Our Oldest Barn Loom

Our oldest loom – a four harness barn loom – was donated by Museum Weaver Karen Greeley. Karen started weaving 35 years ago while living in the West Virginia mountains near Cherry Grove in Pendleton County. Karen’s neighbors still lived in the old ways – working their farms, raising their own food, and using outhouses and cranked telephones. Workshops on local customs – woodworking, music, and storytelling – were going on in the summer of 1973, and Karen learned that weaving had been a traditional craft. Karen became interested in an old loom in an adjacent farmhouse. The loom was owned by Mrs. Virginia Armentrout, and had belonged to her great-grandmother’s parents. Her great-grandmother Sidney Wimer Harper, born in 1826 when the area was still part of Virginia, used the loom as did Virginia’s grandmother, Eliza Harper, and Virginia’s mother, Sallie Harper Hedrick.

The Harper family wove wool blankets, rag carpet, and cloth for their clothes. They also grew flax and wove linen hand towels and tablecloths. Sidney even passed down a draft dated February 17, 1846 on how to make a cover lid "peach seed" design.

By 1973, the loom had fallen into disrepair, but when Karen inquired about fixing it, she was told by some of the local people that you could not weave on these looms anymore. Karen took that as a challenge, restoring the loom, purchasing it from Mrs. Armentrout, and going on to help local women restore seven different looms. She also learned to spin and dye. In West Virginia Karen had two shops, and also a place in Washington DC that bought goods woven on barn looms.

When Karen returned to California, however, the pace of life was different, the loom was large, and there was no room to set it up. She stopped weaving for many years. In the summer of 2007, Karen started thinking about what to do with Virginia’s loom. She felt responsible for it, could not stand to have it just stored in the garage, but knew no one who would want it. By chance, she saw an article in the weekly Fallbrook paper about the new Museum Weavers Barn. "I was in heaven when I walked in", Karen said, "and this got me back interested in weaving again." Karen donated Virginia's loom to the Museum.

Virginia wrote to Karen when she learned the news, "I am so glad you still have it and want to put it into a museum to preserve it." Now this 1840s era loom is the oldest in the Museum Weavers collection.

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