Why Are These People Laughing?

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Yesterday was the first work bee I have attended at the Rowe Historical Society.  Like most small town museums there is a decided lack of space.  This is something that creeps up with collections growing year after year.

One storage space had flooding a while back and our task was to remove all of the covering from the basement walls in preparation for painting.

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Getting to the walls was a whole different issue.

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The group of eight split along gender lines as it always does with the men doing demo on one end of the room and the women sorting and categorizing everything to move into spaces better suited for each item.  For me it was a pretty awesome experience and not unlike going through the barn or coop here with decades of stuff collected.

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I have to say everyone worked diligently to get to the end of the task but there were many, many light moments surrounding the question “What the heck is this?”.

I daresay this may be an issue with most museums, especially those that are trying to make sense of collections without policy taking place since the sixties.  We are not alone.  There is so much knowledge in this group that there were maybe 3 items in that room that were left unidentified.  That’s pretty cool considering the amount of stuff that was there.

We each have our own strengths.  Mine is photography and textiles but having grown up with a nutty, hoarding collecting  father it extends to sawmills, lumber and vintage farm equipment.  Old Sturbridge Village taught me the use of household items in 1840 so that helped too.

There is only one member that I knew when I started this a short month ago but I see this as building community within a community.  We have a common interest.  These bees will continue as well as individuals working on their areas of interest.  Trying to bring centuries worth of belongings into the present.  Knowing what there is, why it’s there and how best to share it with the community.  It always amazes me just a little bit when strangers come together with a common goal and through that friendships are built or made stronger.

 

 

Fair Worthy

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Fair season begins tonight.  All entries for the Heath Fair have to be there by 8:00 p.m.  I finished the bear 10 minutes ago.

Every year as I’m doing whatever project I’m doing I always look at it asking if it’s fair worthy.  Does it meet my standards to be shown in public?  By people who know more about what I’m doing than I do?

This year there are 3 entries for the Heath Fair and the Big E.  The weaving I knew was worthy as soon as the wet finishing was done.  The bear . . . I decided to sew one when I filled out the entry forms weeks ago but didn’t even begin it until last week.

I have a lot of bears that I’ve made over the years but each entry to the fair has to have been completed since the last fair.  I pulled out materials that haven’t seen the light of day for years and started this little project.  I finished his face (so I thought) and put all of his joints together.  Stuffed his body and sat him on the table where I looked at him every time I walked by.  He was off – the eyes weren’t right, the ears were cockeyed, the nose needed work.  He was not fair worthy.  I didn’t want anyone to look at him and wonder “What hack made this?”.

I thought about not putting him in the fair at all but remembered I had until 8 to get there and knew if he didn’t go in there was a possibility of him spending years in a closet somewhere.  I moved his eyes, stitched down an ear in a better position and spent some more time on the embroidered nose.  I  kind of wished I’d photographed him before I fixed him.  He looked at me with gratitude when I took that last stitch and brushed out his fur.

I’m telling you it’s tough being a perfectionist who anthropomorphizes her stuffed animals.

 

By the way – Fair bear really could use a name, any suggestions?

Building a Story

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There are families that embraced photography wholeheartedly when it was introduced.  I think of them as being sentimental.  They understood that life was fleeting and it was important to them to remember moments in time.  Not all families are like that.  My father’s side was very sentimental and there are hundreds of old photos of my grand and great grands as well as my father growing up.  They go back even further to the ambrotypes and tintypes although those are fewer.  My mother’s side was not recorded quite as well but there is still quite an archive.

I have always been the “keeper” of the photographs.  When households were emptied the boxes of photos were brought to me.  I have closets full of boxes of photographs dating from the 1850’s to the present.  I have to say the advent of digital photography makes organizing and making sense of this archive much easier.

Recently I volunteered to digitize the photographic collection at the Rowe Historical Society.  I became a trustee and am hoping to organize their collection to give everyone access and help make sense of some of this imagery.  I have to tell you I’m extraordinarily happy that Rowe is an extremely small town.  I can’t imagine trying to make sense of a collection that is much bigger.

