colonial era?
MT It’s the whole gamut from what we can find recorded in textile-wise from say the 1400’s to the 1500’s on up through when weaving ended, which is basically before the civil war in most parts of the country.
I guess I’ve gotten known for doing the early American weaving, because there’s not a lot of documentation for pre-mid 1700’s weaving.
SM What was the weaving culture like in North America’s colonial era?
MT Well, it’s interesting because the Pilgrims arrived with absolutely no textile making equipment other than the sewing needles that the Pilgrim women had. This was true in any of the areas of settlement very early on because these people were living in cities. They were living in Europe as well, where weaving was a very specialised occupation.
One person wound the warp. A separate profession put the warp on the loom, the weaver who was the best paid of all of the professions, wove the fabric, and then it went on to two or three other people to finish it before it got to the store.
So, though people knew weavers, and they knew weaving, and they somewhat understood it, it wasn’t anything that they knew how to do from start to finish.
So these guys arrived on the shores of the new world, probably expecting that they were going to find a store around the corner to buy the fabric, because that’s what they’d always done.
They quickly learned that that wasn’t going to happen and the second, third, and fourth shipments, the Pilgrims began asking for are spinning wheels and things like that because they realised that they are going to have to produce the raw materials.
SM Now that’s interesting. I never thought of the Pilgrims as “urban” people.
MT Most were. The rural people were not the ones who could pick up and leave and move for one reason or another. They were sort of stuck on their farms where the city dwellers could pick up and there are almost entire towns leaving England and coming and settling in “New” England, bringing the town name and the whole town hierarchy with them.
SM What are some other common misconceptions about colonial weaving.
MT The other one is that in every house there was a loom, sitting right there next to the fireplace, and in every spare minute of the day the colonial housewife was sitting there weaving.
Quite honestly, she wasn’t.
The spinning wheels would have been there. Girls, by the time they were 8, 9, 10, 11 years old, are also spinning. So that you have more than one spinning wheel in just about every early household inventory you find, but only one or two looms at best, in any given community, because it takes more than 10 spinners to keep a weaver occupied.
We go through yarn as weavers a lot faster than someone sitting at a spinning wheel can produce it.
The misconception is that everybody had a loom and it was sitting there right by the fireplace. Well, you have got to remember that these things are the size of a double bed and they weren’t going to fit in the early houses.
The other misconception, the one I laugh about more than anything else, is the idea that the itinerant weaver was out there going from household to household carrying his loom, which again is the size of a double bed, in his backpack on his back and he walks into your house, he sets it up and you provide him with materials to weave.
This simply didn’t happen, nor did he come trundling into your yard with his loom on his ox cart and sit out there in the mud, dirt, with chickens and everything else, and weave very, very fine fabric for you.
It didn’t work. I’m not sure who came up with this misconception.
SM Well, there are all those folk songs, about the itinerant travelling weaver.
MT Right. Which there were in Europe. They did have to travel. The European guild system had a three level program where you began as an apprentice, and you were apprenticed sometimes as early as age 2, simply because your mother was a widow and couldn’t take care of you. So the weaver would raise you as well as give you a trade. You would learn to be a weaver.
In Europe, after your apprenticeship period, you had to have a 10 year period of travelling around and studying with different teachers. The same idea as we go to workshops to learn with someone.
They would go, move in, work with a weaver for a time period, and then they would have a book they carried that would be signed by the master weaver. Then they would, after a period of time, they would move on and they’d go study a different technique, possibly, with someone else.
All the while, they were busily working on a body of work they would have to present to the guild to reach the master level, where they could then start their own business, have their apprentices and hire the journeymen to work for them.
I’m pretty sure that’s where it comes from.
SM So how was weaving done in colonial times?
MT It was done by the people who liked to weave. There were always people like today’s weavers. People who wove because they enjoyed it. It was also done in New England by poor women, women who were widowed and had to have a means of survival. They could do weaving.
