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:
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:
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 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:
Karen also collects antique weaving tools, including shuttles, bobbins, and pirns (used to hold the thread or yarn inside the shuttle.)
This particular antique shuttle is lined on the inside with fur, to keep the correct tension on the thread:
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:
And this Japanese loom, used to weave the Saga Nishiki form. The weft is silk thread and the warp is paper :
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.