Barn Frame Loom Reconstruction Adventure | Part 1: Welcome, Loom April 22, 2019 17:07

Part 1: Welcome, Loom

Last October, an antique barn frame loom came into our possession at the Bates Mill. These large, historic looms got their name from the mortise and tenon joints used in their construction - one of the same types of joinery used in post and beam barn framing. From what our research turns up, it seems as though many of these looms were built some time between the late 1700's and early 1900's. Because of their size, these looms were too large to be used indoors and were often set up in barns. This point gives us another possible reason behind their name. Every part of a barn frame loom was constructed by hand, making each loom completely unique. Pegs and beams are hand carved, so every joint has an individualized fit, and the string heddles on the harnesses were hand knotted out of a strong cotton twine. It's very impressive.

A barn frame loom fully set up (above).  This beautiful loom is a result of Boothbay Railway Village's Barn Frame Loom Restoration Project.

Our beloved "new" loom arrived disassembled, after being in storage for quite a few years. In the coming months, our designer hopes to get it back up and running in a cleared out corner of her office (lucky for her, her office is one of the biggest in the mill...because this thing is huge! And we don't have a barn to store it in.)

The first step in the slightly daunting task of reconstruction was to do some research and to go through the parts pile (because of course, there are no assembly instructions included!). Most everything looks in good shape, however, we do have a few things to clean up and possibly replace before getting started. The most important piece that we're missing is the cloth beam. This part helps lock the frame into place and is what the finished cloth rolls onto during the weaving process. We have several leads for obtaining this long-lost part, but we're not sure how it will play out just yet.  

Of course, there is plenty that can be done to work toward our goal while figuring out the best route to take with the cloth beam. One fairly monotonous task will be remaking some of the heddles, which we plan to do in the traditional fashion. To get into a little loom anatomy, the heddles serve to separate warp threads as the harnesses (or shafts) go up and down. This up and down motion creates the shed, which is what the weft yarn must pass through during the weaving process. Each warp thread is threaded through one heddle eye. All of the heddles are located on the harness frames, as shown in the photo below. Stay tuned for Part II of our "Barn Frame Loom Reconstruction Adventure" blog series, which will include our process of making the heddle jig as well as the heddles themselves!

The string heddles on our loom harnesses.

We'd like to recognize and thank the Marshfield School of Weaving, which has been an incredible resource for us as we've been getting our bearings. Pictured above is a book written by Kate Smith of Marshfield on warping and dressing barn frame looms, which should come in handy! We'd also like to thank Boothbay Railway Village for taking the time to meet with our designer last fall and allowing her to take photos of their barn frame loom all set up - the pictures will be a great reference of what-goes-where.

If these historical looms and their use in New England is something that interests you, please follow our summer/fall blog series documenting the adventure of reconstructing and setting up our loom - if you haven't already guessed, we're kicking the blog series off with this post! Additionally, here's another similar blog post series from 2016 on the subject, which we found very inspiring.