The birthplace of Beekman 1802 linens
The birthplace of Beekman 1802 linens

This past weekend we were invited to the studio of Karen Tenney, a master hand loom weaver. It was one of the first warm days of the year, and Karen and her husband  baked the most delicious cinnamon rolls that could be smelled from the porch of their historic Victorian home. Throughout the photos in this entry, notice the “striped” floorboards, original to the house.  The floorboards alternate between lightly stained and dark, in true Victorian decorative style.

The year The Beekman Mansion was built, 1802, was a watershed year for weaving around the world. While the first power loom was invented in 1785, it wasn’t until William Horrocks perfected the design in 1802 that it was sold commercially, and began usurping hand weaving in Britain.

The Jacquard loom attachment was invented just one year before, in 1801, which used punchcards of a sort to create far more intricate weaving designs than ever before possible. The jacquard cards are actually considered by many to be the precursors to modern computing.

These turn of the century inventions didn’t become popular in America until the 1820s, but from the moment of their inceptions, the days of hand weaving were numbered.

Karen Tenney’s work on her hand loom is recognized around the country. Here, on her wall are some samples of an intricate weaving structure called “overshot,” commonly used to create coverlets until the mid-nineteenth century:

Handwoven Overshot
Handwoven Overshot

The organic natural cotton spools on Karen’s shelves illustrate the many varied colors of natural cotton. None of these have been dyed with any coloring:

Organic threads
Organic threads

Karen’s main looms can sometimes take up to a day to set up, depending on the intricacy of the pattern. It’s not difficult to believe once you begin to look closely at the loom itself:

The looms that create Beekman 1802 Heirloom linens
The looms that create Beekman 1802 Heirloom linens
A Beekman 1802 Baby Bath Blanket in progress
A Beekman 1802 Baby Bath Blanket in progress
An intricate craft
An intricate craft

The pattern diagrams are daunting.  The diagram across the top is the “tie up,” determining which harnesses get tied to which treadles. The diagram running down the side is the treadle order, depicting which treadles need to be stepped on in which order:

A book of historic patterns
A book of historic patterns

Karen also collects antique weaving tools, including shuttles, bobbins, and pirns (used to hold the thread or yarn inside the shuttle.)

A collection of antique weaving tools
A collection of antique weaving tools

This particular antique shuttle is lined on the inside with fur, to keep the correct tension on the thread:

Tools as unique as the craft
Tools as unique as the craft

Karen also collects smaller looms, such as this Tape Loom, which was used to weave long narrow lengths of ribbon, to be used as laces and drawstrings for clothing:

A loom for weaving ribbons
A loom for weaving ribbons

And this Japanese loom, used to weave the Saga Nishiki  form. The weft is silk thread and the warp is paper :

A Japanese loom
A Japanese loom

Karen’s work is simply amazing, and has won awards around the country:

We work with Karen to research historical  weaving patterns of the region and time frame of the construction of The Beekman Mansion.  The result is the heirloom linens in The Beekman 1802 Store.

by Josh and Brent

Reader Comments

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Dorothy

Just came across an antique shuttle at a thrift store. It was made by Watson-Williams Manufacturing in Milbury, MA. Can anyone tell me anything about it? Does it have any value other than that it is a beautifully made object that is wonderful to look at?

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Mindy

My husband and I just bought a very old loom. We are very excited about trying to re-assemble it. Can you recommend any sites that would have pictures that I could try to find some history. I would imangine it would have to be turn of the century, and it is VERY large, 100's of pounds!!!

Thank you for your time!

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Dr. Brent

Hi, Mindy

We asked our master weaver. Here's what Karen suggested:

1. Check with a local historical installation, should they live near one. I know the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, as well as the tiny Palatine House in Schoharie, both have functioning barn frame looms, so I suspect many such places do.

2. Check the Handweavers Guild of America website list of weaving guilds for one in their area:
http://www.weavespindye.org/pages/?p=a-all-guilds

There may well be a weaver close by who could assist them.

3. There's a good old book that might be helpful…it was republished by Dover in paperback, and is available. used, through Amazon marketplace for $5. Foot Powered Loom Weaving, otherwise titled Weaving with Foot Power Looms, by Edward Worst.
There is little written specifically about these old looms.

We can't wait to see what you and your husband create!

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