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.

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.

 

 

 

Down a History Rabbit Hole

One of the best things I have done in the past year is become a trustee for the Rowe Historical Society.  I’m now one of the few that remember its founders and the excitement of putting the museum together and having tours conducted by them when I was a child.

Last summer the trustees had to move an entire room of things in order to do some repairs and refinish said room.  While doing so we cataloged the things that were in there.  It was a real hodge-podge of articles from large farm equipment to cameras to kitchen utensils.  As we were cataloging we moved many things to other parts of the museum that were more directly related to what they were.  I was cataloging a box of smalls when I found a 3″x 4″ printing block with the name Franklin Manufacturing Company  on it.

What caught my eye was the line “superior fabric, colour and finish”.  That’s when I knew it had to have come from the Satinet Factory that was in town during the 1800’s.  I brought the block to a friend, then a friend of a friend who teaches printing made a few copies of what I imagine was a tag of sorts for the fabric woven since No. Yds. is at the bottom of the print.

The print is beautiful.

I am currently working on the yearly bulletin for the Historical Society.  It usually has a little story about some interesting thing in town history and maybe a genealogy or story about the occupants of a particular house.  I originally chose the really broad subject of manufacturing but with the continued study of this print and what it meant I realized that what I knew about the Satinet Factory was limited and had seriously peaked my interest.

The last month or so has seen an immersion into the manufacture of satinet and textile mills in Western MA during the early 19th century.  Textile history is American history, it played huge roles in the American Revolution and the Civil War.

Now being a hand weaver and reading more and more about this particular cloth I decided it was something I needed to weave to get a perspective on what it is since I have yet to find any of it to look at (the search continues at the museum though).  Satinet is a fabric woven with a cotton warp and wool weft.  It was produced at an inexpensive cloth used in coats, uniforms and trousers. There are a few weavers that out there that have been more than helpful in this little quest and hopefully in the next few days I will put a warp on my loom to do a little sampling (something I never do but curiosity has gotten the better of me).

I’ve found a few photographs of the factory building after it had been abandoned (1876) and have looked at the location (under feet of snow).  I also read about “Factory Village” as the center of town was known at the time.  The Satinet factory was the single largest economic enterprise that has ever existed in this town yet it seems to be a footnote in the town history and I think that’s because no one really knew what satinet was and how it fit into the scheme of the local and state economies.

I could go on and on about this but there isn’t room (and I dare say interest).  What began as a small article could very well turn into something much larger with a little more digging.  There is an amazing textile history right here and I’m just beginning to piece the artifacts together with the research.  Thank goodness for the internet but at the same time I feel like it’s the technology that keeps people from becoming interested in the things that are right under their noses.  Maybe I can do a little to change that.

It’s a Matter of Perspective

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I’ve been reading a number of posts and memes commenting on what a horrendous year 2016 has been.  If I take a quick look back I might be inclined to agree.  This was a year of tremendous loss for me personally.  Four people I loved dearly passed away leaving some pretty big holes.  Then there was the weather – hot, hot summer, not much rain, a garden left to the weeds.  We won’t even go into the news or current events.

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In looking through the photographs of the year I realized that some pretty fantastic things have happened as well.  With the death of my father I was given the gift of time allowing me to be involved in things that are close to my heart.  This brought me into situations where I’ve met some great people and have grown in ways I never expected.

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I’ve expanded my horizons by spending time with some wonderful weavers. They are the most generous people I know.  The weaving I’m doing today and the direction it seems to be heading right now is pulling from the history of the craft.  What began as weaving off a warp on a barn frame loom (a figure it out by yourself experience) lead to the purchase and moving of this type of loom to my house.  A mention of a few of these looms available in New England started the journey into bringing one home.  Snow and miles are not a deterrent to a weaver in search of a piece of equipment.

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This was also a year of reunions.  I’m not sure if it had to do with the loss of mutual friends or it was just timing but I spent more than a few of my weekends with people I love from past lives.  Calls out of the blue from friends I haven’t talked to in decades.  Calls from people on the other side of the world.  Calls to gather and just remember how much we truly like each other.

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It was a year of new-found friendship as well.  Like minded people coming together to work on projects of mutual interest.  Being more involved in a town of this size has brought me great satisfaction, friendships new and renewed and an understanding of the effort needed to keep it all together and keep politics out of it.  No easy feat.