It was done by people who had young girls to employ, to keep them occupied. It was done in the very rural areas where cloth was difficult to come by for every day clothing and household goods.
Then when you get into the mid-Atlantic regions, the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, parts of New York state, and that area, it was a male occupation. The spinning was taken to these men who tried to make a living as weavers, that were listed in tax records as “weaver”.
That was more of a cultural thing. That lasted a lot longer.
As you move west, and you get out into the very rural areas, there’s more weaving going on because there’s less goods coming in.
However, your very best clothing is always going to be imported fabric, or commercially produced fabric. You’re not going to want to be seen in public in hand spun.
SM So how important were textiles in everyday life back then?
MT They were one of the most valuable things you had. Everything textile wise, up until the industrial revolution, which basically is the production of cotton for sheets by 1814 in Massachusetts, everything prior to that was woven by a person, somewhere.
It may have been in India, it may have been in China, it may have been in the silk industry in Lyons, France, or places like that. But everything was made by a person.
So it becomes the most valuable things that you have. The materials for one bed, which is referred to in an inventory as a bed – the frame is basically worthless – what we’re talking about is the tick, the mattress, the blankets, the sheets, the coverlet, things like this – are valued as more than twice as much for the furnishings for one bed, as a highboy chest of drawers with all the locks and all the brass and everything else.
I have one list of materials that a man gave to his daughters when they married and he’s in 1760’s in coastal New Hampshire, valuing the materials for a bed at a hundred and thirty three pounds sterling, and a high chest of drawers given to the same daughter at 66 pounds.
Clothing was passed down from person to person. You willed your clothing to someone else. You were very happy to receive it. You then styled it in the current style and if you go to museums and look at the 17th, 18th century clothing that is there, you’ll see the holes from previous stitching where it has been modified to the new style, because you couldn’t get rid of that 26, 27 yards of fabric. It was just way too valuable.
SM That makes sense. If you’re having to weave everything that you wear, or import it from overseas without modern air planes and modern ships it would be dear.
MT Well, and a lot of the ships never made it over either. They sunk or they got blown off course, they ended up somewhere else, smugglers got the goods – so that you couldn’t depend upon the ships which is why there was weaving going on for household goods in this country because you couldn’t depend on a ship to always be there.
There was also a lot of weaving done during times when there was no shipping because of the wars.
SM You’ve studied a lot of different weavers. Do you have a favourite historical weaver?
MT I don’t have a favourite. I’ve got a lot of them. There were a lot of the guys, and they were men in Pennsylvania weaving – was a male occupation – I love what I’ve seen that a lot of them did, both in the actual textiles, and in what they wrote in their draft books, the designs they left that they hoped that someday they would have time to weave or someone would come in and say “I really don’t need 26 yards of sheets, I want a fabulous coverlet.”
I really admire what they did. I’d just love to talk to any of them for 5 minutes and find out what they had for looms, and how they really did weave the 24 shaft or more pieces without the equipment we have today, though I’m beginning to believe that they had a dobby system by the 1830’s, they had some sort of peg system.
I have read patents for things that talk about putting pegs in and I have seen some written peg things that say, give a weave name and if you put the numbers in and it’s in their peg holes, you get that weave when you put it on the computer.
I think they had some system that we don’t know and if we stumbled upon it, we’d probably wouldn’t know what we were looking at because it would look like a bunch of sticks with holes in them, which probably all became firewood long before any of us would know what to look for.
SM That’s an intriguing mystery.
MT It is, because we know only a fraction of what they knew. A lot of their knowledge has been lost.
I’d also love to know how they just simply twisted the yarn back on itself to tie a new warp on.
MT None of this tying knots or anything. They just simply twisted it and it twisted back on itself. There’s no glue, there’s no pitch, there’s no nothing, and then they go run it right back through, put it on the back beam and start weaving.
