Wondering about a weaver in the family

Posted March 22, 2010, at 6:45 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:25 a.m.

Someone in my family was a weaver. I know this only in retrospect based on the evidence at hand and what I saw as a teenager. I could be wrong, but I prefer to think otherwise.

I have no idea which one of my relatives knew the ins and outs of shuttles, but I suspect it was one of the women — Catherine Weeman Herrick, who married Thomas Herrick in 1810, several years before they moved from Durham to settle in Harmony. Or perhaps it was Hadassah Soule Herrick, wife of Jacob Herrick, or Delphina Remick Herrick, wife of Joseph Herrick — Jacob and Joseph were sons of Thomas and Catherine. I don’t suppose I will ever know for sure since no stories about weavers in the family have come down to me.

The first inkling — a dim one — I had that my family might have produced a weaver came when I was a teenager visiting my grandfather in Harmony in the early 1960s. Always curious, I realized I had never explored the upper floor of the small barn attached to my grandfather’s house. I went off to see what I could see. What I saw stayed with me because I didn’t understand it then, and my curiosity was piqued. I saw a large square apparatus that appeared to be hewn out of small trees, with a plank seat and a big roller, reminding me of a rolling pin, attached.

I learned that what I had seen was a floor loom of Colonial-era vintage when I saw a similar one in a museum 30 years later.

But long before my first glimpse of the old loom, there was in my life the woven indigo blue and off-white coverlet that my mother sometimes used as an extra blanket on her bed. She told me it had come to her as part of her grandfather’s things. She had been raised in his house from the time she was toddler, and after his death some of his possessions became hers, including the coverlet.

It was only after I understood about the loom that I connected it to the coverlet and began to wonder about it. Everything about the coverlet was mysterious to me. Was it woven by a woman in the Herrick family? Did the pattern have a name? Was the blue part wool and the white part linen? Why were two of the corners missing? Why was it woven in three sections, the center 26 inches wide and the sides 22½ inches wide?

I have some of the answers now: The blue part is wool. Two of the coverlet’s corners are missing because it was made to accommodate the posters of a bed. If the pattern has a name, I have not discovered it.

I also wonder — assuming that the wool was produced on the farm at the end of the Sugar Hill road — whether the wool was processed at Bartlett’s mill in Harmony, established in 1821, only a few years after the Herricks came to settle in Harmony. (The mill is still in operation today.) I like to imagine my ancestors shearing sheep and carting the fleeces to the mill with horse and wagon to be spun into hanks of yarn that the women dyed at home with indigo, then warped onto the very loom I saw in my grandfather’s barn.

When the coverlet came to me in the 1980s, it showed signs of its age. The top edge was in tatters and some of the other edges showed wear, too. Soon, I made my first mistake in my attempt to repair it. I cut off the ratty looking top edge and hemmed it by hand to prevent further deterioration. I should have left the edge as it was, thus preserving the integrity of the coverlet. Instead of cutting it, I should have basted to the damaged edge a piece of cotton cloth to prevent further wear and tear.

Live and learn.

I learned that old textiles can be fatally damaged by sunlight; I was careful to store it, rolled in an old cotton sheet, in a dark place that is neither to hot nor too cold.

The coverlet eventually will go home to Harmony to a small museum that my uncle helped establish, not very far from the mill where I like to imagine the wool in the coverlet was spun, near the house where my grandfather and great-grandfather lived. And only a few miles from the family cemetery on Sugar Hill where the Herrick women rest, silent forever about whether or not one of them was a weaver.

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