Answering the Questions

I follow a number of weavers on social media.   Some groups are for troubleshooting the particular looms I have, some are buying and selling equipment, most are weavers interested in the process itself.  My experience has been that weavers are a very generous lot and these groups have really shown that to be the case.

A couple of interesting questions were posted the other day that really had me thinking.  “How often do you weave?  What do you do with your weaving projects once you’ve finished?  Do you make a living weaving?”  Since I’ve begun the post holiday catch up with projects that I’ve promised people these questions really lead to the real question which is why I weave.  This is something that has morphed over the years.  As I’ve grown in my understanding of the craft the reasons for doing it have changed.  What’s different is I realized that weaving is the handcraft I have been looking for my entire life.

I am the type of person that needs to be creating constantly – my hands (and mind) have to be busy.  I am also a perfectionist – born and raised.  When I was younger this presented problems stemming more from a lack of patience than anything else.  I wanted things to be perfect immediately.  As I grew older I realized that perfection was attainable for me in most of the crafting I undertook, I just had to readjust my goals.

I was a quilter for years (and years) and also learned embroidery at a very young age.  I would go to quilt shows and enter my quilts in fairs.  I photographed quilts for the CT Quilt Search Project and delved into the history and process from other women’s perspectives.  The pinnacle for me was entering an embroidered and appliqued quilt in the Vermont Quilt Festival and winning a blue ribbon.  As far as I was concerned I was done, I wasn’t interested in taking it any further.  The same happened with making teddy bears.  I found a pattern in a magazine and made one of the lamest bears you have ever seen.  I told my family that I was going to keep sewing bears until every one I made was perfect.  I made a lot of bears. That lead to designing and teaching adult ed classes to make them.  I learned you can only make so many bears and that was the end of that.

I’ve learned to do so many other things searching for that one craft.  I weave and teach basket making.  I knit, crochet, macrame, blah, blah, blah.  I’ve dabbled in woodworking, rug hooking, pottery, leather work.  Even baking became a bit of an obsession (I make a mean pie).   Some of it I did okay with, most of it didn’t hold my interest enough to continue, a bit of it was so bad that I would tell myself and others it was a one-off, bucket list kind of thing.

Weaving has become the all consuming craft for me and it’s not about perfecting the product which everything else has been.  It’s about the process -from beginning to end.  I love the math, the counting, the feel of the fiber going through my fingers.  I love the looms.  Big looms, little looms, any kind of looms.  I love dressing a loom and having the right amount of threads and the perfect tension.  I love it when I weave the first few picks and there aren’t any threading errors.  I love the meditative quality of the weaving itself when you’ve memorized the pattern and you’re weaving without thinking about weaving.  I must confess that I’m usually thinking about the next project.

That’s where these questions hit home.  I weave almost every day.  The problem is always what to do with what you’ve woven.  I never want to be boxed in to where I have to think about what I’m weaving and it’s marketability.  In my opinion that’s the fastest way to suck the joy out of something you love, monetize it.  What I have done is custom weaving for people to augment my raw materials.  This is what lets me weave at this point.

As for making a living weaving . . . I wove overshot runners for a friend of mine to give to some of her family members for Christmas.  Ten days before the holiday I put on about an 8 yard warp figuring I would weave her three and then weave a few extra for others that have expressed an interest. These runners were beautiful, everything came together and I cut off the ones she needed for the holiday.  I then proceeded to weave off the rest of the warp and finish up the remaining runners.   I realized then I could never, ever be a production weaver, especially working on a deadline.  Some of the best lessons learned aren’t ones you’re looking for at all.

Sometimes questions need to be asked to let you see where you are going.  Most often they are asked in a most innocent way and you hear them at the perfect moment.

 

The Hub of Town Activity

This past month the Board of Health changed the policy regarding entrance into the “Refuse Gardens” (affectionately known by us as the dump).  Today was the first day that hang tags were to be used for entrance and part of my job as clerk for the BOH was to be there to check that people were using them and have them ready if they didn’t have one.

