Our Maria Kipp Jacquard Loom

Our Jacquard loom belonged to the well-known weaver and designer Maria Kipp and was donated to the museum by her son after her death.

For almost ten years, this wooden loom cast a silent shadow, first in the Butler Building and then in the Weavers Barn. A man named George Engelke had contacted Bill Rafnel in the late 1990s, offering a non working Jacquard loom to the Museum. A Jacquard loom is a mechanical loom, invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1801, that simplifies the process of manufacturing textiles with complex patterns such as brocade and damask. The loom is controlled by punched cards with punched holes, each row of which corresponds to one row of the design. Multiple rows of holes are punched on each card and the many cards that compose the design of the textile are strung together in order. Consequently, the Jacquard is the forerunner of IBM computers.

In 1998, Bill Rafnel led a team who transported the loom from Los Angeles to Vista, unloaded it, put it back together, and placed the Jacquard mechanism on top. Visitors coming to the Museum paused in front of this static display and could only imagine how a loom like this might work. They peered at black and white photographs illustrating a room stacked with fabric, and a gracious woman in 1950s garb smiling into the camera. That woman was Maria Kipp, standing in her Los Angeles studio, and the Jacquard was one of the production looms used by her 20+ professional weavers to create fabrics used to design homes and businesses throughout Southern California.

In April 2010, Terry Shillito came to the Thursday Weavers lunch and introduced himself as a computer scientist. Immediately he was called on to restore this forerunner of the computer – the Maria Kipp three beam Jacquard loom – to all its glory. With the answer of “Sure”, the wheels began turning, and the following week he and Bill began collaborating. Terry examined the non-functioning Jacquard head and wrote up his impressions (which later turned out to be true!) of a fussy gear that needed a lot of nurturing in the weaving process. With a goal of “reducing the fussiness”, he began to stabilize and clean the gear. A few months later, members Dale and Stefanie Shore arrived to join Terry in loom restoration. All three worked to determine the mechanics and align the head. Dale built new wooden parts to replace missing ones, and braced and realigned the shims. Stefanie redid the cords and tie-ups and reheddled the harnesses, and Terry retied the harness cords to the warp threads.

Stefanie was fascinated by Maria Kipp and began researching her career, the patterns, and the fabrics still found in antique stores and in museums in Los Angeles and San Bernardino. She found and contacted Susie Henzie, a well known fiber artist living in Los Angeles who had written about Maria Kipp and owned another of her production looms.

Dale was intrigued by the name of the person who donated the loom – George Engelke, son of Maria Kipp. Was he the same George Engelke who had been his mechanical engineering professor at Cal Poly Pomona? A phone call confirmed it was one and the same. George was very interested to learn that work was underway to make the Kipp loom a working loom, and in January 2011, he traveled to AGSEM to see the results.

George provided a wealth of information on the history of the loom and the role it played in his life. Maria Kipp made all her looms and the Museum’s loom was her only Jacquard loom. Maria designed all the patterns that turned into fabric with the help of those punched cards, in the same way computers work today. In fact, George stated that if his mom had lived longer, she “would have gone to the next step – computers!”

George's job as a youth and young man was to punch the cards, working first from a paper pattern, and later, as his skill grew, creating the cards simply from the description his mother would give on what she wanted to see as the final pattern. “I spent many a spring vacation punching holes,” he said, “with one punch tool and a hammer.” And even when he became Dale’s professor at Cal Poly Pomona, he would go on up to the shop on Saturdays to “fix things”. George got a kick from examining the paper patterns and punched cards on top of Jacquard loom. He marveled at the initial fabric sample of a yellow and cream diamond pattern in cotton chenille that Terry, Dale, and Stefanie had woven on the loom using the Jacquard head and the original punched cards that had been in the head for over 20 years. It was an exact replica of a piece still on the loom when it arrived in 1998.

George reminisced about his mother’s life and career. Maria Kipp was born in Germany in 1900, and in 1920 was the first woman to attend the 66-year old State Academy for the Textile Industry in Bavaria. In her autobiography, she wrote that she studied Oriental carpets, tapestries, damasks, and upholstery, focusing on structural analysis of textiles and “adapting curved lines”. After his mother moved to Los Angeles in 1924, George explained how she first became known to early 20th century architects Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra by painting murals at Los Angeles’ City Hall. She began her weaving career in 1926 decorating lamps and trash cans, and soon became known as the “first designer-craftsman to produce custom hand woven materials for decorators and architects throughout the United States “(Howell). In her 51-year career, lasting until 1977, she created fabrics used for draperies and upholstery in the homes of Bob Hope, Loretta Young, Frank Sinatra, Walt Disney, and many more. Maria Kipp died in 1988, and the shop was closed in the 1990s. Without his mother’s design inspirations, George explained, there were no new looks and the business languished. The shop, built in the 1950s, was at 3425 West First Street in Los Angeles, and now, fittingly, is the home of an artist, according to George. The former showroom is a living room, and the dye room is now the dining room. George now has what he estimates are “thousands” of his mother’s “samples” in his garage. Maria Kipp was dedicated to providing work for her weavers, and in lean times would have them do samples to be used later when designers would present fabric choices to their clients.

George told us how he was “in awe” when he thinks about his mother and what she did – taking care of her son and husband, and running a successful business. We Museum Weavers are also in awe, and treasure George, the memories he shared of his mother, and his donation – our wonderful example of production weaving in the mid 20th century, now operational due to the efforts of our wonderful Museum Weavers Terry, Dale, and Stefanie.

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