There’s no waste. There’s none of this, you know, yard, yard and a half of loom waste. They worked right up to the end, and then twisted the next warp on.
SM Speaking of lost weaving knowledge, there’s a lot of historical weave structures that just aren’t woven any more. Why do you think these weaves have fallen out of favour?
MT A lot of them take more shafts than people are used to. When weaving was revived in the early 20th century, the most shafts people had were four.
So the weave structures that Mary Meigs Atwater and Laura Allen, and some of these earlier “mothers” of weaving, Berta Frey, people like that, were doing, were the four shaft work, or possibly six shafts. Then all of a sudden, we got into the really fancy, and they couldn’t do it.
I’ve seen the notebooks where they are working on one and they’re coming down, and they’ve got it, it’s working beautifully, to turn it into four shaft float work – overshot – and they get to the point and it’s combined blocks and it won’t work and there’s a big “X” through it and it says “won’t work, do not print”.
They realised that they were working along, doing by hand, the work we would do on a computer and realising that it would not weave on four. They knew the other stuff existed, it’s just the loom capability wasn’t there and if you’re going to tell someone that you needed 24 or 36 treadles under that loom, and you’re just beginning to teach them to weave – weaving is coming back – you’re going to say no.
The only reason I think a lot of this stuff is becoming popular now is because we have the shaft capacity by putting the computerised attachment on or something like this, to weave some of these more complex designs.
SM That’s really funny to me because the people who stick to the four shaft loom and refuse to have anything with dobbies, usually say they’re doing so because they want to be more historical accurate in their weaving.
MT Right. It is funny. I mean I have a very good friend who says that anything I do on my AVL compu-dobby is not hand weaving. We get into really interesting fun arguments over this. I’m saying “yes but the 6 block coverlets that you have in your collection were woven with someone doing something different. They didn’t have 24, 36 treadles under that loom. They couldn’t do it.”
There had to be some other system because there are so many of these textiles that exist. People saved them because they were beautiful, but when you start looking at the things out there that take 24 shafts or more, you know they had to have some method other than all those swinging treadles underneath.
SM In your researches, what sort of gems have you uncovered in terms of forgotten weave structures?
MT I’ve got some fun ones. I tend to like what the German weavers called Hin und vieders which are the point twill. They’re figurative. They’ve got hearts, they’ve got acorns, they’ve got stars, they’ve got roses – there’s even one on 32 shafts that’s got the German double-headed eagle. He disappears when you weave it, but in the tie-up, there sits this scrawny looking double-headed eagle.
I like those. They’re very early. They go back to the medieval period. I like the ones that people call today M’s and W’s but the German’s called Gebrochenes. I love those because they’re one shuttle. In fact both of these are one shuttle weaves.
I’ve also come across some in books that are very difficult to find in actual textiles because no one has let me into a clothing collection yet to go wild and crazy turning up the skirts and seeing what’s there.
This one is called “dumb flowers” which is a funny one. You also have the English “spot” what they call “common spots” and “paper spots” which are the weaves that were used to make Paisley shawls.
If you start looking at the shawls, they had long floats on the back and they just simply cut them because the wool would hold it. So there are some of these very odd things out there.
SM So they just cut off the floats and the wool didn’t pull out of the design area?
MT Mm-hmm. Yes, it’s fine enough. Plus you have a binder holding it.
I’ve actually woven some of them, cut the floats, washed it and had it stay. But see, we’re washing things they weren’t. Laundry was a royal pain, nobody wanted to do laundry. You did laundry on Monday because you were rested from Sunday, so they didn’t wash things like we do. They didn’t put them in the washing machine.
This is why the old linens have beautiful fringes on them and today’s weavers are told whatever you do don’t fringe linen because it will disappear when you wash it.
Well, we’re washing things constantly – they weren’t.
SM And using much more harsh mechanical methods.
MT Right. I mean, they were washing by hand so they could be gentle with it. They could then hand comb out the fringes.