I don’t spend a lot of time there – I rarely go at all – it’s not my household job.  When I do go I am always amazed at what a hub it is for residents to relay information, learn about upcoming events or just visit with your neighbor (aren’t we all neighbors here really?).  Every dump visit takes a few minutes to get rid of trash and recyclables but then another half hour spent chatting with someone.  They talk about the weather, they talk about their kids, they bring their dogs and all receive some kind of attention.  Chester loves going to the dump.  It’s also the place you can go to do a little politics. Elections for town offices are coming up and this is the place to get the signatures you need to be placed on the ballot.  The only real alternative is to go door to door.

This is where the connections are made, the invitations to visit, the plans to go places.  When I was growing up you didn’t wait for an invite to go to someone’s house, you just stopped in.  I think this came about more when people used to go out for a Sunday drive and pop in on some unsuspecting relative for a meal.  My mother was a master at stretching her planned menu and always welcomed unexpected guests around the dinner table.  It never rattled her at all.  In today’s hurried, crazed world this is now considered pretty bad etiquette.

I think the change in attitudes has been a long time coming.  I lived in Enfield, CT for over 30 years and am sad to say I only knew a handful of people.  In Rowe many of the people (or families) I knew in childhood are still here, and there are a lot of newcomers.  The difference in living in a town like this is people cultivate their relationships.  We are far from services of any kind really.  It’s a bit of a drive to get to anything resembling a grocery store.  This is the kind of place where if you need that cup of sugar or eggs (especially eggs) you do call your neighbor.  Those of us that live in the small hill towns know the value of having good neighbors.  Things happen, you may need help.  This is the value of community and it seems to me that many people are cultivating their community at the dump.  It’s a pretty special place.

New Year

To some observers (including my family I’m sure), this may look like a jumbled mess of unrelated items that could easily be boxed up and brought to the transfer station.  In looking at the photo I can see where you might come to that conclusion but every single thing has someone or some memory attached to it.  It’s not a shrine – it’s a catalyst to stories of my life for the past 60+ years.  Almost every item evokes a pleasant memory for me. The purple bear I made while sitting with my husband’s grandfather in the hospital during his last illness, not a sad time at all, but my hands always need to be busy.  The velvet it’s made of came from a fellow bear maker and mentor in England.  There are glass marbles and weights made for me. Vintage sewing objects from sewing relatives – there’s often a lot to learn by opening a woman’s sewing box. A family clock with a child’s plastic dog on it, an old motorcycle license plate, bone buttons.

The objects I hold most dear are the images.  Some of them I must confess are from people I will never know, the small collection in a box made of photographs are vintage prints of children with dogs, not always easy to find but endearing.

Then there are two larger images.  The one on the mantle was one acquired at the memorial service of a dear friend.  There were boxes and boxes of his images that his wife thought would be better off in his friends homes.  It’s a posterized image of a cemetery – kind of ridiculous in a way and says everything anyone could ever say to me about its maker.

The newest addition I hung a little over a week ago.  It is stunning to me in its perfection – the print to the framing to the signature. Paul has now been gone almost 5 years.  This package was brought to my office by his widow and her words were “You’re either going to love me or hate me for this.”  I confess there were some mixed emotions in unwrapping it – strong emotions.  A little like reopening a wound, but I understood the intent behind the gift and after looking at it for quite some time I placed it with all my other memories.

I think the story attached to this won’t necessarily be about the maker, it will be about the giver.  We met at photography school 40 years ago and the only thing that kept us in contact with each other at all was Paul until we began working together about two years ago.  Now I see her almost daily and value her friendship in so many ways . . . so many.

Life is weird.  I think it just get weirder as you get older.  Maybe you have to pay attention but as I age so many things seem to have come full circle.  People you have let go come back in various ways and for me it has all been good.

In thinking about New Year’s resolutions I thought the best I could do was to make more of an effort here.  There are so many positives in an otherwise negative world that I need to bring them to light – for me.  If you find any value in it follow along,  I’ll try to keep it interesting.

Loom Move – The Rebuild

 

The holidays are over and the cold snap has broken so I’m no longer hauling wood and loading a stove every hour or so and fretting about farm animals suffering in below zero temperatures.  There are difficulties getting anything done in a timely manner this time of year, not the least of which is the lame internet access available where I live.  Getting media uploaded for publication can take days – yes, days. Consequently this particular post will be without video, bummer.

A few weeks ago began the loom move I wrote about in A Warped Sense of Fun.  There must be something about holiday weekends that attracts us to seemingly impossible tasks, New Year’s  seemed to work for those of us committed to follow through.

