Spotlight on Maurice Blackburn
Although most of my working career was in textiles and textile machinery, it was not related to weaving. I did however have plenty of opportunities to see commercial looms in production operations.
When I was a teenager, my mother bought a four shaft table loom which I briefly tried. The real epiphany came however about six years ago visiting Asheville and seeing a magnificent looking Scandinavian floor loom in the window of the craft shop Earth Guild. Throughout my working life although I had carried out research, written thousands of reports, sold machinery, I had never made any thing with my hands. Seeing the beautiful loom in Earth Guild reminded me that I had inherited my mother's loom which was languishing in our attic. It inspired me to dig out the parts and see what I could do to have useable loom of my own, and actually to be able to make something with my own hands.
It quickly became apparent that the old loom would come nowhere near to meeting my expectations. It occurred to me that I could perhaps use parts from the old table loom to build a floor loom which would be closer to the one I had seen in Asheville. The Internet gave me valuable information on the various types of floor looms and more importantly lead me to a book entitled “Wheels and Looms: Making Equipment for Spinning and Weaving” by David Bryant. This book had plans for a four shaft floor loom which was close to what I believed I needed. The initial loom I built incorporated quite a few parts from the old table loom, but as I used the loom I kept modifying and improving it so that it now contains only one piece from the old loom.. I have subsequently built a second loom which will allow me to weave more complicated patterns.
As I became more interested in weaving I began to look around for other weavers in the area. Meeting and talking with other weavers is an important part of learning and developing ones skill. I joined the Piedmont Fiber Guild, which is the local guild devoted to Fiber Crafts. I have subsequently become its President and Webmaster. Check us out at www.piedmontfiberguild.org. I believe that whatever craft you are interested in, there is no substitute for joining the local guild whether you are a weaver, woodworker, knitter quilter, blacksmith or interested in any other of the many crafts. You can always find someone who has come up against the same problem you are currently struggling with and who knows how to resolve it.
When I started weaving, my thought was that I would only weave rugs, but as my experience broadened I became fascinated by the possibilities and beauty of many of the historically significant weaving patterns.
Even into the 19th century as industrially produced fabric become more readily available, handwoven fabrics still played a significant part in the needs of many people, however by early in the 20th century handweaving as a craft almost died out. In the 1930's the efforts by Arts and Crafts Groups, particularly in North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, searching out and learning from old weavers enabled the craft to be revived and also provided work for many mountain women who had no other source of income. Today weaving as a craft and outlet for artistic expression is thriving.
I visited Historic Latta Plantation about 1 ½ years ago and saw the loom in the house just sitting there. We tend to take fabrics for granted whether they are in garments on in bolts of cloth at the fabric stores. I thought it would be much more interesting for visitors to see someone actually weaving and to be able to see how weaving patterns are formed and learn about the history of fabric making. This is particularly important because Latta was originally a cotton plantation – cotton being a major factor in the build up of the American Textile Industry and in addition handweaving and the development of historically important weaving designs took place in the Appalachians.
I decided the way to do this was to volunteer for Special Events and to be able to not only demonstrate weaving but hopefully to pass on my enthusiasm for this craft. I have been rewarded by considerable interest from visitors and I trust I have added to the enjoyment of their visit. In addition to the loom on which I weave, we have a small table loom on which visitors, particularly children can try out their own weaving skills.
The loom on which I weave is not from the correct period, however it's close enough for demonstration purposes. Recently I have sorted through loom parts in storage at Latta and we were excited to find what appears to be two period Barn Looms. I plan to begin restoring at least one of these, so we will have a loom on site which is more appropriate to the early 19th century.