Root Looms – Part 2

In my last post, I wrote about the gorgeous old root looms made by Finnish craftsmen. If you’d like to learn more about root looms and rug weaving, I highly recommend a visit to The Iron County Historical Society Museum in Hurley, Wisconsin.

The Iron County Historical Museum in Hurley, in the former county courthouse building.

In 1980 two families donated old looms to the museum, which focuses on the history of Iron County and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Three of the all-volunteer staff—Director Nellie Kopaz, Ursula Schram, and Lillian Kostac—decided to showcase the importance of rug-making in the region not only by displaying the looms, but by demonstrating weaving. The group began making rugs in 1981.

Don’t you love this photo from the early 1980s? A team of volunteers (including Nellie Kopaz, in the black sweater) is warping a beautiful old loom. (Courtesy Iron County Historical Museum)

The loom collection grew. Several fabulous old examples show how different craftsmen used what was available to make unique looms.

This loom is over a century old. The curving supports were made from a single bent tree that was cut in half. The pieces were pegged together, and the gears also carved from wood.

(Photo by Julie Morello)

The painted loom below was built in 1912 by Alrick Johnson and August Abrahamson Luusa. A descendant of the recipient recalled helping his grandmother when she worked on rugs—and also noted that the loom provided a great hiding place for young children!

(Photo by Julie Morello)

Another talented woodworker; another style.

(Photo by Julie Morello)

Forty years after museum volunteers began making rag rugs, the program continues strong. Guests are welcome to meet some of the workers and learn more about the weaving process.

The weaving room.

Tons of clean fabric are donated to the museum each year. Workers sort the cloth by type and color, cut it into strips, and sew them together to provide the weft.

The cutting & sewing table.
This pretty rug was one of many underway during my visit.

Rug sales support the museum.

Lots of sizes and colors to choose from!

In The Weaver’s Revenge, the 11th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, Chloe attends a cutting bee where local weavers have gathered to prepare their strips. The woman hosting the bee explains,

“You know what I love most about weaving? This. Just a bunch of neighbor-women sitting around the old woodstove in somebody’s kitchen drinking coffee and preparing their rags. It’s sociable.”

That camaraderie seems to define the good energy in the Iron County Historical Society’s weaving room as well. And that’s an important part of the story.

Busy day in the weaving room, some time in the 1990s.

Special thanks to Julie Morello for her help with this post. Her parents, Doris and Hank, were longtime museum volunteers. Doris is of Finnish descent and wanted to learn how to weave. In the photo above, she’s on the left, preparing cloth. She also helped preserve the tradition of braiding wool rugs, as shown below. Hank’s many tasks included loom repair and assembling donated looms that arrived in pieces. Thanks to the Morellos—and all of the museum volunteers who make things happen!


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6 Responses to “Root Looms – Part 2”

  1. Nijole Says:

    Thank you for this wonderful story. I bought a rug there many years ago. Nijolė

  2. janekirkpatrick Says:

    Fabulous tour!!! Thank you. Looking forward to the book!! Miss seeing you. Hoping you are well. Will you run against Tom Johnson? I’d come to Wisconsin to campaign for you👏👏👏. Jane

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. kbretl31 Says:

    A knitting friend recommended The Weaver’s Revenge to me when I mentioned that I’d love to learn to make rag rugs, at a recent knitting gathering. I just finished reading it and couldn’t have enjoyed it more!!! My mother was born in Hurley, WI (she worked at the Iron County Courthouse back in the 50s) and my father was born in Ontonagon, MI. All of their grandparents arrived from Finland in the late 1800s to early 1900s, so I especially got lost in the history involving Laine and Matti, imagining what life must have been like for them. I truly enjoyed reading about some of the places I’ve visited since I was a girl; I appreciated reading about foods and traditions of the Finns; and I look forward to visiting some new places like the Hanna Homestead Finnish Museum!!! Thank you for this treasure of a book!!!

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Thanks so much for connecting! I’m delighted to hear that The Weaver’s Revenge resonated with you. It was a privilege to step into the Finnish-American world, and share some stories with readers. I write to honor those who came before, and am in awe of the Finnish immigrants.

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