Your clothing wasn’t laundered. Your under shift would be, but your clothing simply wasn’t so you could get away with cut floats and things that we wouldn’t even consider because you weren’t washing it.
SM You’ve written several books about historical weaving and weave structures. Is that where you talk about some of these wonderful structures you’ve just mentioned?
MT No, I haven’t done that one yet! I haven’t had a chance to write what I wanted.
SM Is such a book in the works – can we hope?
MT Such a book is in the works. It has a title. It has a folder on my computer. It has some information in it. It’s got to get done at some point.
I’ve done several in conjunction with others. Haven’t totally done one by myself yet.
One that three of us did, it’s called Forgotten Pennsylvania Textiles of the 18th and 19th Century, and this comes out of the fact that we visited a collector and he had a wonderful collection and he kept saying that these things were on three shafts. And we kept saying no, no, no, no, you don’t understand – you’re a collector – they can’t be on three shafts, you can’t work one against two on a counter balanced loom.
Well, we have eaten crow, and he’s right and we were wrong and they are woven on three shafts. They’re documented. They’re tablecloths, towelling, things like this.
SM How did they weave three shafts on a counter balance loom?
MT Good question. We’re not a hundred per cent sure.
The assumption is they either did a direct tie, so one treadle to shaft one, one treadle to shaft two, and a third treadle to shaft three.
The one reference written that we have found says that you tie 2 and 3 together, and that gives you plain cloth because when you thread this 3 shaft structure, every other thread ends up being on shaft one. So if you tie, if your shaft one is separate and you tie 2 and 3 to function together, you can get plain weave.
So we’re assuming that’s how it’s done. They didn’t leave us any notes because to them it was so simple.
This was the problem with one of them that we got into. We tried so hard to find the draft for it and we finally figured out what the design was. It was just two other things combined, and it was so simple that there was no reason for anyone trained as a weaver to need it.
We forget – they were trained as weavers. Someone taught everyone to weave. It wasn’t like us where we go to a book and want it written. Somebody showed everyone how to weave.
SM It was like the old days there never used to be cook books because you just learned to cook.
MT Right. This is like the directions on how to scramble eggs. You really don’t need them.
I did the editing for a friend on a manuscript in upstate New York of making the whole thing useable for today’s weavers with a picture on one side of the actual manuscript and then the interpretation on the other.
That one was fun because we found the guy’s house, we found his gravestone, and everything else, so that was kind of fun with the connection, too. Vinnier Gardiner in upstate New York.
SM Other books?
MT I’m considered the co-editor of Josephine Estes’ Miniature Patterns that the Weaver’s Guild of Boston did just a few years ago. The originals were willed to the guild and a friend and I did them with computer drawdowns as opposed to the original Josephine Estes’ that were mimeographed sheets.
So I did that, and then again, through the Weaver’s Guild of Boston we purchased a collection of folders of huck samples. Three of us put them into common notation and did a book on all those samples and we know that everything is right in that one because we taught other people in the guild weaving the gamps and making sure everything worked!
That also gave the guild a set to circulate because we didn’t want the originals going out.
SM That’s great that the whole guild participated to make that happen.
MT They did. And we bought it by simply passing the hat at a guild meeting to see how much money we could raise to purchase it from the person who needed to sell the collection.
That was fun. That was my first jumping in with both feet to publishing.
SM And you also did a little book called Woven Gems.
MT Five of us did that. It was a perpetual calendar with samples. It was fun. We’re trying to figure out what we want to do for another one.
SM I just wanted to touch briefly on the fact that the notation has changed. Because you talked about for the huck book you had to translate the notation. Is there any book out there that describes how to change those little squiggles into drafts?
MT No. There isn’t. It’s one of those things that’s not written – I guess that’s why I can go to talk to guilds because I can explain some of it, having figured it out. Sometimes there’s stuff you have no idea what they were doing.
