Kilvaree Croft Ewes

Explorations in Fiber and Weaving History

A few years ago I took a Weavers' Guild of Boston workshop on the rare breed sheep of Britain. I was enchanted and, for the assigned project I made an exhaustive internet search for sources of different breeds. One breed I sought was Soay and their history. In the mid 1900's Britain awoke to the fact that some of their breeds were disappearing and did a census, identifying rare and endangered breeds. Among them was the Soay, remaining in a ferral state on a tiny island in the St Kilda group off the west Scottish coast. This tough, primative breed has molting coats that do not need shearing. The story of their tenacious survival is haunting; many breeds have not made it. The photo above is from a video on Kilvaree Croft. Visit the site and also look at their prehistoric reproduction iron age vases and bowls - spare and beautiful.  For more information:  |

From the Mountain, Cashmere Yarn

I discovered this Chapel Hill, NC, based organization in 2015 while searching for something else on the internet. FTM sources unique, handmade, fair trade goods from around the world. From Afghanistan, comes cashmere yarn spun by women who support themselves and their children with this work. Photo, lower right, shows women employing drop spindles which require skill and patience.  The two ply yarns come in four sorted natural colors and three weights.

The  spinning project was facilitated by a USAID project to teach men and women goat herders to comb the under coat from the animal yielding the coveted soft fiber, without expensive de-hairing equipment.

With their light weight yarn I’ve gently woven long scarves to wind round and round your neck.   The fabric is oh-so-soft!

Two Scarves



Goat Herders Combing Goat

Spinning w/ Drop Spindles

top: USAID News Oct 2009
bottom: FTM website

Rare Breed Sheep Study

The rare breed sheep workshop alluded to above, given by Margaret Russell, required weaving an article in the yarn of a rare British breed. I chose a blend of Teeswater and Wensleydale, both rated "next-to-skin." A vigorous fulling is needed to make this wool that soft.  I elected to full lightly to keep the original character of the wool while still producing a garment that is comfortable over a shirt.  The accent yarn is burgundy-dyed Gotland.  The weave is Crystal, i.e., Dornick Twill diamonds. 

The photo below is of scoured and conditioned skeins drying.  The wool lightened to white touched faintly with gold, crimpy and lusterous.  The resulting shawl has almost the drape and movement of linen.

Teeswater Skeins Drying

Teeswater Shawl

Shawl wraps Gleason Library raven on a winter's day

Carlisle Historical Society Antique Loom Project

One golden afternoon along about September, 2015, I spent an afternoon with Philip Drew, president of the Carlisle Historical Society, assembling the frame of an antique loom.  It had been donated by a local resident  and, as is usual with these venerable looms, it was missing a few parts.  I was astonished though that all the shafts and treadles were intact.   In fact, the shafts were threaded with 700 hand tied heddles.   Below left is the whole loom, minus a breast beam, and to the left a raddle leaning against the frame, and on the floor shaft pair with the string heddles. 

Loom Frame
Wood, heddles, before washing
Reinvented Warp Beam Brake
New prototype warp brake and second holder (light wood)
Old wood washed & revealing lovely grain, not yet oiled

The warp beam brake was entirely missing; only the curved holder for it remained. A large stained hole suggested a second holder was used to keep the brake stick in its track.  A system of cords, suggested by a number of possible guide holes, permitted the weaver to advance the warp from the bench.  The cord to set the brake wraps the warp beam axle. The holes drilled into the lower castle, proved less useful as guides than not using them.  We don't know if they were used or not - perhaps the first weavers found them marginal as well.

The donor was told by the seller that this is an 18th c. rug loom.  Scratch marks on the beater indicate the loom was used for linen.  Two loom historians have identified the loom as French Canadian Acadian (southeast Canada), perhaps pre-1820. Acadians during this period were quite poor and probably the loom was used primarily for necessities and floor rugs would have been low priority.  Possibly bed ruggs for warmth were meant.  Recently, a visitor to the historical society informed us that there was a group of Acadian immigrants in West Concord, MA.  In fact, further research reveals that New England had thousands of Acadian immigrants both well before and after 1850.  So the loom could have come from a wide area, possibly even fairly local.

The wood being used for new parts is reclaimed heartwood pine to match the old wood as closely as possible  Old wood has been oiled (below) with linseed oil to seal.  The guiding principles during rehab are to not repair things that can function, to avoid any change that can't be undone, and to retain anything removed for display.

New Breast Beam New breast beam being fitted

New Castle Tops
New castle tops to replace damaged ones
Repaired Back Brace Tenon
Repaired back brace tenon

As of May, 2017, we have assembled the pulleys, shafts, heddles, horses, and dressing the loom with a coarse woolen, such as would have been used for a blanket, is in progress.  We used the raddle, threading it in advance, to spread the warp as it is wound onto the warp beam. 

Threading Raddle
Threading 1" bundles of warp
through the raddle in advance.
Ready to Beam On
Ready to beam on:
Raddle is hung from castle top behind shafts. Two people
then wind the warp under tension onto the warp beam.

Blanket in one of the society's several cradles