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.

 

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.

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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.

WFH

When I started working with Peggy the only compensation I asked for was blankets to give for Christmas.  Quite honestly, being there, observing and helping in small ways was really compensation enough.

In one of my earliest posts about Bedfellows Blankets – It’s Always Something – I talked about the problems of badly spun yarn.  There were two jobs that were being woven for the same person with the same bad yarn.  One warp was finished and shipped.  The other has seen an off again on again relationship with the loom over the past 9 months.  Yes, that warp and I have been in close contact since I started going there.  It’s now affectionately referred to as the WFH (warp from hell).  Two hundred yards that have slowly and painfully made their way into cloth.

The pattern for the original job was a twill but had to be woven with double threads to give it more strength.  A little over 150 yards were woven, repaired and brought to the finisher before making its way to the customer.

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There were hours of mending broken threads.  Finally during the summer, with the cost overruns the customer cut their losses and there we sat with 50 yards or so still on the beam.  It sat there for a while.

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Peggy rethreaded it a number of different ways and finally began weaving a few throws when time permitted.  Warp threads still broke but different yarns for weft helped a little.

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It was still an exercise in frustration.  But . . . the finished throws were quite beautiful.  I decided these were the ones I wanted for gifts.  I brought a couple home – one herringbone and one plaited twill and wrapped them for Christmas.   I asked if I got some yarn for weft could we weave one for me.  I got a resounding  “Are you sure?”

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I got some lovely Harrisville Highland which proceeded to cause no end of problems because the weight of the yarn was just a little too much for the bobbin winder.  The temps were subzero outdoors and around 55 in the weave room.  Antique, oil-filled machines do not like cold temperatures so the process was slow.  Finally we were off and running.

Ahhh, I love that sound.  If you turn the sound up as high as it goes that’s what it sounds like with your ear protection on.  I’m not sure why my grandfather wasn’t deaf.

Well, we were stopping every 10 to 15 picks as usual.  The whole process was pretty painful.  Photographing is was – challenging.  During that little video two threads broke that I didn’t see on either side of the frame.  Yup, now I was just thinking about the repairs.

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Knotting the fringe was the final job before wet finishing – into the washer, cold water gentle, line dry.

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The finished throw is truly wonderful.  The yarn fulled as I expected making a soft, thick blanket.  The fringe looks almost like raw wool ( it almost is) because it had to little twist in it.  I probably should trim it and will eventually but I’m just enjoying it for now.

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These past months have given me a new respect for artists who create these treasures.  People will buy them and love them but will never know what went into their making.  The time, the care and often  frustration.

Peggy wove 3 more throws the other day while I was there.  One went pretty well, the other two not so much.  There’s probably another 20 yards on the warp and I asked her when she was going to be done with it – just cut it off.  She told me she was going to continue to work on it.  She did it to honor the wool.  So with time and patience that’s what she’s doing and for me that’s the most important lesson of all.

If you’re interested in one of these throws contact Bedfellows Blankets and ask about the WFH.

 

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.