One night I sat with friends in a motel room putting something in from a slide. All we had was a slide. We’re looking at the slide, playing with computers and all of a sudden we realised he’d never finished the tie up. He hadn’t tied up a number of shafts that wouldn’t weave.
So there’s all of this stuff going on. Everything that we’re working on from the old notation that’s not published, is somebody’s notes.
SM So do people who aren’t getting to see these, what they look like are little zig-zaggy lines going up and down.
SM With little circles and x marks, and mysteries things.
MT Mysterious things going on. Most of the time what you’re looking at is a short draft or a profile because paper was very expensive. So you tried to cram it in in as little space as possible. So they came up with a system of drawing straight lines and all kinds of varying things, or numbers, to tell them how many times to thread a block before they moved on to the next block.
So you can have a four inch piece of paper and an entire panel of a coverlet. That’s all you needed because you were trained, you were taught what to do. So the thread by thread system is really quite new. It goes back to the 20th century again when you have the early mothers of weaving, re-inventing, re-discovering what had gone on before. Figuring it out and going from there.
I think, I know they could see in their heads what these designs looked like. They could look at somebody else’s draft and have a pretty good idea what the coverlet would look like, but a lot of the early weavers then had to go and do a book, basically of pictures of drawdowns so they could show it to the client, and say, now which one would you like?
SM Where would you suggest people go to learn more about historical weaves?
MT I have a study group of complex weavers called Early Weaving Books and Manuscripts. We’ve got about 118 people in the group. I put out a newsletter 6 times a year. The requirement is that you are a member of Complex Weavers and you pay your dues to the study group. We have an optional swatch exchange, which has been great fun because we have some people going off and saying “hmm, this looks like it could be, but I don’t think it is….”
I have a couple of friends who pretty much cracked the problem of white southern counterpanes, how they were woven because they’re different from anything we see in the north. They figured that out.
We have people doing all kinds of stuff that way.
The other thing is, HGA asked me to do a Learning Exchange on reading manuscripts, reading drafts.
It’s a very small niche in the weaving world.
People tend to think that if we’re working from old drafts we have a hand woven recipe there that says here’s the yarn you use, here’s the reed you use, here’s how you set it and here’s what you get. That’s not the case, but sometimes it’s very hard convincing juries that we’re not working from a recipe.
SM I hadn’t realised how much research there was in the fact that nothing was written down and you’re trying to reverse engineer how they got some of these complicated fabrics out of simple looms.
MT Well, the ones I don’t think were as simple as we think. What happened with weaving, is that the last thing anyone was still weaving at home was the rag carpeting. You only need two shafts to weave rag carpet. So you would take off all the rest of the stuff that you didn’t understand. You’d take it off and you’d get rid of it, and those heddle sticks snap very nicely, they become kindling for the fire. Things like that you just throw out The heddles, you don’t need those, and you end up with rag weaving.
I mean, I remember as a child, my grandmother would cut up rags and I remember going and maybe, 5, 6, 7 years old, with my grandmother to the rag rug weaver, and I still have some of those rugs.
But that was the last thing that stayed as weaving except for the people who enjoyed it.
There was Olive Prescott in Massachusetts, who’s husband was the wealthiest man in town, and there’s a whole tremendous collection of her weaving up to 8 shaft work or more, at the Peabody Essex Museum.
SM There was the one woman who had all the daughters and her husband was lost at sea?
MT Eliza Perkins Wild Born. I like Eliza because she’s Maine and she’s the one whose house is on the road to Kennebunk Port. It’s still there. Her son’s house is the first one you see. It’s called The Wedding Cake House, and then you come to Eliza’s. She considered herself a professional ‘fancy’ weaver.
She had three daughters and at this point she was married to a sea captain, named Israel Wild who was eventually drowned in the West Indies Trade.
She would make bonnets and cloaks and gowns and go from Kennebunk to visit family and friends in Boston and sell the stuff. She had a really, really good eye as to what she could do.
