Family Stories

 

300623 Wedding  Elmer and LenaLena and Elmer Alix – June 29, 1930 – both were working in mills at the time.

Every Wednesday I eat lunch with my Dad at the assisted living facility he lives in now.  It’s always interesting for one reason or another.  This week we talked weaving, which is one of my favorite subjects.  My father is one of the few people left that can tell me the stories of the woolen mills where almost his entire family worked for his childhood, adolescence and young adulthood.

He’s been telling me these stories for my entire life, they are part of my being.  It wasn’t until this past year that I had a much greater understanding of what he was talking about.  He always tells me about the mechanics of the mill, how the looms worked, how the fiber was carded and spun, the kinds of fiber they were using.

When I began my weaving class my goals were twofold – I wanted to learn the process but I also wanted to better understand the stories – my family history.  I knew if I didn’t do this a good part of these stories would be lost.

Wednesday Dad talked about winding warps for the looms.  The looms they were using were 72 inches in width (that’s pretty big). Each warp thread came off of its own spool.  He didn’t know how long the warps were but he often has told me about my grandfather knotting the warp threads as they ran out while beaming the warp. He could tie the knots with one hand.  This must have been pretty amazing because Dad never looks more delighted than when he tells me that.

We talked about my grandfather’s weave books. Dad told me this was the book he was using at Charlton Woolen in the early 1930’s.  Today I took it out and realized that the length of the warp was decided by whatever the job was.  This book never ceases to amaze me.  He saw this in his head, he designed on paper and knew what it was going to do – wow.  I understand it but at this point I’m not able to visualized what the warp and weft are going to do without doing a draw down (and I struggle with that at times – it makes my head hurt from thinking too hard).

 

Weave Instructions (2)

 

The heddles were all threaded by hand – look at this page – 6 harnesses with 1800 ends. It would take me a month. Yikes!  Often there over a dozen harnesses, talk about making your head hurt.

Today I will finish weaving my scarf for the Eastern States Exposition (Big E).  I will take it off of the loom, fringe it, weave in any loose threads, then wash and block.  I think one of the reasons I enjoy weaving so much is it has helped me to understand the kind of thinking my ancestors did while doing what they did for a living.  This has been a great journey.

3 thoughts on “Family Stories

  1. Last week as I threaded a 17-inch-wide warp on only four harnesses, I was thinking about people who did that for a living, and wondering what tricks they had for making heddle-threading go faster. Over the years I have gotten much faster at winding warps on and threading the reed, but the heddles just never seem to go easily. I love reading about your family’s experience of the actual weaving process!

    • Thank you so much. I don’t think there is any way to thread heddles faster than we do. (and I have to rethread, rethread and rethread). I’m always amazed at the thought of the commercial looms – they had to be hand threaded. I do think that threading the heddles was a particular job though – that’s all that person did so they were probably pretty fast. But how long must it take to thread a 72″ loom? It would take me weeks.

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