Recently I visited the small town of Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. While visiting my mother I thought it would be fun to take her for a belated birthday lunch and afternoon of shopping. I thought the beautiful downtown studded with antique shops and historic buildings would be a perfect way to spend a lazy December day. We arrived a bit early for our reservation so we decided to stop in a shop called the Fiber Factory. I figured given the name it was probably a yarn shop and as I’m always on the lookout for something new and exciting to add to my stash, I opened the front doors with enthusiasm.
Imagine my surprise when I suddenly found myself surrounded by beautiful, antique looms all of which were warped and most of which had partial projects on them. I was in absolute awe as I walked around each loom and recognized more than a few company names that have been out of business for some time. We chatted with the owner for a few minutes before we had to run to lunch, agreeing that as soon as we finished eating, we needed to go back and find out the story behind these looms.
The co-owner of Fiber Factor is Charley Klamm who was more than happy to chat as he wove away on his antique counterbalance loom. Charley’s wife Carol learned to weave when her mother, a talented weaver, was unable to see well enough to warp the loom. She took a class and was instantly hooked. Eventually, Charley decided to learn to weave and found he enjoyed it just as much as his wife, and he’s been happily weaving away ever since.
As to how he acquired the amazing loom collection found in his shop, it’s a story many weavers can probably relate to. While he did purchase the first antique loom and fix it up, the others came from folks who had a family loom in a garage or barn or back room somewhere that they didn’t want use, didn’t know how to fix, but also didn’t want to throw out. Fortunately, Charley was able to fix up these looms and get them back into working order. Looking at the looms, they were all in excellent condition and obviously well cared for—if any had been sadly languishing in a barn for decades you could no longer tell.
That day, Charley was working on a rag rug made from old blue jeans, something he works with quite frequently. In fact, if you head into the side room at the Fiber Factory you’ll be greeted by a mound of denim—apparently Charley has the town trained to bring him old jeans so he can turn them into rugs. He happily showed us how he cut the jeans using his rotary cutter designed for such a task (a variety popular with hookers, he said with a sparkle in his eyes). We chatted a bit more as he wove and my mom bought the last rag rug in the store.
As I travel this big and beautiful country, I am always amazed at all the places I discover weaving and weavers from a remote mountain town museum to this wonderful shop in the heart of the Flint Hills. I meet people at hotels and restaurants who weave and each time I am reminded of what a wonderful community we have as weavers. I am again proud of the fact that through my work in Handwoven I can not only work with wonderful weavers from around the world, but that my work also helps to connect weavers with one another as well.