This was also self-serving in some respects – I wanted to see more of the photographs of Fort Pelham Farm back in the days of rolling fields and farming.  I was also in search of angles of the house from the south side.  I had never seen any.  The Wrights were photo centric people.  They were very social, had a wide circle of friends and family and took pictures at many occasions.  They also kept many of their photographs glued in albums.  This helps give a timeline to the images you are viewing. You have to be a sort of sleuth to figure out what is going on because all of the players are long gone and the names and dates often went with them.

Last week I scanned roughly 400 photographs from a few albums.  I haven’t taken the time at this point to really examine them.  There were a few that caught my interest because they were what I was looking for but an interesting thing has happened along the way.  Not all of the albums belonged to the Wrights but there were many photographs of Fort Pelham Farm in albums belonging to families I’m unfamiliar with. One of these albums was fairly well labelled as to who, what, where and when.   I pulled out the genealogy and realized just how many people were related to each other in town.

I think I love doing this sort of project because of the stories that form while you’re looking at the images.  The body language, the clothing, the history that is shown even though they weren’t aware of much of it at the time.  The stories grow as the collections come together.  It takes some patience and a good memory for detail to make this all work but the technology we have today makes it all so much easier.  With a little luck and some time this story should come alive and an archive will be available for everyone.

Critters of the Worst Kind

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A few years ago Bill and I put in a perennial garden that included a stone stairway to nowhere.  The garden was on a bank and we had huge flat stones that we placed as stairs.  It was satisfying work and we placed a bench on the top step to sit and enjoy the view of the back forty with our morning coffee.

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Yesterday I noticed this.  

A friend of mine had just posted about the problem he was having with rabbits in his garden.  I had commented on how I have a lot of animals around my garden but they never get in it.  Apparently they have enough to eat everywhere else.

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This hole is huge.  I see these woodchucks daily in the back forty grazing on the grasses and I know where numerous holes are around the property but this one was a surprise.

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Now the problem is how to get rid of the buggers.  I don’t even know how many there are.  I actually don’t mind them being on the property I just don’t want them here.

I’m open to suggestions.

Learning New Things About Old Things

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This morning I was doing some photography for a book that Peggy is writing on wool.  It’s been a long time since I’ve taken photographs for someone else, let alone tabletop items.  It was stressful and wonderful at the same time.  She also wanted a photo of my wool wheel in a specific place.  As you can see I had more than one obstacle to deal with.  He is a master of photo bomb.  I had to physically remove him from the area.

Along with the photographs I took was one I had to scan.

Charlton Woolen Weave Room

This is a photograph of the weave room at Charlton Woolens probably taken in the mid to late 1930’s.  My grandfather’s toolbox is one of many in the photograph.  This photo was one of the many reasons I wanted to experience the Crompton and Knowles power looms. In doing so this photograph is so much richer.  I now have an understanding of what was happening in this room, where the weavers stood, the noise.  I look at this photo and think about how you must have felt the vibrations in your feet and gone home with your ears ringing.  I have a better idea of the kind of job a loom mechanic had.

I’m always amazed at just how long research takes when it comes to history if you want to understand the whole story.  Genealogy gives you the names and dates of the people – the who, what and where kind of thing.  The photographs, when you can find them, begin to fill out the story.  Then there is the living history.  This is far more elusive but when you find it you can put yourself in your ancestors shoes with a little bit of imagination.

Social history is what makes studying the past come alive.  It’s where you begin to understand a little about the way people thought about their world and made their life decisions.  Public records give you clues into things.  You begin with the big stuff – politics and religion and work your way down to minutia.  Things like what were they wearing and how did it affect how they moved and did their work.  You look at how men and women treated each other, how economics made or broke their lives.

I think there’s been an injustice served on the American people in not teaching our history in a way that is accessible to everyone.  I think a lot of the turmoil that we see is a lack of understanding of what has gone on before.  I feel like people are making up things as they go along in a way that is only self-serving. Their knowledge is so narrow.  Maybe because social media has taken over our lives and rather than read a book we read twitter every morning.  I think the idea of knowing our history has been lost.  It’s too bad because some of the greatest stories ever told are true.

