Weavers: A Legacy of Sharing Our “Recipes”

Part of being a weaver is participating in a legacy of sharing, so much bigger and grander than just you. When I weave, I know that countless weavers before me have not only gone through these same actions, but have woven these same patterns. From the miniature overshot of Bertha Gray Hayes to big books of drafts by the likes of Carol Strickler and Marguerite Porter Davison, it is comforting to know that just about wherever I tread, others have gone before me. (In that same sense, it’s perhaps even more comforting to know that when I make a mistake at any point during the weaving and finishing process, I am probably just one of many weavers who have done the same.)

Maybe it’s because I’m a former historian (and still very much one at heart), I love to learn about how things got their start. I like to look up the origins of words and the inventors of various tools. I like to know where the earliest examples of everything were found, and how old they are. I love looking at looms and handweaving in museums and being able to understand them, even if they are centuries old. I love the stories others tell me about the loom they rescued from the family barn that belonged to great-great-aunt Bertha and is now used to weave rag rugs, or the handwoven coverlet passed down through the generations that is still used to decorate the guest bed.

"Loom" Diamond Phillips, part of the weaving legacy of sharing
Christina’s new-old 40-inch, 4-shaft loom, tentatively named “Loom” Diamond Phillips

I recently added a new loom to my collection, a beautiful 40-inch wide, 4-shaft loom that I have tentatively named “Loom” Diamond Phillips. For the past 6 months or so, I’ve been wanting a wider loom, one suitable for weaving bath towels and lap throws. When I found this beautiful loom just a few miles from my house it felt like fate—it was the loom I’d been dreaming about and suddenly it was real.

Steve, the owner, told me that the loom belonged to none other than tapestry weaver James Koehler. When James passed it was donated to a local organization and eventually, as space got tight, it needed a new home. I was flabbergasted to know my loom belonged to such an important weaver, and it once again reminded me of how connected we all are as weavers. When a weaver passes or simply downsizes their studio, their old looms aren’t burnt on a pyre. Rather, they are passed to somebody new who will ideally weave new adventures and preserve the legacy for generations still to come.

I can’t think of too many other hobbies or professions where this is the case as routinely as weaving—weaving supplies and especially looms are typically not homeless for long. Perhaps it’s because we know that by passing along those tools, we’re nurturing a love of weaving in somebody else. I know I was endlessly grateful to the weavers who gave me bobbins, yarn, and advice when I started weaving. Perhaps it’s also because we know that, by passing along our looms and our shuttles when we no longer need them, we are also keeping a bit of ourselves alive in the weaving story of another. Amazing!

Dark and Light of the Moon Towels
“Dark and Light of the Moon” Towels by Beth Mullins, from Handwoven May/June 2016

Similarly, weavers are also keen to pass on their knowledge and experience. One of the many reasons I love working for Handwoven is that I get to be front and center for this type of knowledge transmission as weavers from all over share their knowledge of weaving and tell us how to weave their truly beautiful designs. In the most recent May/June issue, for example, Tom Knisely and Deb Essen write about color and value and Madelyn van der Hoogt gives us the skinny on tied overshot.

The theme for the issue is Light and Dark, which means most of the projects are all about pattern. They are all visually stunning, from Beth Mullins stupendous “Dark and Light of the Moon” twill towels to Katie Allen’s wonderfully unique huck scarf featured on the cover. The fact that we find so many weavers willing to share their knowledge and designs each issue amazes me—I have a friend who has promised to never share her chocolate chip cookie recipe with anyone else, ever, much less publish it in a magazine. How lucky we are to have a community that is so open and so happy to share!

Weaving Light and DarkClick here to download Handwoven‘s May/June 2016 issue!

I’ve got a few more projects to go before I warp up good ol’ Loom Diamond Phillips. I’m thinking a set of bath towels would make a great first project, but by the time comes to order the yarn, I might change my mind and weave something else. Whatever I do, I will take joy in knowing that it will be just one of many pieces woven on the loom and hopefully just the first of many woven by me. I will also share it with you all here, and, if you ask, I promise to share the recipe.

Happy Weaving!


P.S. In what ways are you part of a weaving legacy? Your equipment? Your instruction? Your choice of projects? Let me know in the comments!

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Weaving Today
Christina Garton

About Christina Garton

I'm Associatet Editor for Handwoven where I get to interact daily with all sorts of wonderfully creative people. I'm obsessed with twill and weaving dishtowels, although I'm also in love with deflected doubleweave. When I'm not weaving twill towels, I love to try out new fibers and structures and blog about it as I go!

12 thoughts on “Weavers: A Legacy of Sharing Our “Recipes”

  1. I have two looms that I purchased, used, from famous weavers who have been very influential in my own weaving (Sharon Alderman and Margaret Coe). In both cases, I have marked the underside of the loom bench in permanent marker with their name and the dates they owned the loom. Given the durability of looms, I hope to pass this equipment to other weavers when I’m finished using it, and would like them to know the provenance.

    1. What a great idea, Amy! Imagine if all weavers took the care to document their looms’ histories. They’re so incredibly long-lived, and this helps them “tell their own story,” in a sense.