She married a second time to a man named John Born. By the time they moved to their house in Kennebunk Landing in 1806, they had 15 children under the age of 20. Her 3, his 6 from two previous marriages, and the rest who were theirs.
John Born owned ships and built ships in his back yard. Unfortunately, in 1807, the Congress and the president of the United States, because they could not compete with the British who were stopping their ships and everything else, and impressing the seamen because of the Napoleonic Wars, declared an embargo and no ships could leave port or come into port.
The Borns have 16 children and Eliza comes up with a way of making enough money to support the entire family. What she does is, she has a loom built that is 10 feet wide. The treadle piece of it survives, so we know she did this. So do about 15 of the coverlets that she and her daughters wove on this.
They would sit with one daughter at one end, and Eliza at the other and they would throw the shuttle.
Now they are using cotton because by 1804 we’ve got a lot of mill spun cotton, and in New England you can’t export it by 1807 because there’s an embargo on.
So it’s your patriotic duty to sit and weave. What she and her daughters do, are they weave tufted coverlets, which was a new fashionable style of bed coverings which were coming in from Bolton, England.
Only the Bolton ones had a seam up the middle. Eliza’s do not. They are seamless because she has this 10 foot wide loom.
Any of us could do that with our looms today. It’s just simply – make it wider.
The side supports would be the same. You, of course, would have a lot more heddles on there, and it would take two people to operate it, which this did. Then they picked up the loops into designs. So they were tufted, white counter panes and she was getting about the equivalent of about $1700 for each one that she sold to neighbours, friends and people in the area.
They have been so valued that they are kept. And there are some that are still in the same family, for which they were woven in 1807, 1808, 1809. They still stay with the families.
SM I saw some images of those and they were just stunningly detailed with all those designs.
MT They are. They have just a tremendous amount of detail and yet there are no paper patterns for any of those surviving anywhere, including in Bolton, England where they were turning them out by the thousands.
So we don’t quite know how they did it. I think they had to have hand drawn graph paper of some sort with the design. Or maybe not. They may have been a lot better at it than we!
I don’t know. It’s another one of those things that’s lost. But she was often written up in the newspaper and everything else.
In 1811, the paper said “In 8 months the Borns wove 222 yards of cloth using a fly shuttle loom.” So they would take the technology as it came and use it.
SM If people were interested in purchasing some of the books you’ve co-authored with other people how would they find out about those?
MT The books are available from The Yarn Barn, from Halcyon, Mannings. A lot of weaving shops carry those.
SM I was one of those people thinking that historical weaving was – you knew what fibre, you knew what set, there was a pattern. I’m amazed at how much research had to be done, and how much intrigue and human drama there was.
MT Right. And the more we find – it’s really interesting. The farther we get into it the more we start looking into these weavers. The other thing they’re finding in Pennsylvania is they were all brother-in-laws, or brothers, or cousins of each other.
We’ve found books where we know who studied together and who taught whom. They’re identical to a point and then they start adding their own stuff.
It’s sort of a mystery and it’s fun to do and see what’s out there and what book someone is going to find that’s going to have something we haven’t seen.
Oh! This is how they did this!
The old guys had it good, because the client brought the materials.
SM That’s true. And the really old guys had it good because they got somebody else to work their loom – all they had to do was sit and weave.
MT I know. I know. And they didn’t have to do any of the finish work.
SM That’s – Oh man! I would love to not…
MT None of them did. When you took your stuff to the weaver, you got back a roll of cloth. You put the coverlet together! Or you made the clothing out of it. Or you made the petticoat. Or you made the towel. The weaver gave you raw material, not even washed. Cut off the loom and you got it.
We should be so lucky!
SM We have modern dentistry – that’s a good thing.
MT That is true – we have modern dentistry and we have better medical stuff. We’re not being bled all the time to make us feel better.
SM That’s true.
