Root Looms – Part 1

Chloe was transfixed by the unique weaving apparatus dominating the space. “I love your loom!” she breathed.  Unlike other antique looms she’d seen, all crafted with straight and soulless support beams, this one gloried in knotholes and grain and flowing curves.  (From the 11th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Weaver’s Revenge.)

For centuries, woodworkers in Finland created what they needed with what they could acquire from local forests. Clever craftsmen considered even crooked trees, or those with deformities in roots or branches. These curves and angles were ideal for many elements of plows, boats…and weaving looms.

Kaarina Passila, weaver (Finnish Heritage Agency)

When Finnish immigrants began settling in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, the tradition of making “root looms” continued.

Root loom on display at Finlandia University’s Finnish American Heritage Center. This loom was made in the Jacobsville, MI area over a century ago.

Here’s how a loom maker describes his work in The Weaver’s Revenge:

I do appreciate a good tree. A bad carpenter works against the tree. Just cuts the dang thing down and wants everything to look like it came off an assembly line. What I do is look for roots and trunks and branches that bend a certain way. Something others might see as a deformity, I see as the structure of a loom. 

Root loom on display at Finlandia University’s Finnish American Heritage Center.

Root looms are big and heavy and featured beaters hanging from an overhead frame. The size and weight make it possible for weavers to create firm, durable rugs. In the photo above, the loom’s reed (middle of the photo), which keeps warp threads evenly spaced, is made of actual reed material. (Later looms featured metal reeds.) Weavers grasped the horizontal wooden bar on top of the reed to bang every strip of cloth tight.

In The Weaver’s Revenge, a weaver helps Chloe understand why Finnish rugs are special:

Chloe touched the iron rod affixed to the beater bar. “What’s this for?”

Betty slid onto the bench. “Chloe, I want to show you why Finnish weavers are known for the quality of their rugs. After every shuttle pass I beat four times, twice with my hands at the edges of the bar, twice with them in the center.” She demonstrated, banging hard enough to make the loom shudder. “The iron rod adds extra weight.” 

“I’ve never seen that technique.”

Betty looked pleased. “Some gift shops sell rugs you could poke a finger through. Our rugs are tight. That’s why these big heavy root looms are so important. You can’t beat hard enough with one of those flimsy modern looms.”

Historians note that, in general, Finnish rag rugs are beaten so tightly that the warp threads virtually disappear, as in the example below.

(Finnish Heritage Society)

Root looms were an important element of the Finnish rug weaving tradition. It was fun to spotlight these looms—and their makers—in The Weaver’s Revenge. Coming in May!

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5 Responses to “Root Looms – Part 1”

  1. Nijole Says:

    This is fascinating!!Nijolė

  2. Kathleen W Says:

    Wow!

  3. Root Looms – Part 2 | Sites and Stories Says:

    […] « Root Looms – Part 1 […]

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