New Life for an Old Loom

With Guest Blogger Tom G.

"Barn Loom"
Loom as set up in the museum store. Waiting patiently for a forever home.

Little did my wife and I plan on a project when we went to visit the Fort at No. 4 in July of 2018. We had been meaning to visit and we were finally going to make the trip from Enfield, NH, for a visit.

[Let me begin by saying that] we are novice spinners and weavers. We process our fleece from raw fleece right off the sheep with the skirting and cleaning, washing, picking, carding and then spinning it. We currently have a Harrisville 36” jack loom.  I have a full wood shop and I’m not afraid of projects or pushing the envelope or my knowledge a bit and do enjoy it. I’ve made my own spinning wheel so the possibility of taking on a barn loom restoration was not out of the question.

Loom with rebuild tags
Loom as it sat in the museum store. The tape pieces are for disassembly and reassembly.

So back to our visit to the fort. When we went in to the visitor center to get our tickets we saw an old loom in the process of coming back together. It was obviously very old and was interesting to see and feel the history of it. Guess you could say it spoke to us.

We toured the fort and then went to the upstairs quarters where a working barn loom is in place. We were the only ones there and the weaver was weaving a beautiful piece. We talked with him and asked a ton of questions on how the counter balance loom works versus our Harrisville jack loom. He mentioned that the loom we saw in the shop was going to be sold. I didn’t really give it a thought since we have our loom and are happy with it.

loom beng loaded on trailer
The loom, broken down like a large jig saw, and loaded onto the trailer.

We returned to the visitor center on the way out and were looking again at the loom and were casually talking to the Director about it. She mentioned that it was for sale. My wife looked at me and said we should get it.

Needless to say I was shocked. Usually my wife is the one who has to reign me in and generally talk reason. I wasn’t sold on the idea but she kept saying you can fix it up and get it going again. It seemed to have all of the
parts and anything that might be missing I could re make.

Metal reed before cleaning
Metal reeds prior to cleaning.

The people at the fort thought the loom was probably made up of parts from other looms and might date from the 1850 to 1870 range. Some obvious things had been updated to more modern pieces. The multiple reeds were more current, the harnesses were metal with metal heddles. These I viewed as improvements and would help to make it more functional for our needs. So we bought the loom that day and arranged to come back with our trailer to pick it up.

Metal heddles
Metal heddles.

My God what had I gotten myself into. We picked the loom up and back in Enfield took it into my basement shop to begin the task at hand. Oh that it would have been that easy…

In the meantime we decided to move closer to my daughter and grand kids in the Haverhill NH area. So much for fixing the loom and getting it in place in the Enfield house. The project would have to wait a bit while we moved.

What can you say about moving other than it is always a huge pain in the neck or other parts of the human anatomy further south. We packed and did the move in the fall of 2018. Even that can’t be easy though. We moved into a 1775 house. It’s in pretty good shape but let’s face it, a 1775 house requires some ongoing work and upgrades that we wanted to accomplish. First I had to get my shop back up and usable for the house projects and also it would be needed for the loom project.

Reassembly of the loom in process.

With the house under control I started the loom project during the winter of 2019. Each piece was cleaned and wiped down with one of my favorite things for old wood, linseed oil and turpentine. It lights up the natural beauty of the wood as well as feeding it. The original rock maple looked glorious after being cleaned. The old patina came alive. New temporary oak hardwood wedges had to also be made up for the joints. I’ll be making up new ones out of walnut that will blend better with the dark patina of the original wood. The reeds and harnesses were pretty rusty so I used my spot sandblast unit to clean them up and then re tape the heads on the reeds. Now it was time to start the assembly.

reassembled loom
The loom reassembled.

This is one of those projects where you wish you had multiple arms. The loom sides were assembled and then key cross members were placed to hold the whole thing together. It’s amazing how heavy the rock maple sides were. Beeswax was used on the cloth and warp beam ends and they
were mounted. Now with the parts of the loom in place I could start to tweak
everything. I used at least 8 ratchet straps to start to pull everything together. As I went I tapped in the joint wedges and after a time everything fit and was aligned. Now on to the cloth and warp beams.

new lambs
Pick up roll and new lambs.

[The loom] originally had old cloth on the [pickup] rolls to tie [up threads or ends]. I knew I wanted to use an approach like our jack loom used. I attached nylon straps to the rolls and wrapped them around the beam and terminated on a steel rod that I can easily tie up the warp to and adjust the initial tension.

A purist might say it’s not original but we want to use this loom and some modern advances are just better. This loom was a 4 treadle loom with no lams and I knew I wanted lams on it. I used walnut to make the lams and I clamped them to the side of the loom. Right now I’m using loops around the treadles and lams for tie up. I’ll be changing that to a better method down the road. I also made up horses for the harnesses. I started to tie up everything and was using cotton cord but it was proving to be very difficult to align everything. I finally after some time and frustration purchased Teksolv cord and pegs. The Teksolv allowed me to tie up everything evenly.

loom with test weave
Test weave on the loom.

We’ve done a test weaving on the loom and have been very pleased with the results. We are looking forward to weaving some rag rugs for the house. Seems fitting that a 1775 house should have an old barn loom sitting in a room and making things to be used in it. We’ve also found a few things to tweak on the loom and I’m sure we’ll continue to modify and improve things as we use the loom more. After all … a person has to have some projects to do, right? We’re sure the original user would be amazed and pleased that their loom was still being used in 2020.

Post Script.  The English style loom, whose recent adventures are chronicled above, came to the museum, as so many items have, because of a house clean out. The loom owner/donor gave two options for the lovely old loom, find it a new home, or "go to the burn pile." While the museum has a abundance of looms and did not need more, we did not want it to go on the fire either. It was agreed that the loom would be donated to the fort as salable inventory. This story begins just after we set the loom up within the museum's book store.  We are please that the life of the loom continues and hope that it is enjoyed and is fruitful for years to come.