Our New Roommate . . .

I was delivered in late fall, in the mid-1950s. She was delivered two days later; we’re almost exactly the same age.

She lived her whole life in Vermont while I left upstate New York for many years, only to return and make my home here again.

Lately she found she needed a home so we invited her to live here. But she had to be willing to live in the garage until we found a place for her inside.

Does that sound mean? Making an older lady live in our garage?

It’s okay–she’s tough, and she’s happy to have a home where she is appreciated and can feel useful.

Our new housemate is a Macomber Add-A-Harness loom. Yes, another loom.

The Macomber company, started in 1936, is still in business and they could tell us that the serial number on our new loom meant the loom was delivered in late 1955 to Mrs. Maurice Jones of Montpelier, VT. Mrs. Jones, Jean, died at the age of 88 in 2013.

Her husband, Maurice, died just last year, at 93. When his belongings were dispersed, Jean’s loom sold at auction and we found it on Craigslist.

It’s a wonderful loom, sturdy and clean. It has 4 shafts but, as its name suggests, 4 more can be added, since the company is still going strong.

As often happens, the loom was sold with “extras”—when someone stops weaving, they have no need for the arcane tools of the trade.

And as much as I love the loom, it’s these extras that have really fascinated me.

Mrs. Jones went all in when she chose weaving as a hobby. She got books and magazines, some nice tools, and quite a lot of pretty thread.

In the 1950s, when a person wanted to buy weaving yarn, she couldn’t go on the internet and look at pictures or ask for samples. Mrs. Jones had to write to companies and request samples.

And she did. And she kept every sample she received.

Yarns from Lily and Butterworth and Troy and Golden Rule. If none of these names are familiar, it’s because the companies no longer exists. The Lily yarn you can currently buy has nothing to do with the Lily Mills of Shelby, NC, and though Troy still exists, the company now sells quilting cotton fabric. The others . . . all gone.

Mrs. Jones records are a mini-museum of weaving in mid-20th century America.

Did she become a great weaver? The evidence suggests she did not.

All of the requests for yarn sample are from 1955 and 1956.

The magazines are from the same years.

The items were all stored in newspaper-lined boxes, and the newspaper was from 1967.

Mrs. Jones’s obituary mentions that “Jean enjoyed flowers and gardening, her berry patch, mowing her acreage on her ‘Jean Deere’ tractor, bowling, square dancing, hand work, cooking and entertaining,” but says nothing of weaving.

It may be that she wove for a while. The man from whom we bought the loom remembers that, at the auction, there were hand-woven items and the auctioneer speculated that they were made on this loom.

Or maybe the weaving bug, that old arachnid, never really bit. And maybe the loom has been quiet for all these years.

I’ll keep Mrs. Jones records because I don’t know what else to do with them—I can’t just throw them away.

And all that yarn? Will we use it? That’s a tough one. When that yarn is gone, it’s gone forever, just like the once thriving textile industries is the United States . . .

But the loom will be quiet no more! Don has big plans for her.

She won’t live in the garage for long—at 60-something, she deserves better.

 

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98 thoughts on “Our New Roommate . . .

    • Hi, Peggy–so nice to have you here! The loss of textile manufacturing seems to me to be such a big deal–and even the museum devoted to it, in Lowell, MA, has closed down. All so sad . . .

  1. J & D > Kerry and Don, this post generously allows us readers/followers an insight into your home, your values, and your plans, and we are struck by the thought: this could just be us! We’re both of us susceptible to the temptations of a good spinning wheel, a well made and capable loom, an indispensible accessory (that pirn winder looks to be just what we need …). This post of yours has given us so much pleasure!

    • I love that the two of you share so many values and interests with us–it makes me smile to think of you both going about your chores and tasks, while we do ours, with so much in common! If I decide we don’t need the pirn winder, I’ll let you know!

  2. I think I would weave with at least some of that yarn. Is there a project in which you could use the yarns to weave something that evokes the sample card? Plain weave on which to embroider later with some of the finer threads? Is there a project in one of her magazines? BTW, I think this would make a fantastic article for Handwoven…

      • I knew exactly what you meant with your incomplete thought! I don’t know–I need to spend more time with the magazines. It’s so interesting to see how different they are from today’s Handwovens!

    • Those are some great ideas, Jennifer! I think I really should us some of her thread to make something to keep and the idea of using some of the shorter sample pieces for embroidery is brilliant!

  3. Oh yes, what a lovely, lovely story! Can hardly wait to see a photo of her “installed” in her new digs!!!! As for those samples…is there a weaving museum or one of the more prominent guilds in America where they could be used??

