The Cloth

I played bobbin boy to help finish a 40 yard run of cloth that is part of the first project for the Western MA Fibershed.  It’s easy to think of it as just another job until you wrap your head around the locality of it all.   It’s the locavore movement only with wool.  The sheep are local.  The washing, carding and spinning was done by Green Mountain Spinnery who did a beautiful job.  Then it arrived at Bedfellows Blankets where Peggy Hart’s  Crompton & Knowles W3 was warped, threaded, sleyed, tied on and run.  I was only a witness to the weaving.

Threading the heddles. 16 harnesses, 20 epi.

Tying on the warp.

Running the loom.

Ahhh, that sound.  I spent some time winding the bobbins.  The loom was running very well and miraculously so was the bobbin winder allowing things to go smoothly and quickly.  Peggy had already run the first 20 yards in a plaited twill and was in the process of changing the chain to a 2/2 herringbone when I arrived.  She cut off the first 20 yards and I photographed it in all of its glory.

Most of the time this is what I was looking at –

Winding bobbins.

It is fun to be witness to the unbridled enthusiasm of the members of the Fibershed.  There are a growing number of these projects across the country.  I’ve seen a renaissance of sorts involving fiber, especially local.  People interested in reviving the old ways, making slow clothes that last and can be mended endlessly and finally composted when they can be worn no more.  Clothing has become a huge pollutant and I am sympathetic to their cause.

In the late 1960s my grandfather closed his woolen mill because it was no longer viable economically due to imports and the new synthetic fibers.  He knew wool.  All of the aspects of getting the Fibershed cloth done (excluding the sheep) would have been done under one roof in his mill – from grading, washing, carding, dyeing and spinning to weaving and finishing it was all done right there.  In later years he wove shoddy, the ultimate in recycling, to reduce costs.  When the mills went out so did their machinery, I daresay almost all of it.  Green Mountain Spinnery uses a carder that’s over 100 years old, Peggy’s machines have to be well over 60 years.  Along with the machines went the knowledge of how to use and repair them.  I’ve written about Lenny, he’s 94, a loom mechanic, when he goes a library will definitely burn to the ground.   There is a handful of people using vintage equipment and the reality is their days are numbered because there are only so many parts left.  The Fibershed project is everything I think those of us who have a connection to textile history love to see but it is really so bittersweet.

For now I will look at and touch that cloth and revel in how amazing it is that it practically comes from my doorstep.  I would love to get my hands on a couple of yards to sew a jacket and wear it with the pride it deserves.  I look forward to seeing where this will lead in a world that has all but forgotten what local cloth means.