For no particular reason we had been looking for a 60″ loom. Then we found one, but it was far away, near a friend’s home. They agreed to pick it up for us. We gave them instruction of what to look for. They phoned from the site when they were there. They brought it to us this Easter weekend. But it was not a 60″ loom; it was a 45″ Leclerq Fanny, which we already have. That was disappointing since we had asked them to measure it to make sure. Oh well. It is in pretty rough shape and will need to be stripped and polished, but the heddles and the reeds are in good shape. One of the reeds is a 5 count reed which will be good for rugs, so it will become a dedicated rug machine, which is fine. The refurbishing will take place next winter. The loom will go into a protected shed and the metal will stay inside. It was a good price.
Lili Blumenau attended the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts. She later studied at the Academy Scandinave in Paris during which time she decided to pursue a career in weaving and textile artisty. Graduating as the first woman student at the New York School of Textile Technology she went on to gain mill experience and in 1948 she began the weaving workshop at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, New York. In 1952 she founded the weaving department at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Design, New York, New York. From 1944 until 1950 she was curator of textiles at Cooper Union Museum. In 1955 she authored The Art and Craft of Hand Weaving, Including Fabric Design, which was published by Crown Publishers, New York City.
I received Lili Blumenau’s book the other day, The Art And Craft Of Hand Weaving, reviewed by Dorothy Day in 1956. I am far from disappointed. Structurally, this book is divided into four parts: (1) Evolution, Looms, Weaving Procedure, (2) Fibers, (3) Weaves, and (4) Design. However, it is not a strictly technical text. It is much richer. She writes, [t]he ideal of handwaving today is not simply material. It is a means of self-realization and fulfillment. And its purpose today is unique. Practically, we do not need to weave cloth by hand but the value of weaving is in the work. The present-day desire to weave is one expression of the search in our time for human qualities. Rather than focusing on writing simply another book on patterns and techniques (those elements are there), Blumenau encourages creative artisanship based on the raw material, its visual and tactile characteristics. And she reminds her readers that doing so is not the sole possession of only specialty artists. Weaving for her entails ‘good work’, engaging, fully human, and life-giving in every respect.
As the Doukhobors moved out to these villages they first erected makeshift shelters, either of poplar poles or turf; sometimes, where there was a hillside, they lived the summer through in a dugout, and there were also a number of tents. Outdoor ovens were built for baking bread, and the blacksmiths set up their forges and made charcoal out of the available timber. Like most communities that have traditionally been self-contained, the Doukhobors found little difficulty in going immediately into operation in a strange environment, for they had among them men who knew all the necessary crafts. Among the first things they obtained through the bonus fund was a quantity of iron bars and leather, and with these they immediately set about making harness, spades, and tires for their wagons.
This self-sufficiency, which was carried into many fields of activity, undoubtedly helped the Doukhobors to survive with very little money during the first years on the prairies. One of the first gifts of the American Quakers was three hundred spinning-wheels, and with these the Doukhobor women span the woollen and linen thread they later wove on homemade looms into homespun cloth. Furniture was made out of hand-hewn wood, and utensils, such as spoons, were carved out of the same material. Some of these crafts continued to be practised for decades…
– The Doukhobors, Woodcock and Avakumovic
Her grandfather circumnavigated the world seven times as captain of a windjammer based out of Truro, Nova Scotia; there were numerous trans-Atlantic crossings. Her father grew up on those ships and later became a school teacher and married a school teacher. She followed in her parent’s footsteps, attended normal school and went to teach on Cape Breton in a one room schoolhouse. Her uncle invited her to Winnipeg where he would fund her university education. She studied home economics at the University of Manitoba where she received her Bachelors degree, and taught in a one room school in Queens Valley, east of Winnipeg. Interested in textiles she was accepted at the University of Minnesota for her Masters, graduating in 1950. Her research involved standardized testing on the breaking strength of cotton fabrics. Her name was Constance Crowe Adams. And she is my mother-in-law. My wife comes by being both a teacher and interested in textiles honestly. (One of our children is now a fourth generation Canadian teacher.) Typed on a typewriter its hard copy is difficult to read as it is .
She was an astounding woman and is still dearly missed…
Tie-ups are used to connect the lams to the treadles of a loom. On more modern looms various labour and time saving methods have been devised with which to do this. But on older looms there is often simply a closed screw eye loop on the lam and another on the treadle. There is nothing on the internet to show how these were originally installed. In Oscar Beriau’s book, Home Weaving (both 1939 and 1947 editions) this method is illustrated. The use of cotton cord is originally used since hardware only interferes with treadle movement; any added hardware installed on an older loom is an upgrade for the sake of convenience and should be removed.