    • Hi, Carmen! Thanks–This sort of post is right up your alley! The textile museum in Lowell, MA, is defunct now. I did recently read about a museum in the Thousand Islands region of New York–I want to visit there and I’ll ask whether they might want some of the sample cards. That would be ideal . . .

    • A loom wing would be ideal but we’d have to build up, not out! We have looms everywhere–it’s really kind of silly but we couldn’t pass this one up!

  4. I love this story! And you NEED another loom! That one is a great find, especially with all the extras. Nice!

  5. That’s a brilliant and moving story. All that thread reminds me of my mother’s sewing box, which I still have. Those of hers cottons etc. were in use anyhow, so I have no compunction in continuing to do so. The amount of sewing I do, the amount barely gets smaller anyway. But unused samples? That’s a tough call. I’d tend to hang on to them or give them to some archive/museum where they might be displayed to a wider public. But not if they just go into a cupboard somewhere. I like your new house guest!

    • There’s a handweaving museum a few hours away that I haven’t visited yet and, when I do, I’ll ask them if they have any interest in the sample cards. I also think I’ll save a few of the spools of old thread, for the same reason, and use the rest.

  6. What a find! Maybe I need to have you scour Craigslist for me. All I ever seem to run across are obvious scams. If the yarns and threads seem strong enough, why not use them? Like us, they’re not getting any younger. Did you run across any mention how much the original owner paid for the loom? Shall we expect a scholarly paper comparing home weaving of the mid-1950s and today?

    • I do have the original receipt–I should’ve put that in the post! The 40″, four-harness loom cost . . . $165! This woman kept everything–and I love her for it!

  7. Wonderful post – I love the story of that loom and how it came to be with you. I wonder if the woman had any children who would enjoy something woven on it with their mother’s fine threads?

  8. Wow. How great that someone kept most of her weaving tools and supplies together — and that someone like you bought them and can now them back to life. “Mrs. Jones records are” INDEED “a mini-museum of weaving in mid-20th century America.”

    • Hi, Will! This woman kept everything–and it makes me very happy that she did because now I feel like I know her, and that makes the loom even more special!

  9. Congratulations on the new roommate! I love the look of those samples, all those pretty colours together look very appealing to me. I also love old news papers. I have a couple of them stashed in the basement (some birthdays, the day our king was crowned), don’t know what I’ll do with them, but I think it will be fun to re-read them after a while.

    • I love the samples and the boxes with the spools of bright thread, too–I’d like to leave them lying around the house so I could look at them but . . . the cats have other ideas!

  10. I’m so delighted that this lovely loom found a good home with y’all! All the books, yarn, and the samples, a real treat to just look at! I know the old girl is ready to get up and working again,setting still for so long has a way of stiffing the joints. Can’t wait to see some of the projects that are woven on her.

    • Hi Johanna–it’s so nice to hear from you! Yes, there’s always room for one more loom and one more cat (but don’t tell Charley!) I hope things are great in your world!

      • They are great, love my new job. Lots of training to do, but passed all test with flying colors. Aaaand I am doing collections for toddler story times and teacher collections now. Having my nose in kids books all day…life is bliss…and busy. Cheers and happy fourth xoxo

  11. Ah Kerry – I so love you! This post is rich with value – the way you honour those who went before, the way you value history and intentions and the artifacts that are left in their wake. That so much finds its way to you doesn’t surprise me in the least. If the loom were an animate object I could imagine her sitting most happily in your garage knowing that soon – soon – her purpose would at last be fulfilled and she could be singing her weaving song again! Sometimes you just have to wait patiently for the time to be right 🙂

    I have to admit to a smile of delight on seeing the colours arrayed from Mrs Jones stash. Aren’t they beautiful? I do hope you might choose a small sampling of them to make something up, just for quality comparison purposes and such you understand …….. and honouring the meeting of two points in time. xoxo

    • I love that “singing her weaving song” metaphor–there really is something about the rhythm of weaving! And you put it so well, why I should use some of the threads–and I think you’re right. I’ll need to ponder what the project should be (plus you know me–some of those colors aren’t in my staid palette!)

    • We went looking just because the loom sounded nice. I wasn’t prepared for the rest of the story, the extras, the huge amount of information, any of it. I feel so lucky!

  12. NIce…… That’s what I have – with 12 harnesses and about 54″ wide. Did you mention the width? It’s really too wide. I was reading about how making samples is so important and making anything narrow on my loom is difficult. And someone said to me recently that I didn’t need 12 harnesses, that most interesting weaves were just 8. And I have never done any 12 harness designs. I think I just ordered the biggest loom I could afford!
    I still order samples as a computer screen can be so off; even a good Mac one. I used to use a lot of Lily threads… And I do think you should use the threads if you like them. Lily doesn’t exist, but cotton is cotton!