Let’s begin by saying it was cold.  Bone chilling, icy, snow on the ground, windy, cold.  Dressed for the weather we arrived at Peggy’s barn to initially figure out how to get the engine hoist where it needed to go.  It was heavy, on wheels and there was nothing but a snow/ice-covered path to get there.

The legs came off and on a sled it went. The beginning of a day of figuring out how to do things with what we had.

A lot of planning and discussion went on with this group.  How to move the base, where to place the head, how to pick it up.  Slow and steady was the call of the day, much different from the last session where everything seemed so rushed.

Planning – tools and parts in place.

Wondering if a plan will actually work.

For as much trouble as we had getting the head off and moved initially things seemed to go more smoothly moving it around in the shop and putting it back where it belonged.  Although about this time I was thinking my father and grandfather would be thinking of much easier ways to do this stuff (or laughing at our ineptitude).  Knowledge and experience, it’s what we’ve lost and none of us are the wiser until we work with things whose time has long passed.

Up and put in place.

Slow and steady.

As this was hanging in midair I couldn’t help but admire the paint Lenny had so painstakingly applied during its restoration.  It was a true labor of love.

Trying to get things put together.

Once the head was on the beater was put in place.

Finally it looked like a power loom again (something I wasn’t sure I’d ever see).

These are the faces of people who have accomplished something.  I love being involved in this sort of thing.  It makes you think until your brain hurts.   Everything you do has risks.  Everyone was thrilled (especially Peggy) that the big parts were all moved and put back into place without anyone getting hurt – the potential was certainly there.

We went in for some coffee and soup once the work was done for the day, a time to rehash what had just happened.  Richard commented on what a satisfying afternoon it had been.  It was a considerably different atmosphere on this workday.  Evenly paced, well thought out.  We did have our token youngster with us, we needed a strong back.  Andy is an old soul though, he seems to be channeling the mechanics of way back.  He gets it and loves it.   He is in this to see it run, not just to get it moved.  Good work had been done.  The loom has a way to go before it’s running but we no longer need a hoist to do the work.

I lost my grandfather decades ago, I was 20 at the time.  There are pieces of him everywhere still in the house I live in.  My father never got rid of anything – he had a desk drawer set up exactly as his father had, with his father’s things – a shrine of sorts.  Family members kept the stories alive.  The woolen mills were there lives.  I am a kinesthetic learner.  Watching Peggy weave, learning to build chain, winding bobbins, fixing broken threads, just listening to the loom run always seems to bring up more questions.  This is a visceral way to learn but it has given me the sights and sounds and smells of something that is part of who I am and where I come from.  Figuring out the mechanics is something we have all done, back generations and it feels comfortable and comforting to recognize that this sort of thing is genetic.  It’s also fun to work with people whose brains work the same way as mine.

 

2017 in Review

Every year, upon reflection, I realize what a charmed life I lead.  I live in a beautiful place, have wonderful family and friends, a roof over my head, hot and cold running water, good food on the table and the company of a charming menagerie of animals.  Life has been busy and the blog has suffered because of it, at least in the amount of time that has been dedicated to writing.  Something I should work on.  As you all know I am a visual person.  I try to take a photograph a day and my review consists of my favorites for the year.  All for different reasons.

January

 

February

March

 

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

Thanks so much for being a part of all of this and a happy, blessed New Year to all!

 

 

 

 

 

A Warped Sense of Fun

Weavers are a crazy lot, well maybe not all weavers.  My circle of weaving/fiber friends tend to lean towards crazy and I’m thinking that is probably the attraction for me.  The mechanics – the equipment – is really the draw.  I love the structure of it all including the cloth which makes me wonder sometimes why we are not more sane.

Now add to this mix a bunch of enthusiastic boys (mid to late 20’s) and an incredibly heavy, cast iron power-loom and you have a recipe for a real anxiety producing experience.

This is Peggy’s barn frame loom.  She’s a beauty and the first one I ever used.

I have to start with this because it took on a whole new purpose this past Saturday.  There are three Crompton & Knowles W3 power looms in Peggy’s weave room right now and there was a much smaller one in a very small room on an upper floor.  She decided to move it into her weaving room so it could be used.  It’s a beauty.  48 inches wide, having a complete restoration done by Lenny, the loom mechanic.  To my knowledge it hasn’t been run since the restoration, but I digress.