I plug along learning new things about old things everyday.  I’ll continue to put myself into situations where I can understand what was going on or the work involved.  One year I dug my garden plot completely by hand so I could feel what kind of work went into putting in a kitchen garden for the women of 1840.  It’s one thing to read about it, quite another to do it.

The real goal is putting the family history into words with understanding.  Not just any story, a story that makes these people human. One that makes you understand that the world could be just as scary a place to them as it sometimes is to us.  History repeats itself, over and over, but unless you know something about it you don’t recognize it when it happens.

 

 

Just Trying to Keep These Kids Alive

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For the past few years whenever I photographed the house I could do it at such an angle that it looked pretty good.  The shed had been rebuilt and painted and so had the front.  The gable ends were a different story.  We’d talked about getting a high lift for the job but even in one of those it’s pretty high up there.  Then there is the square footage that needed painting.

We’re not painters.  In our younger years we painted because we had to and I can truly say I didn’t enjoy a single minute of it – especially exterior painting.  We decided to hire a company that works with college kids for the summer.  The kids are local but they have to play by the rules which gets me to the ranting part of this blog today.

By law in Massachusetts if the building where paint is to be removed was built before 1978 it is assumed the paint is lead based.  If you are a contractor doing the work every chip has to be accounted for and if, God forbid, it touches anyone’s skin they could be poisoned.  This law, in my opinion has put these kids at extreme risk in their jobs.  As you can see from the photograph they are wearing hooded coveralls, booties, respirators and goggles.  I should also tell you they began work at 7 A.M. and finished around 4:30 P.M.  It was over 85 degrees and the humidity was over 90%.  The booties they wear have nothing on the bottom of them that prevent slipping so they climb up and down an aluminum ladder that is pretty slick.  One false move at the top of one and we’re talking bad, bad news here.

My first thought when I walked out to see their progress was “I hope to God they have amazing liability insurance.” My second was to make sure they had enough water.  It was so hot.

They scraped all day with the paint landing on the plastic they had carefully laid over the vegetation near the house.  At the end of the day they used a shop vac to pick up anything that was in the grass.  At least they took the hoods off to do that.

They told me over the weekend and yesterday morning that they had estimated 24 man hours to scrape both ends of the house – I laughed.  A little over ambitious was my replay.  All day 4 of them scraped and just about finished one side with the idea being today two of them would prime while two worked on scraping the other side (you must have a lead abatement person present whenever paint is being removed).

It poured rain last night (much, much-needed I might add) and threatened to do so this morning so painting was out.  One of the kids was sick overnight (my guess was heat stroke) and they decided to put it off until tomorrow.  Maybe it’ll cool off and they will have recovered.

Want to know the worst part of this story?  If we had decided to paint it ourselves we do not have to adhere to the MA law, we wouldn’t have to suit up.  Even worse? All of the exterior wood was replaced on the house in 1984- there isn’t any lead paint on it.

It’s Always Something

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It starts with this.  Poorly wound cones of wool.  Not only are the cones badly wound but the wool is not greatly spun.  There are slubs, lots of them – places where the fiber is not twisted and readily comes apart.  That leads to this.

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The yarn breaks while winding it onto the bobbins either due to the slubs or by catching on the tangles that are on the bottoms of the cones.   Or the bad spinning leads to this –

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Endless broken warp threads, endless repairs.

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I really should have been helping her instead of taking her picture.  The weaving was a real stop and start affair for the past two days.  One blanket wove with a single broken warp thread, the next had over 30 I would guess.  It often looks like this –

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Then you can have issues that cause mechanical failure – there have been a few broken bobbins lately.

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I have to tell you that makes a pretty ugly sound when it happens.  The other day Peggy suggested my next blog post should be titled “Breaking Bad”.  It made me chuckle and it helps to have a sense of humor when things aren’t going along as well as you’d like but then your morning ends with an image like this – wp-1463679844093.jpg

Crawling under the loom is never good (even if it was highly enlightening for me).  The top of a heddle frame caught and broke while the loom was running, number 16.  I stand and watch for broken threads while it’s running and tell Peggy to stop it, I didn’t even see this happen.  There is so much to look at while the machine is running – so much.  We moved the threaded heddles to the frame in back of it (thankfully unused) and took the frame apart and off of the loom.