    • This one is 4-harness and 40 inches weaving width. We can move it up to 8 shafts, if we want. I have a 12 harness loom, too, and I haven’t yet used more the 8. I bought it because i wanted 8 shafts and a friend I really trusted was selling this one, with 12, so I bought it. Not sure I’ll ever use them all.

  13. I so agree with everything Pauline just said! What a treasure you have come across! The fact that you appreciate those treasures make certain they keep finding their way to you. How kind of you not to leave the old lady in the garage any longer than necessary. Loved reading this post. 🙂

    • Thanks, Marlene–the old girl will definitely be in the nice warm house before winter comes! I feel very lucky to come across treasures like this. I need to tell you, soon, about the auction I went to last week, and the antique linens . . .

  14. I am so glad this loom now has a home again! I wonder why she kept the loom and all the samples. Did she always hope to find the time to do more weaving? Perhaps she started weaving and then family duties got in the way. By the time she had the time, she no longer wanted to weave or was unable to. Perhaps guilt stopped her from getting rid of it earlier. All that money spent on something she found she didn’t want after all! The possibilities are endless!

    • Your curious mind works just like mine, Clare–I’ve spent many an hour wondering about Mrs. Jones and her loom. I do know weaving is not for everyone–I really think it’s off-putting to lots of people who try it. So, maybe she thought she could learn on her own but then couldn’t figure it out? She didn’t have access to YouTube and the internet, of course–maybe it was just too overwhelming.

  15. Wow, this is great history. I’m glad the loom found a home and use. The samples look in great shape. I do hope you use the yarns and threads. They were meant to be used. Otherwise, it’s a bit like someone who gets some nice soaps for Christmas and puts them in a drawer rather than lathering up. I love that you got all this information and that the loom company is still extant.

    • It’s really all the extras–the history and the paperwork and the samples–that make this all so exciting. And, yes, it’s crazy how good the condition of the samples is. Many of them are wool and they have no moth damage or anything! There’s quite a lot of thread so I am sure I’ll use some of it and another commenter suggested even using some of the short sample pieces for embroidery–that’s a cool idea!

  16. What a great find – you will give it all a new lease of life. I have sometimes wondered what will happen to all my sewing and knitting paraphernalia – out of my two daughters only one would be interested and she wouldn’t have the space. I’d love to think it would be passed on to somebody who will appreciate it and I’m sure Mrs. Jones would have felt the same way.

    • You know, I worry, too, about my “stuff” and what will become of it. I don’t have children and it would be easy to get kind of depressed about my treasures not being appreciated. But then I remember that there are lots of people who love what I love and I just trust that my things will find appreciative owners–like Mrs. Jones’s loom did!

    • I know. I had a cone of very soft cotton yarn that I got when I bought another Craigslist loom. It was lovely and I used it with abandon . . . only to find that that company is gone, too, and the perfect yarn for dish towels is gone forever!

  17. great story and makes me wonder what will happen with all of my stuff when I am gone… the things I gathered on a whim and worked with for a short period before moving on to something new… may Mrs. Jones’ loom be used to make beautiful things. Peace.

  18. Oh my, what an exciting find! I am delighted that this lovely lady Mac will be living out her sunset years in your care. Looms are meant to be used and I hate to think how many end up languishing unwanted and unloved. So nice to think that this one will be all warped up again and happily productive. I cannot wait to see what you do with her. It saddens me too to see that decline of textile production in this country during our lifetimes. We’ll have to keep it going on a cottage-industry level. Nice to know Macomber is still making beautiful looms. I think they are in Maine now. As for Mrs. Jones, what an intriguing glimpse you have into a part of her life. I suspect you are right and weaving just didn’t take for her. I wonder why she held on to the loom and all that stash for so many years, though. Too bad she didn’t write a blog!!

    • Macomber is in Maine now and still very helpful! This old loom is still in such good shape–even if she didn’t use it much, she kept it safe. I’m always surprised to see how many looms are for sale on Craigslist and other listings–I could become a crazy loom lady, in addition to the cats!

  19. Oh my gosh, look at all those sample cards and colors. I would be in heaven. There is something so appealing about this collection. It’s easy to see why you’re pleased with that haul. Does this loom doing something different from the others, or is it a chance to have more than one project going at the same time? I’m really sorry to hear that the textile museum closed. Sigh.