Well, this has just been delightful and I really appreciate you being on the show and sharing some of your great information.
MT Thank you!
We’ve talked about weaving in colonial times, but without a time machine there’s no real way to go and experience Colonial America.
Well, perhaps there is one way….
Coming up next we’ve got an interview with Fireside Fiber Arts. They are a modern day loom manufacturer that adds old world charm to their looms by embellishing them with hand carved designs.
Some of my weaving friends own their looms and so I can say from first hand experience that the workmanship is exquisite. They are seriously beautiful, beautiful looms.
LL I’m Larry Lesniak, one of the owners of Fireside Fiber Arts.
SR I’m Stanley Rill, a woodcarver for Fireside Fiber Arts.
SM Where did the idea of decorating looms come from?
LL It’s a long tradition with Fireside. We are the new owners, my wife and I. We purchased the business this past summer when Gary Richels decided it was time to retire. Gary told me that the tradition of decorating the Fireside Loom goes back to the mid-1970’s.
When you get into personalisation, the loom’s really the weaver’s own, a reflection of their personality, something that ties to their past, or their feelings about weaving or about their life.
Each loom that’s built that way is truly unique. There’s none other like it. It’s one of the great joys in creating these looms.
SM What percentage of your customers come to you and want customised looms?
LL Virtually all of them.
LL Yes. All the jack looms, all the cantilevers, we look for places in which those artistic touches can be added to the loom. They will bring us ideas. We’re completing one now. It’s a cantilever loom, and you’d look at and say maybe it would be difficult to find a spot, but the customer wanted a phrase carved on part of the loom and it fit in beautifully. It’s located in such a way that it’s always going to be there in front of the weaver.
There’s one loom that the weaver had it carved with flowers that her husband gave her when they were courting.
People that come to us to have us build a loom for them generally are looking for something very personal.
SM It seems to me that when you build a loom it’s very important that it be structurally strong and functional. Does that present challenges when you go to add ornamentation?
SR Not the amount of work that is carved – it’s so minimal that it doesn’t affect the structural integrity whatsoever.
SM Can you walk me through the process you go through to do the carvings?
SR Once they’ve decided upon the design, I draw it out full size, and transfer the drawing to the area of the loom that’s being carved. Most often the beater.
And then actually the very first thing is put on some music. I think that gets me in the mood for carving.
I start outlining the carving with my parting tool, a little v-shaped cutter, removing the background and doing that in several layers. Smoothing off, detailing the carving, and sanding it with fine sand paper.
SM Do you have a background in art?
SR I’m a full time wood carver, and have been for over 30 years. I do mostly commission work, all types of things – doors, post and beams, tree stump, and whatever.
I do enjoy carving the loom because they a portable project – I can take them out to a park bench. If it’s a nice sunny day, or out on a trip to visit relatives I can just bring them along and carve when I have the opportunity.
SM What sort woods present the most challenges when you’re carving?
SR They’re all hard wood – oak, cherry, black walnut – are the most common woods. In fact I think the only ones that have been used. Oak has more of a fibrous grain so it doesn’t show the detail quite as well as the other woods, with the milder grain, although it can be carved in there.
All three of those woods are actually excellent choices for carving. I like to carve hard woods.
It’s a type of wood also that kind of inspires the designs. Branches and the leaves of the oak, black walnut and cherry – of course the fruit on the cherry and nuts on the black walnut, the acorns on the oak.
SM In 20 years you must have seen some interesting designs go past. Do any in particular stand out?
SR Oh yes! There have been quite a few interesting designs. A lot of them are personal logos, like interwoven fingers, with hands, the weavers’ favourite flowers, are the most popular, but there’ve been lizards, cocopellie with turquoise inlaid, celtic designs, dragons, fine faries, and cartoon animals. There’s been quite a wide range of different styles.
At times someone will have an exact idea of what they want and sometimes not and we just talk it out and design it.