I was called about the move a couple of weeks ago and wasn’t able to attend the first phase.  Last week I got another call and also volunteered husband Bill (the mechanic) and my son-in-law (the young back).

Before we left the house Bill loaded up a chain fall, pipes, bars and other heavy equipment moving tools.  He met Richard in the room with the loom – the other member of the boomer generation with some knowledge of how to do these things.  They formed a plan (meanwhile the boys dove in).

I was tasked with taking apart the barn frame loom on the floor directly above the loom we were moving – the boys decided that the loom would make the perfect mount for the chain fall to pick up the head of the power-loom below (at 600 lbs. mind you) and proceeded to cut a hole in the barn floor.  I cannot begin to express the amount of anxiety I had about this.  We love our looms and I was beginning to think we were about to sacrifice one for the sake of the other.

The loom was moved over the hole, angle iron was placed on the top and the chain was lowered and attached to the head of the power-loom ready to lift it off so the based could be moved out from under it.

There was a slight problem because of the yelling that needed to be done on the parts of both sets of people – on different floors – on when to stop and start, up or down with the chain.  I worried for naught, the loom frame didn’t even groan.

A 2×4 was placed through the heavy end of the head and the chain attach but moving it proved to be quite the balancing act.  Ratchet straps were deployed and the moving continued.

The engine hoist was brought in and the transfer from the chain fall was made.

With the help of young backs the head was lifted off of the base.  We got to a point where it could stop and all had a lunch in the barn.

Where the geezers conferred some more.  I’ve found that the older the guy the more planning they do.  I think these guys were thinking much farther ahead on this game – like about putting it back together or getting it down the hill into the basement.

With all hands on deck the base was moved from under the head.

Then the head was moved out onto a second trailer.

What a beautiful piece of machinery she is.

Once the base pieces were moved into the weave room the head was ready to follow.  (Yes, that’s a Maypole braider in the background and I just wanted to throw it into the back of our truck but thought Peggy might notice it was missing).

It was getting late in the day and the objective at this point was to get everything inside.  People were exhausted.  The base was assembled enough to stand on its own and the head was put down beside it.  Assembly will happen another day (or days most likely).

I never realized what happens with an age gap like we had in this little project.  The boys had this energy, enthusiasm, let’s get this job done kind of attitude.  Those of us in a different generation approached it with caution, planning, fear of injury.  It’s kind of sad in a way, how much we lose as we get older but on the other hand we have gained so much in experience.  I dare say not a single one of those younger guys gave a thought to injury when all I was thinking about was where I can dial 911.

In writing this it suddenly dawned on me how many of these my father and grandfather moved out of the weave room at Charlton Woolens after the flood in ’55.  My dad was 24 at the time, they must have had help but honestly the weave room must have had 50 looms of much larger size in it.  They moved them to the next town over and rebuilt what they could out of what they salvaged.  Now the burning question is how did they do it?  There’s no one to ask.

I know they had family and like minded friends and I assume what happened this past weekend was similar in fashion to what happened then.  People came together to work towards a larger goal.  That’s the beauty of the crazy weaver community.  We are surrounded by people who love our crazy and are willing to be a part of it.

 

 

 

Sweet

Things have been crazy lately – meetings, working (yes, working), historical society stuff, goats, dogs, house, garden, blah, blah, blah.  I got a message that Lenny was going to be working on the looms with a couple of mechanically minded guys.  The timing was poor but I made it work and was oh so happy that I did.

Any opportunity to spend time with Lenny and the looms is something to be cherished in my opinion.  It’s the closest I can get to my grandfather who’s been gone since 1976.  Lenny is a slight, flirty little man in his 90’s who loves, loves, loves the Crompton & Knowles W3 power looms.  They have been his life.  The look of delight on his face when he is running one is magical to me.

https://youtu.be/ShFAkGcQ9E8

This event (and it is one to me) also afforded me the opportunity to spend time not only with Peggy but two men who had as high an interest in these machines as I do.  One is a machinist, the other runs the vintage cards at a spinnery in VT.