I learned a lot from this particular incident.  First, experience is everything, Peggy knows where to be looking or knows the sound of a happy or not so happy machine.  Second, this is no game for an older person in questionable physical condition.  I could have gotten under the loom but the question remains, how long would it have taken me to get back up?

Then there is the question of just how long can you run machinery that there are no longer parts for?  With the best running practices things are still going to break.  There are piles of loom parts in the barn where the looms are located but it’s not like you can just order something up on-line when you need to.  I supposed the metal parts could be reproduced by a skilled machinist, but at what cost?  Then there are the bobbins which I daresay were discarded quite often in a running mill.  Who makes those now?

I feel privileged to be able to experience this first hand but am saddened by the knowledge that this is truly the end of the road for this weaving (unless I’ve missed something).  I’m not saying it ends this year or next but the end is visible.  The day you can no longer fix this loom is the day is becomes a ton and a half of scrap metal and that is sad indeed.

 

Manic

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A couple of days ago I finished a 10 yard run of towels and took them off of the loom, hemmed, washed and folded them all in one afternoon.  This never happens, I have things I have yet to finish from last year.

When I near the end of one project I’m always moving on to the next and my excitement may get in the way of the finishing part.  That’s my theory anyway.  I’m in wedding present mode and asked one of my nieces if there was anything in particular I could make her that would be useful.  She asked for a specific type of towel.  I asked what colors and she said something to the effect of light shining through ferns.  She is an amazing artist and thinking about projects for her pushes me creatively.

I found a modification of an old draft that I modified further and worked up half a warp yesterday hoping this came close to ferns.  As I was winding it I decided to call it “A Walk in the Woods” because it had the colors I envisioned when I walk onto the fern lined path headed into the wood lot in the back forty.

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Today I’ll finish winding the warp and possibly get it onto the loom.

Right now I’m in that creative manic mode that seems to really set in after a loss.  When my mother died I made quilts and rag dolls – lots of them.  I gave most of them away to my friends.  Again, it’s the process, not the product.  Weaving seems to be what’s on the agenda right now although I do have a knitting project going as well as needle felting, rug hooking and, oh yeah, the gardens.

This time around though there’s a different sort of feel – like time is getting short and there’s still so much I want to do.  Maybe it’s that generational shift that comes when you lose your last parent.  Maybe it’s the realization that if you’re lucky you have a quarter of your life left to go and who knows how productive all of it will be.

Most of the time I don’t really think about it but on those days when all I can think about is the project I’m planning and working on to the point of no sleep it does make me wonder.  I think some of it is a distraction, maybe a defense to fight off the depression that could take over or the overwhelming sadness at moments.  What’s the saying? “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”.  I just have to keep going, keep creating.

Calling in the Expert

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With a mechanical problem with a vintage loom there are times you need to have someone look at the equipment that knows it so well he can fix things with his eyes shut (or diagnose it over the phone).

I met Lenny this past weekend when he came over to make a few adjustments that would help with the changing of the bobbins in the shuttles.

wp-1463313840919.jpgLenny is the spryest 90-year-old I have ever met.  Steady, agile, clear of mind and he knows his looms.  He should, he’s been working on them for 76 years.  He made a couple of adjustments, ran the loom a little, made a couple more and made a suggestion on changing how we wind the bobbins.  Today everything ran the way it should.

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Along with the fix we were treated to some serious reminiscing about the mills.  The noise, the work, the different types of looms he had worked on.  Being a loom mechanic or fixer was probably one of the most important jobs in a mill and it takes a person with the right type of mind to be one.

Lenny is different in his love for the machines.  He’s never stopped – loving them, working on them, restoring them.  You can see it in his face when they are running.  There’s the look of delight you so rarely see except in the eyes of a child.

As he was leaving he looked at me and said “Well, that was a bit of fun!”.

We all need a passion in life that does that for us. That one thing that brings a broad smile to our face.  That’s something that has continually evolved for me, I like learning new things – new crafts and bringing them to perfection.  It’s always something with my hands producing something that can be amazing.

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Lenny knows what he knows but he loves what he does and the product it produces.  I think that love is what has kept him so young.