About Traditional Weaving

Weaving, the art of making fabric by interlacing two sets of thread, is one of the fundamental skills of most societies. Today, we have automated machines that weave our fabric quickly and cheaply. But it was not always so. Until the last 200 years, fabrics were made by skilled artisans, one thread at a time. Now that we no longer have to make every bit of clothing and household fabric by hand, we have the luxury of playing at our looms. For some weavers, this means that they can create individual works of art as expressive as paintings. Others focus on one product, say rag rugs, and explore every possible manifestation. Early on, I fell in love with old patterns and designs.

When I began to learn this skill, I quickly realized that one lifetime wasn't long enough to become expert in all the many manifestations of weaving. Therefore, I decided to focus on functional items, especially those based on the traditional textiles of Kentucky. In a few cases, I try to reproduce a specific historical textile, but for the most part, I incorporate one or more traditional elements into a piece with a more contemporary function. For instance, my popular cotton baby blankets are made using an old linen toweling pattern,  and these little handbags use a traditional coverlet pattern.

For the last several years I have been working at Fort Boonesborough, a living history museum of 18th century Kentucky. There, I teach and demonstrate weaving and how it fit into the life of the frontier. I dress in 18th century clothing and make such fabrics as they would have produced, on a loom that is actually two hundred years old.

 Clothing was the primary concern for a frontier weaver, so I do a lot of plain, un-patterned yardage, which we then sell to both re-enactors and the general public. Linen and wool combined in a cloth is known as linsey-woolsey, linen and cotton is called fustian, and plain cotton was cotton or cottonade, the latter being of lower quality. Fancy fabrics would have been special items made as gifts or for dowries. One specific type of pattern, known as overshot, was especially popular as coverlets. Such a coverlet was often the most decorative item in the frontier household as well as a warm blanket. Today, I rarely make a big coverlet, but I do use the overshot patterns extensively in other products.

A handwoven, hand-sewn fustian skirt bleaching in the sun.