In the course of time you are bound to come across people who have made significant and/or unique contributions to your being a weaver.
As a young man I met someone who told me that they had realized one day that certain teachers and mentors had positively influenced them. So they made a list of these people and wrote letters to them and described exactly how they had been influenced, and then they said thank you. I thought that that was a fine thing to do and so over a period of a couple of months I did the same. I continue to do so today. When someone is influential I write and tell them so. Life is short. Best to do so while you are able.
I want to recognize some of the weavers who I admire. Some I have met personally; most I only know through what they have published. I want to recognize and say thank you to these. I also want to say thank to all of the weavers who today write blogs and make videos and pass on what they know, you are all inspiring.
Lili Blumenau, 1912 – 1976, was a visual artist teaching weaving and creative fibre design in New York and operated her own studio there. She was instrumental in designing the presentation at the Brussels Universal and International Exhibition in 1958 (Expo 58). It was the first world’s fair following WW2 and opened with a call for world peace. Charlie Chaplain’s, The Gold Rush finished second to Battleship Potemkin in the first-ever international film critic’s poll, and someone tore off the bottom right corner of Mozart’s Requiem as a souvenir while it was on display. (The missing piece has not yet been recovered.)
Stunned at the church’s inaction on behalf of the poor in 1933 Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin founded the Catholic Worker Movement in New York City, NY during the depths of the Great Depression. Their simple love for God led them to simply open houses of hospitality (an ancient, formal churchly model) where anyone could find meals and a safe place to sleep and live without conditions. It was non-violent direct support for those in need. Seeking to rely less on donations they founded their own farms, giving residents an opportunity to work growing food, and eventually offering retreats that taught spirituality and skills. Weaving was one such skill and upon making a retreat to the Peter Maurin Farm, Lili Blumenau became a supporter of their well-placed efforts. Upon the writing of Blumenau’s work, The Art And Craft Of Handweaving, Day wrote a review of it in The Catholic Worker newspaper in 1955. I ordered a first edition copy of the book yesterday for a very modest cost. The review follows…
Lili Blumenau is familiar to some of the Catholic Workers since she made a retreat with us some years ago at Easton, Pa. and in the ten years since then has taught three or four of our number the fundamentals of weaving. She has a studio on Tenth Street, off Fourth Avenue, and she is an instructor in weaving at Teachers’ College, Columbia University, and the Fashion Institute of Technology. This book she has written tells of the evolution of spinning and weaving from thousands of years before Christ, and there are beautiful illustrations of basket weaving, Egyptian spinning implements, wall paintings of spinners and weavers in Egypt down to present day photographs of girdle looms among the Indians of Guatemala. One illustration is of a Coptic child’s tunic of natural linen, plain weave, decorated with tapestry woven motifs in bright colors, which dates from the fifth century. This tunic is in Cooper Union Museum not far from the Catholic Worker and I must certainly go to see it. It is very like the baptismal robes some of our friends are making today. There are not only pictures of every kind of loom and tool but a clear explanation of their uses. There is one section of the book given to design. At the end, a buyers’ guide for looms and accessories, yarns and a very good bibliography and index.
Every one who has come to Peter Maurin Farm has been very much interested in our loom and spinning wheels, one from the Hutterites of Montana, one from French Canada and two from India. We are also, Tamar and Susie and I, familiarizing ourselves with the spindle, that small wooden stick with a round wheel which is the earliest of spinning implements and has been made of stone, metal or wood. By twirling this tick Tamar has been able to make very even thread from wool and flax. The children are beginning a scrap book of pictures of sheep, their sheering, the carding, washing, spinning and weaving of wool and it is a fascinating compilation which takes in discussion of village industries in India and Israel, and the latest, today, a picture of a loom clipped from the Catholic Charities Drive folder. You hear a great deal about these crafts in jails and veterans’ hospitals and mental hospitals. “After the horse is stolen the barn door is locked.” We need to use our hands, to develop skills, to rediscover the sacramentality of things. To whittle, to knit, to crochet, to mould in clay, to weave, to darn or mend also, – – all of these are the quiet occupations which make for Peace. Besides, as Peter Maurin used to say, men make their millions by the machine and spend them for hand made articles, rugs, drapes, tapestries, linens, clothing.
One of our friends who made a retreat with us, who was not at all satisfied with her office and clerical work, began to learn to weave with Lili Blumenau and became so proficient that she was able to design and weave samples for manufacturers (all of which work can be done in the home on a small loom) so that perhaps she will one day attain to rural living and have her own sheep and produce her own wool.