    • No, the loom doesn’t do one single thing the others don’t do! But one of the looms Don uses is really quite quirky and annoying so he was looking for something more reliable–and I do believe we found it! All the other stuff we got along with the deal was gravy–and, as usual, the gravy was the yummiest part of the meal!

  20. Good to have a loving home after all those years. Someone shall say the same about my odd assortment of musical instruments purchaced in my 30’s, when I have money, time, no spouse, etc. Did I have talent for music? Only my CD collection plays in tune (But according to my wife, not the progressive jazz stuff that sounds like tuning saxophones). Happy weaving. -Oscar

    • My husband has quite the collection of musical instruments, too–they currently serve as decor. And I’m with your wife re: progressive jazz . . . ick.

  21. The loom looks awesome. It’s wonderful that the loom found its way to your home. I’m looking forward to reading future posts about your weaving experiences with it. It’s interesting how the “extras” provide clues about the previous owner.

  22. Good detective work and you know how to tell a story. A new hobby is so exciting, and we like to buy all the “stuff”. And then, after awhile, sometimes we move on. It does mention handwork as one of Mrs. Jones pastimes, so she liked to be creative, as well as being an earthy sort of woman getting out in nature. If she tried weaving for 12 years before it was all packed away, that’s a considerable amount of time. Or maybe she only worked at it for a year or two and then it just sat in a spare room.
    How terrific for you to have the loom, the yarns, and a piece of history too!

    • You’re right about our homies and how they can get away from us. My equivalent to Mrs. Jones’s loom is jewelry making equipment. Tons of excellent equipment . . . gathering dust.

  23. Congratulations on your new loom-mate! I look forward to seeing how she fits into your home and life and the textiles Don creates on her. Mrs. Jone’s treasure box of samples, yarns, tools and books/mag is fabulously fun and beautiful walk into her life as a weaver. Though it appears she didn’t weave for many years, it is a pity that that her handwovens weren’t sold with this trove of treasures. As always, I delighted in your writing equally as much as your discoveries. You have a real gift of words and imagination. In fact, I see the possibility of a short story or novel coming out of this amazing find. I look forward to the next chapter of Mrs Jone’s loom/threads along with other delights you find along your path!

    • Hi, Tammy! It’s so good to hear from you! The “extras” that came with this loom were what really got me going–I mean most looms are basically the same but all this extra stuff was unique! The old magazines are very interesting–I need to spend more time with them. I hope you’ve been weaving and making beautiful things, too!

  24. Always happy when something old and wonderful finds new appreciation! Currently struggling with what to do with a houseful of memories since my mother passed on earlier this year – we have easily purged the junk and duplicate appliances, but what to do with the fabric scraps from the dresses she made, the out-of-style mahogany tables and hand-painted china she inherited from her mother… wish there were a museum which would give them a home, or a tea party practitioner!

  25. Kerry, as you know, I am not a weaver, nor do I “craft” much anymore. What I love about your posts is your wonderful writing style, your love and reverence for what you do, AND that you always give us the history. I adore this post and know that even if you do not know what you will do with these treasures, I know that you will do what is right. ❤

    • You’re so sweet, Laurie–what nice things you say! BTW, I’m not sure you saw this post I did before this one, because you’ve been in such a whirlwind, but it was about the quilt I’ve been making with the quotes about women’s rights–I think you’d like seeing the finished top, if you have time to go look at the post!

  26. What a great story and beautiful loom. It was a great joy to see it. My mother-in-law had a loom and she waved with it, but my wife has not loomed never. She knits, beads and make quilts – maybe these are enough. 🙂 Thank You for this lovely post.

  27. What a treasure trove! We can learn so much from earlier weavers, even those who didn’t weave much. The tools and materials they gathered tell us what was available in that day and age, and what they planned to do, what colors and patterns they liked. Enjoy your new family member and all that came with her.

    • It felt very much like treasure–I spent a few happy hours exploring and reading and wondering. The extras are almost as exciting as the loom itself.

  28. Now that you are happily settled with a new room mate, you could consider having a few more to stay……your place would be a perfect place for a weavers’ retreat. 😉 What a splendid find.

  29. Somehow I missed this post when it first came out. What a treasure! I am like you, the little bits and pieces are so fascinating and it is fun to try to put them all together into a history, whether correct or not we may never know.
    I am helping with my mother-in-law’s downsizing, mostly with about 8 giant cartons she inherited from her sister-in-law about 25 years ago, and never even looked in. The sister-in-law was a huge crafter and I am finding all kinds of threads and trims and even carding cloth! So much fun!

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