Posts Tagged ‘Root Looms’

Exciting Discovery

August 30, 2021

After the special event at the Hanka Homestead on August 21, Mr. Ernst and I made a detour so we could visit the Oulu Cultural & Heritage Center in northern Wisconsin.

When our guides took us into the tool shed, I spotted an old handmade loom reed hanging on the wall.

In the 11th Chloe Ellefson mystery, The Weaver’s Revenge, Chloe finds just such a reed in the Hanka family’s trash dump. Look at the craftsmanship!

Here’s the scene:

Chloe was about to turn away when something snagged her attention. She shoved some loose barrel staves with a foot to get a better look…and caught her breath. “Oh!” She was looking at a loom’s reed, the wide tool with evenly spaced gaps weavers used to keep warp thread spread consistently. It was filthy, the teeth caked with dried mud, but she pulled it free and regarded it with wonder. Someone in the Hanka family had been a weaver.

Chloe thought about one of those Hanka women weaving rugs for the family in that once-cozy home. She thought of her own Lake Superior rug, which she’d locked inside the Pinto that morning for safekeeping. And she thought about the immigrant women who’d brought their weaving experience with them from Finland—whatever their grandmothers had taught them about weft preparation and warp tension, about color and balance and design. Had they known that the tradition, unlike so many domestic arts, would persist through coming generations?

I used the reed in the story because of what it could suggest or reveal about the person who once used it. I wasn’t able to view one while writing the book, so this made my day.

The Center also owns a fabulous loom made entirely from a single tree. (Learn more about tree looms/root looms here and here.) It’s a thing of beauty, and educators are using it to teach the art to weaving students.

I’ll do a full blog post about the Oulu Cultural & Heritage Center later, but I hope you enjoyed a glimpse of these artifacts as much as I did!

Root Looms – Part 2

March 25, 2021

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!

 

Root Looms – Part 1

March 18, 2021

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!