Mechanical ability is an art in itself and I soaked in that energy like a very dry sponge.  It wasn’t until I looked at the photos/videos that I really began to see mechanics as artists.  The enthusiasm in the room was palpable.  The beauty of this machinery is with a little study they are understandable and magical to watch.  Lenny knows them like they are a part of his being, the others were meeting them for the second time.  They’d already spent time with Lenny and the looms, walked away and had to return – the machine’s magic is seeping into their souls (insert an evil laugh here).  When one of them told me they could watch them run all day I knew he was hooked.  The other, while trying to rig a part that would work said, “I look at the part and think ‘how can I make this better'”.  No sweeter words. . .

Now it has been a while since I’ve had that experience.  It’s been awhile since I’ve written a blog post. Peggy brought it all together, fiber, weaving, machinery. Yesterday was a nourishing experience and I realize that being  around fellow creatives feeds me.    I slept well, I woke up calmer, I feel the need to sit at the loom and make something.  I realize how important it is to find what does that for me and to fit that into my life.  Everyone should do just one thing that makes them extraordinarily happy, or causes their minds to stretch in the effort to learn and understand something.  A workout for your brain.  It makes everything else just a little bit easier.

Grand Opening

It’s been a whirlwind kind of week in preparing the Browning Bench Tool Factory for its Grand Opening this coming Saturday, the 15th.  The historical society was given the use of a building that was moved and restored in 1976.  It was originally a factory building used in the making of small hand tools such as hand planes.

The idea of building another building for the display of sleighs, wagons and large agricultural artifacts had been discussed during the latter part of last year but the cost of doing so was just out of reach.  The Bench Tool had been used in the past for exhibits of local crafts on Old Home Day but has basically sat idle otherwise.  It’s a barn essentially with no insulation but tight to the weather.  It has a good roof and windows.  We figured this would be the perfect annex for our agricultural display.

The sleighs, wagon, and large agricultural articles have been moved in, the smaller stuff has been making its way over.  This past week with work bees we’ve sorted things to different floors and by industry, season or animal.  There are displays about sugaring and skiing, tools for ice cutting and wood cutting.  Dairy, haying and harvesting grains are included along with bee equipment and chicken brooders.

The third floor is a temporary exhibit on textiles and the manufacture.  Shirley (the loom) is set up and being dressed this week, I will be weaving there most Saturdays through the season.  There will be displays of other spinning and weaving equipment as well as some of the hand-woven artifacts from the museum.

One of the most important things for me has been the photographs.  The Historical Society has a treasure trove of amazing photos and I have scanned a good many of them in the past 10 months or so.  I’ve printed and mounted a great number of them to display along with the artifacts to put things in context.  So while the displays come together I think the photographs  will be the icing on the cake.  To see the town as it was 130 years ago is an amazing thing – open fields, amazing views, industry.  It’s difficult sometimes to wrap your head around it.

The trustees have come together and done an amazing job.  They all really care about the history of the town and sharing it with those that are interested.  If you are in the area on any Saturday through Fall from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M. stop by and see what we have in our newly expanded museum, there’s something for everyone.  Also consider becoming a member or lending your support as we continue to uncover treasures to share with everyone.

Projects Finished and Beginning

It was moving day for Shirley and the walking wheel.  We’ve had these pieces of equipment in our living space for quite some time and moving them out today was quite the change.  There are now big swaths of open space (and endless amounts of dust).

I have finished the bulletin on Rowe’s textile history (a short course) for the Historical Society.  I had to write it in such a way that a layman could understand what I was talking about and keep it brief enough so people wouldn’t fall asleep as they were reading it.  No easy feat for someone who could talk about this until you pass out from boredom.

I had researched this from the 1780’s until 1900 or so in detail, the problem came when I had to put all of the research together.  There was the history of the equipment, the economic history, and the social history.  I had thought that the weaving history would be the fascinating part but found it was the people.  When I wrapped up the writing of the article I realized I wasn’t ready to let go of them, or their way of life.

I have found wonderful diaries, day books, account books from the doctors in town as well as merchant’s account records.  The beauty of this research is that it is in a town that is so small.  I built genealogies of over a dozen families and found out how intertwined everyone was.  With the diaries I learned about how stoic the men could be even in facing the loss of their spouses or children.  One line described what one could only imagine as something completely  life altering.  These books all crossed with each other over a certain number of years so it gave a fuller picture of daily living.  The only way that this could possibly be shared is if I wrote a historical novel.  A Peyton Place sort of thing using the characters in their own time and place.  On the back burner that goes.