Lauren Ford, the artist, of Sheep Fold, Bethlehem, Connecticut, every year has given us fleeces of wool which we have washed, dyed, teased, carded, spun and woven and sometimes knit into various garments. And we are only beginners, who do this in odd moments with visitors and friends.
Do get the book and start to weave your own drapes, couch covers, towels, scarves and hand bags.
After years of planning we finally have a permanent location for our 45″ LeClerc Mira loom. Whereas it had been off to the side before, now it sits prominently in our home with more than enough working space around it. We have been working toward this day for years. Now to rig it up and wind a warp. Wow, are we happy!!! What a beautiful loom…
Three people have spoken with us since November asking us our advice about getting into weaving. In particular they have directly enquired about buying looms…what did we think? …where should they look? …what should they look for? …how much should they be spending?
So I thought that as a way to reawaken this blog I might take some time to warm-heartedly reflect on weaving, and the weaving community, and looms, and our place in this grand mess. :)
1. So you want to weave, eh?
Have you ever woven before? That’s always the first question we ask. And it’s okay to hear, No, but I think I’d really like to. After all, that’s where everything starts. What we don’t like to hear is, No, but I went and bought a loom. (!) And we know that that happens too. But there are a lot of looms for sale that have never been used by the people who bought them – both women and men – because they thought it might be for them, but who had not really considered everything involved. Buying a loom can be like buying a puppy. Do you really have the time and commitment for it?, not that you cannot learn to live your way into it.
The best way to get into weaving is to first find someone who weaves, and who is willing to sit down with you and to place your hands on one of their looms, and who will sit with you over hours of coffee and share their life with you, because that is what weaving is all about in the end, trading your life for making cloth. True, you might find a club that sponsors classes, but we see those as a second step in the process. The bottom line is whether there is someone who can personally spend time with you to ease you into this life? That person might be a teacher of a class. But let’s face it, some teachers are in it for themselves. Some clubs exist as gatekeepers to a self-perceived exclusive domain of knowledge. And some weavers are personally threatened by others’ interest. We’ve seen it all.
What we share here is meant to simply be encouragement from one basic weaver to another. We have nothing to prove and only encouragement to give.
We were extremely fortunate to have met our mentor, Susan. First of all she is a weaving fanatic…she lives to weave. Secondly, she is volumetric in her experience and knowledge, having forgotten more in her lifetime than we will ever come to know about weaving. But best of all, she is personal and humble. (And she’s got a great sense of humour and is a hoot to be around!) There is no end to the time she will spend with us to work through something. If you don’t understand something she is talking about she will come at it from another perspective and then another until you do. We are truly blessed by her.
So. The first thing to do is to find someone who can put you in the cockpit and hand over the controls to you. And the rest is up to you.
If your answer is a growing, Yes!, then you need to evaluate how much time, and how much space, and how much money you want to spend, and what those things all do for you.
2. Do you have the time to weave?
We do not have a television. We have a computer. We watch the news in the morning. We get weather reports throughout our day. We have email. We watch a movie at night. Other than that we live in this beautiful place and have built our lives around doing stuff that primarily allows us to gratefully live here and that serves other people for free. So we have cleared everything else back so that we can do things like weaving. We made time so that we could weave.
We bought our first loom in 2015 for $400CDN from a young mother who overreached and who wanted to weave but who had two small children and a tourism business she had built and woke up one day and said, I will never get to weave. And good for her that she came to her senses. Experience cures nonsense. Kids tend to do that. This is precisely how we got our first loom, a 45″ LeClerc Mira that sat in her garage for a couple of years and needed attention. Do you have the time to weave? But consider this. Perhaps you do not have the time to weave on a full-sized loom, but you can do it on a smaller loom set off in the corner that you can come and go from as you wish? Not all weaving requires the same amount of time. To weave a lot of material on a big loom requires a lot of time in every respect.
3. Do you have a place to weave?
Looms take up space. The wonderful thing about my mentor is that her whole life revolves around weaving. Looms and weaving material are packed into every square inch of her house. I am glad that she is as smart as she is because I would never be able to remember where all the items are that she has squirrelled away everywhere! ;) It is a genuine wonder for me to be in her home, like a great library just packed with books. A treasure trove!
But all kidding aside, only you know the space that you are willing to commit to a loom…and all the supples you are bound to accumulate with it. And there will be lots of those, more than you can imagine, bins and bins of them, just mark my words.
