Monday, 3 July 2017

Oldest Loom Still Working

        On holiday in Totnes, Devon, last year we saw an old loom through the museum window. Sadly, the museum wasn't open that day.
        This year I was able to visit the museum and look more closely at the ancient loom, believed to be the oldest still around and 'working'.
         From the year 1600 or thereabouts, the wood is black and it's age shows in the gnarled surface but the loom can still be operated - with care. With only 2 shafts it would have been used to weave the simplest of cloth.

         I was interested to see that the reed had been constructed to allow double the number of selvedge threads to be threaded individually, although, the reed is not  the same width as the maximum possible for the size of loom.


     The other thing that caught my attention was the eyelets in the heddles. They are quite thick, made of metal, fixed to the heddle frame with cord.
The museum had interesting information on the Totnes wool trade which 'developed early and by 1253 its 'russet' manufacture provided a cover for the King's bed. Export trade expanded with the development of 'straights', a poor cloth made from short coarse wool not good enough for the standard English broadcloth. In tudor times merchants turned to the manufacture of 'kerseys' of much better quality.' Dyes became more varied, to the reds and russets made from madder, browns and reds from lichens, three shades of blue were added using woad.
   Merchants arranged the distribution of wool to the spinners and weavers were employed working in their own homes. Fulling (finishing) of the cloth was done by 'tuckers' in their little mills. To remove loose material and secure an even surface, the cloth was stretched on tenterhooks. This was done in public places to avoid trickery in increasing the yardage.
   By about 1700, serges were the chief fabrics produced in Devon but the great days of the Devon cloth trade were already on the decline which was hastened by the use of machinery.'
   This information has prompted me to research the terms used - straights, kerseys, tuckers. I will post more of this later, I hope.

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