  2. I learned to weave from my mother. She in turn learned in college, at the University of Oregon, from Maude Kerns. My mother has been gone now for almost 9 years, but I have her loom (a 1951 Macomber, which is older than I am) and a host of other spinning and weaving paraphernalia. I think of her whenever I use the loom. Someday I will pass it on to someone else, and Mrs. Kerns will have another weaving great-granddaughter.

  3. Keeping a family tradition alive. I am a 3rd generation weaver. I have the 12 shaft purrington table loom that was my Grandmother’s sample loom. It is the same loom I wove on as a child. In 2001 after my Mom pasted unexpectedly, I realized that I need to continue the weaving tradition. I traveled to Florida to spend a week with my Grandmother Betty TerLouw, in that week I wove a scarf project with her patience and guidance. I have not stopped weaving since then. It has now become my passion and obsession. I have a large collection of looms & Granny would be proud of my liabary and sample collection. I have also passed the passion onto my older sister and one of my nieces.
    Thank you for a wonderful article. I too reflect as I weave, on those that have come before us.
    Karen Driscoll

    1. I’m a 3rd generation weaver too, with my mother and my great aunt going before me. I’m so glad you’re keeping the tradition alive in your family. Thanks for sharing your story, and for your feedback! Much appreciated.

  4. Hi Christine. I was James’ apprentice and was one of the people who helped his family sell his studio equipment. I don’t recall that any of the looms were donated. They were all sold very quickly. It is very possible though that this was one of his looms and someone who bought it donated it to most likely Espanola Valley Fiber Arts Center–a place that James supported a lot. He had 5 Macombers, four of them were 40 inch ones. He replaced the hardware on all of his looms and I could probably tell if it was his by some photographs of the hardware on the front and back beams. It should also have a sectional beam on it since all his looms were warped that way.

    These were his student looms. He had people come from all over the country to study with him in his studio and they worked on these looms. James was excellent with his equipment. He loved the Macomber looms though he always replaced the hardware on the smaller looms as he felt it needed to be beefier for the high tension he demanded of them. So if this was one of his looms, it is the perfect loom for tapestry weaving, a practice I obviously highly recommend!

    I almost bought his 100 inch Cranbrook after he died. In some ways, I wish I had largely for the legacy factor you are speaking about here. But I didn’t have a place for such a huge loom at the time and it went to a good home eventually.

    And James loved show tunes… you might add a little Pirates of Penzance into your music mix. 🙂
    Rebecca Mezoff

  5. Enjoyed your post Andrea. I am also a knitter, that has fallen in love with fiber, spinning and now weaving. I have a rigid heddle loom and have only produced about 3′ of material from it. (I must interject here, that I live on a sailboat in the Western Caribbean 7 months out of the year at present). But a couple of years ago I was in a small quilting shop looking for felt squares to needle felt and got into a discussion with another customer about how i wanted to learn to weave. She told me there was a loom at the ‘thrift store’ around the corner. She ended up walking over there with me and there was a Harrisville Design floor loom standing in a corner. It needs to be overhauled and I have been on the Harrisville website and seen the parts I need to order….but I wonder what the story of this loom is? The shop owner ended up just giving me the loom as she needed the space it was taking up, I almost fell over. But, I am thrilled to now have it in my possession and look forward to getting it up and running this summer. Thanks again for your article.
    Saundra McDowell
    s/v Island Sol
    Isla Mujeres, Mexico

    1. Wow, that’s awesome! What a stroke of fortune. Hopefully you’ll be able to find the parts you need easily. Keep me posted on how your repairs go!

  6. Hi, I am a brazilian weaver that don’t know english very well. But I try. I loved the article, spoke to my heart. Few years ago I bought a Toika loom from a dutch saler in Ebay. I ever think about his owner and the amazing journey the loom made from Finland, trough Netherlands to me. My grandmother worked in a textile fabric and my mother says that my love came from her. When I start weaving, I don’t understand a word about, then even this the weaving made for me. Now I’m here try to thank you for the lovely words that make me fell part of a history.

    1. Hello, and thanks for sharing your story! Every one of us weavers is a part of history, I agree. It’s what’s so special about weaving, as well as the fact that it transcends language. 🙂

  7. Hi. I do weaving demonstrations at various New England renaissance faires. I set up my 4 harness Harrisville loom and invite children to come and help me weave ( mostly throwing the shuttle and pulling the beater) and explain the basics of weaving to anyone who is interested. I also explain that looms of this type go back as early as the 1400’s. I find twills easiest to explain, but enjoy blowing minds with a complex shadow weave on occasion. It’s fun to watch the engineering types peer all around the loom until they reach that aha! moment when they figure out how it all works. One of the most interesting conversations I ever had was with a man who worked on looms that weave carbon fiber into 27 interlocking layers to be used for jet engine propellers. He was happy to see the origins of his machines an I was thrilled to learn that this ancient craft of ours is still being re-invented and adapted to modern technology.

    1. Wow, that sounds awesome! What a fascinating reminder of how the basic technology we use to make fabric is also used on the cutting edge of modern engineering. Thanks for continuing to spread weaving knowledge and lore!