4. Do you have the money for a loom? (If not, then take heart!)
***This is really what I wanted to write about today. Buying a loom.
This blog is meant to encourage everyone to weave. Of course if you have a lot of money – and a lot of people do – then this blog really is not for you. If you can phone up a retail outlet for looms and give them a credit card number and take delivery on a loom without batting an eye, good on you. But for those of you who are working people and feel the intuitive draw to weave, and have the time and space and passion to do so, then we are on your side.
If you have looked through this site you know that items like wool and cotton and yarns and supplies can be had and built and stored. If you want to weave and do not have money for yarns then rags are everywhere and for a bit of resourcefulness you can produce rugs by the score that are much better than anything you can find in Wal-Mart…a craft you can be proud of. And of course if you are in our area we have wool galore that we keep for free for others.
Here’s what you want to consider if you are looking for a loom and do not want to spend a lot of money on one. First of all take your time. There are a lot of good deals out there as I write. In Hamilton, ON there is a 45″ Nilus LeClerc in great shape for sale for $500 that says negotiable on it, and in Red Deer there is a 36″ Artisat LeClerc for sale in perfect shape for $500, and in Calgary there is a $5,000 Colonial V2 LeClerc for sale for $1,800. And there will be others that will come up. Take your time. We paid $400 each for a Mira and a Fanny, and got all sorts of accessories and books and benches, etc. with each of them, along with a genuine New Zealand Wee Peggy spinning wheel for $150 that is in perfect condition! Do not get too anxious once bitten by the bug.
Warning: There are a lot of sellers out there who will take advantage of you! Some do not know what they are selling. That is one key sign that what you are going to pay is too much. Ignore them! It is not nice to say, but I am going to do it anyway, these people are greedy idiots. I always keep my eyes open for looms at a good price. I do not do it so that I can buy more…I am no dragon. I buy they so that I can restore a piece of equipment that should not go to waste. I buy them so that I can preserve a wonderful tool. I buy them so that I can pass these on to a deserving person.
A couple years ago I bought an old abused LeClerc Jano loom. It needed to be torn apart and refurbished. You can read about it here: https://borealweaver.wordpress.com/2015/11/23/an-intimate-look-at-a-jano/ and https://borealweaver.wordpress.com/2015/12/03/jano-restored-pics/. I paid $70 for this loom. I stripped the wood and scoured and polished the metal. It’s a wonderful little machine!
A while ago I ran across an ad for another one. When I enquired I was informed that they wanted several hundred dollars for it since it was an antique! Bologna!!! It is old…nearly 90 years old. But it was junk. If you were a collector and it was in perfect shape, then perhaps you would pay that. But its wood was very worn, its metal was darkened, and that means that its heddles and reed were likely worthless and need to be replaced. And yet they claimed that it was in good shape. I honestly doubt if they knew what ‘good shape’ meant.
Another ruse is someone who has a loom and who looks up what a new one is going for and takes a couple hundred dollars off of that price and wants to sell it to you as a ‘deal’. Believe me, that is no deal. Something better will come along. You may have to drive to pick it up. And it may need reconditioning. But if you are willing to do the work, the deals are out there.
Now I have been rightfully chided by some who say that they do not have the skills to recondition a loom. And that is a fair statement that I respect. But I also know that there are a lot of people out there who do have the skills and who would love to rework a loom at no price…or perhaps for a pie or a couple of loaves of homemade bread. And if you do not have friends like that, then it is time to make new friends!
If you really want to weave and have limited money don’t worry, be of good cheer. Make it so. Enquire. Find good people. Consider what you want out of it and what you can give to others through it. Deny other things so that weaving can take root. Carve out a space. Don’t overspend…buyer beware! And be at peace and have fun with what you can do!!! At least that’s how we see it. It’s a great way to give back in a world that seems more heedless and impatient by the day. And good luck.
After forty years of extensive use our Singer has given out. It far outstripped our expectations and handled canvas, denim, light leather, etc.. It really outdid itself. We picked up a used machine for light sewing of button holes, hems, etc. at an action our local high school was having. They are getting rid of their home economics/sewing classes (we weep). So we bought a new Sailrite machine in November and unwrapped our Sailrite LSZ-1 Basic on Christmas. While labeled semi-industrial it is more than powerful for our needs and sews in straight and zigzag patterns. We are really delighted and are already envisioning ways to compliment our weaving with it.
It easily handles ten layers of canvas. Its walking foot feeds material like a dream and is essential for heavy material and quilting as well.
This is its first usage sewing canvas strips to synthetic jute to make a coarse sling for storing woven grass mats we made over the summer.