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I think what I really learned is it was is all a matter of perspective.  My photography has helped with that – I’m a glass half full kind of photographer.  I try to share the wonder and beauty around me.  I realized a long time ago that worrying about the big picture is pretty destructive.  It’s not that I have my head in the sand it’s just that on a grand scale I know there’s very little I can to about it.  You can’t spend hours in the day projecting what is going to happen down the road, you don’t know.  Things unfold the way they unfold and it’s always in slower motion than you think it’s going to.

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Going into 2017 my goals are to learn more about the things I love and share that knowledge with those who will listen (and even those that won’t – sorry).  Perfect my crafts and teach others how to do these things.  Be kind and generous with my time.  Stay connected in a meaningful way to my friends – old and new – because you never know who needs what when and sometimes big change can happen by doing what you think is the littlest of things.  Most of all, never lose that sense of wonder.  There is so much to see and learn even in the smallest of things.

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When a Project Comes Together

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I had a cone of 20/2 silk in my stash and decided to modify a draft to make it work.  I love weaving snowflake twills and thought the sheen of the silk would work with a tone on tone project.  I was not disappointed.  The photograph just doesn’t do it justice. This is one of those pieces where I wove the first repeat and had difficulty stopping because the results were just so amazing.  This is one of those rare occasions when the vision and results are in line.

It’s a beautiful day out, I need to go vote and then I should clean out the gardens.  This is one of those days where I have to consider weaving a reward for finishing other projects.

 

Forty Year Journey

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A couple of weeks ago a friend and town historian told me she had the diaries of Charles Brown and I might be interested in reading them.  Charles Brown was the father of Percy Brown who had written the first history of Rowe as well as being a large benefactor to the town.  She had transcribed each passage that referred to the time they spent in town from the years 1887 to 1929.

She dropped them off at the house and this began my breakfast and lunch routine of reading through the diaries.  I was immediately struck by the dedication to doing this.  He wrote every day.  He and his wife usually spent the month of August in town and he wrote about the weather and how they spent their days and evenings.

Well, either their thermometers were different or this is a testament to how much warmer it is now than in that forty-year span of time.  There were many days and nights when it was downright chilly.  He would often write about how many blankets he slept under to give you an idea of the cold.

When they began coming to Rowe they would stay at the “Wright house”, which is my house now.  There is something about reading about what was happening 130 years ago and having it take place right where you live.  He wrote about finding a horse and buggy to rent while they were here and the trips they would take daily around the area and into Vermont.

He wrote of the people around him, names so familiar but some too distant in the past for me have known.  He hired people to do jobs for him, had many visitors, read on the piazza, played hundreds of games of croquet recording the scores daily.  There was mention of murders, lightning strikes and fires.  He and Percy came to help when the barn here was struck by lightning and burned to the ground.

He wrote of his visitors.  He shared Percy’s friendships in Rowe, the places they all “tramped”, picnics on Pulpit Rock.  I learned of Percy’s engagement and marriage to Corinne.  Expected their visits year after year, then suddenly one line about her dying in Cincinnati.  At this point I was pretty invested in these characters and it felt like a gut punch with no explanation.  Thank goodness for public records and other info found with the diaries.

As the years went by the horse-drawn carriages and train rides to Zoar gave way to drives in new automobiles and how painful that could be.  Honestly, with the number of flats they changed it was a wonder they drove anywhere.  Of course there were always reports on how bad the roads were.

Friday morning I finished reading the remaining pages of the diaries.  I had been immersed in this wonderful little world of people, games and vacationing in a bygone time but a very familiar place. Charles was 79 years old.  His routine in Rowe had changed gradually over the years but in being able to read it in a few days time was compressed.  What really happened is I got to the end and went “Nooooooo”.  The story wasn’t over, it just stopped, ugh.  Think of it as Downton Abbey without season 6 – none of the ends were really tied up.

Social history is one of my favorite things and I have rarely, if ever, read anything so simply done give such a vivid picture of life in a bygone time.  I’m sad the story ended but think I will read it over again.  Like every good story you read to see where it goes, this time I’ll read it again to pay more attention to what it says.

 

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.

 

 

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.

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.