And now it’s time for today’s audio essay Finishing Matters.
I’m having trouble coming to the end of my projects.
Now, I love the weaving. And I’ve developed an affectionate understanding of warping, but I notice that a lot of my work is stalling out at the finishing stage.
This was driven home to me recently when I was teaching and demonstrating at the Madrona Winter Retreat a couple of weeks ago. I had samples to display, and more than one was in the “cut off the loom, ends not yet woven in” stage.
Not the official class samples – those were in good shape – but the “extra” samples that I brought to show where you could go with weaving.
The weekend was like an intervention – only with strangers.
Time and time again, I found myself having to apologise for my work! Saying things like “yeh – this rayon chenille feels a lot like cardboard now, but believe me – when it’s washed, it will just be as soft as melted butter.”
The person I was talking to would inevitably look at me with this expression of “I’m trying to believe you” but you know that being told something is not nearly as convincing as feeling it with your fingers. And I just felt terrible! I felt like a bad representative of weaving.
So after a weekend of this, I could not stay in denial. I have to admit I have ---- a problem ---- with finishing………
Yeh. It’s one part that I hate – is to twist fringe. One part is the stark terror of committing a beloved textile, a work I’ve often seen through both loom and dye pot, into the washing machine………..
Yes, I know. I could hand wash my woven fabric but I know for a fact that I get better results from my washing machine. When I hand wash my cloth, I am namby-pamby. I am too gentle and afraid of hurting the fabric that it doesn’t reach it’s full potential.
And yet, even though I’ve never actually had a piece of fabric disintegrate in the washer – whenever I’m putting it in to the washing machine, there’s always the feeling that this time it might.
(screams, horror movie sound effects)
I wish I was living in the 18th century! Except for that whole being a chattel thing – and that finishing my hand woven cloth was someone else’s job. I love the idea of cutting off something from the loom, and handing it to the waiting recipient going “here – make this a shirt – make these into dish towels – make this an elegant evening wrap.” Wouldn’t that just be so cool?
But this is the 21st century, and along with equal rights and modern dentistry, comes the responsibility of finishing (sigh) my own hand wovens.
And I guess, putting everything into perspective, it is a small enough price to pay.
I think the solution will be the “rip the bandaid off” method of just getting over it. I think doing a lot of finishing over and over in quick succession is what I need to do. It’s what worked when I was trying to get over my fear of warping, and fortunately, I have a really big pile of almost finished projects to work with.
Maybe I need to do what I did with warping and just convince myself that finishing hand wovens could be a fun hobby all in of itself. Hmmm – hemming, yeah. That’d be great.
Okay, I need to work on that.
The question this episode – do you have trouble finishing your cloth, taking it from the loom and turning it into the textile you had planned. If so, what helps you with that.
And if you don’t have that problem, if you whip through finishing like it’s the best part, could you please tell me your secret?
That’s all for this episode. So until next episode, it’s time to get warped, because everyone knows, you have to be warped to weave.
WeaveCast is brought to you by the generosity of it’s donating listeners. This episode I’d like to thank LeeAnn, Gina, Elicia, and Dianne. Additional support comes from the Handweaver’s Guild of America and the Seattle Weaver’s Guild.
Our sponsor this episode is Cotton Clouds, internet purveyors of fine cotton weaving yarns, and spinning fibres. You can find them on the web at http://www.cottonclouds.com
Our musical guest this episode was Tris McCall with his song “Colonial Williamsburg”. Tris generously makes his work available on the PodSafe Music Network.
If you’ve made it all the way through the end credits you deserve a special treat. Here is Smart Bomb Radio.
Historical double entendres presents Thomas Jeffereson:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident – that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with…. Damn pen ran out again, where did I put that inkwell???
Sally Hemmings, can you show me a convenient place to dip my pen?”
SM Ah – come on – don’t look at me like that. Every episode I tell you I’m warped!!!!