With the research and writing done the displays are now being put together.  The Rowe Historical Society will be opening an annex to their museum on July 15th.  It is in an old factory building that was moved and restored for the U.S. bicentennial in 1976.  The building is wonderful and perfect for the large sleighs, wagons and agricultural artifacts.  The trustees are working hard to get the museum in good shape for their opening July 1st.   Having done the bulletin on weaving I decided that I would move the barn frame loom and the walking wheel in for the season and do demonstrations on the Saturdays we are open.  It’s nice to be a part of something that is so interesting and to watch and help it come together.

For the time being I will have to get used to the vacant spaces in the house but I have a feeling I will be seeing more of them in the next few weeks than I have been seeing them at home of late.  I will also finally get a warp on Shirley and run her through her paces. I feel good that this is where Shirley needs to be right now, spotlighting how amazing she was almost 200 years ago.  She’ll be teaching me right along with everyone that visits.

The Cloth

I apologize to my non weaving readers for something that may not be as interesting or easily understood but I have to do this.

There are three parts as I see it to this research project on the Satinet Factory in Rowe.  One of the most important to me was the cloth itself.  Having never seen a piece of satinet from 1840 or so I decided that the only way I could get a real visual of what they were making was to weave a piece myself.

I was pointed in the direction of a book titled The Domestic Manufacturer’s Assistant and Family Directory in the Arts of Weaving and Dyeing by J. and R. Bronson which was originally published in 1817.  The book is very informative and once you get the hang of the drafts they are very easy to figure out. This is a 6 shaft satin pattern.

So I did a little math, figured out the tie ups and started winding a warp.   Satinet was woven with a cotton warp and a wool weft.  I think originally it was for economic reasons.  Power carders and spinning were in place before the looms were so the mills prepared the fiber but the satinet was being woven by people in their homes on large barn frame looms.  Subcontractors in 1822 were being paid 10 cents per yard, or about $1.93 per yard in today’s money.  Satinet was also an inexpensive cloth to manufacture and the demand for it skyrocketed in the 1830’s  when clothiers began using the power-loom.

After talking to a few weavers who have an interest in historic weaving I decided that I would use 20/2 cotton and begin with a sett of 36 e.p.i. (partly because I have a 12 reed and the math was easy to do) . . . (sorry, not sorry).

I think cotton makes one of the most beautiful warps.  I love the sheen.  The question came up before doing this little experiment if the fabric would have been yarn dyed or piece dyed.  Everyone I talked to was in a different camp on this one so I decided to do a white cotton warp with dyed wool weft.  This also would make it easier to study the structure and see how the weft was covering the warp at different setts and beats.

Woohoo, tied on and ready to go.  The piece in the loom was 6″ in width.  I used a single ply wool for the weft that seemed about the same size as the warp.  It was a left over warp from Peggy’s mill so I’m not sure of the exact size.   There were some slubs on the yarn which is what you see in the weaving.

I figured I’d start out with 36 p.p.i to make it balanced but found that I had to up my beat to attain 43 p.p.i. to cover the warp.  Also taken into consideration was the fulling that would occur in wet finishing.  I tried setting it higher – to 40 e.p.i. but that made a very stiff cloth.  I wove and wet finished 2 pieces at the two different setts with all different picks per inch, both about 12 inches in the loom.  When finished they both shrank to 5 1/2 by 11 1/4  which was much less than I expected.

The wrong side of the cloth is quite lovely, the fabric itself is soft and supple.  It was used mostly for trousers back in the day and you can understand it.  It has a nice hand but feels like it would wear extremely well.  It was also used for linings in coats and to make jackets.   Civil war uniforms were very often made of satinet as well.  My thought as I handled the samples was that I would love to weave some yardage for a jacket, it would be very comfortable.

My guess is this fabric would have been made with finer thread for a lighter weight but until I actually see a piece of it I won’t know.  The search continues here in town, we have an extensive collection of clothing.  I will also contact a few other museums to see what they have in their collections but at least now I know what I’m looking for.