Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Weaver's shop at Lang.

I visited Lang Pioneer Village to volunteer at the annual vintage car show. I had a few extra minutes to check out the buildings in the village. It's been much too long since I last visited Lang. Walking around the property really makes you feel like you've been transported back to the 1800's. The buildings are very well kept, the staff are all so friendly and interesting. I spoke with one of the curators and he told me that they have special events running almost every day the village in open. During big events, such as the car show, there are over 100 staff and volunteer actors on site.

I really appreciate that the staff at Lang are so interested in showcasing the history of arts and crafts. It makes me realize how important all of these skills were in the past. People needed to know how to knit and sew and spin in order to keep their families safe and warm. They always made sure that the items they produced were functional while paying close attention to form (colour, detail, beautiful construction).

The day I visited, a rug hooking group from Northumberland was set up in the main square. I chatted with these guest artists for awhile. They taught me how to tear the fabric into thin pieces and use the hook to pull the little loops through. Their work was so intricate and I would never want to step on any of it. There were also people dying wool with natural dyes over campfires, spinning wool, blacksmithing, and dipping candles, tying brooms, and running the printing press.

I was most interested in the weaving. Lang is currently working on a new building which will house an authentic weavers shop and textile arts educational centre. The building will be two stories high to accommodate an mid 19th century Jacquard Loom. This type of loom was invented in Lyon, France in 1806. It used punch cards to control each thread in the warp. This was essential the earliest computer with the punch card technology being used until the 1980's. My old research associate told me all sorts of horrible stories about running statistical programs overnight with punch cards when the lab first opened. The Jacquard technology arrived in Ontario in 1834. It was very popular because it allowed weavers to design textiles with intricate pictures, as opposed to geometrical designs. Today there are only three Jacquard Looms in North America. The other two are at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, USA and at the Science Centre in Toronto. I think Canada is very lucky to have two of these amazing looms. Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to see the Jacquard Loom at Lang because it is currently in storage until the building is completed. I think it's a great reason to go back and visit the village.

The loom that I saw in operation was the Two Harness Maple Loom. It is an older style of loom that weaves geometric designs. I think these patterns are beautiful and simple. The woman operating the loom let me try it out. I wove a few rows. It takes your entire body to operate the foot peddles, shuttle carrying the weaving thread (in this case I was working on a carpet made of torn fabric with a heavy cotton thread warp), and push the giant, heavy comb back and forth. It really takes two people to operate the gears that roll the carpet as the length increases.

In 1851 there was a weaver living in every township in Peterborough County. Both of the looms at Lang were originally owned by Samuel Lowrey of Warsaw, Ontario. His weaving shop was in actually located in the house next door to the house I grew up in! According to the stories, he was very tall and could do all of the weaving himself. Samuel was born in Warsaw in 1862. He worked there as a weaver with the Maple Loom until 1888. He then moved to Peterborough and acquired the Jacquard Loom in order to further his business. Due to newer technology, business slowed in 1910. Samuel put his looms in storage in Peterborough and moved west and that is where the story ends. The looms remained in storage until they were discovered and given to Lang.

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