• Betty Kujawa

Our 100 year old Loom


Beverly (my mother) has been the driving force behind my fiber art interest and habit. In 1980, our young military family moved to a small farm in north central Kansas. Every winter the ice storms that accompanied the blizzards, would knock out power and closed school and work.

With no electrical heat in the go house, we would place quilts and heavy wool blankets on the three doors going out of our living room from the rest of the house to keep out the cold out. With our wood burning stove going strong in the living room, it was "camp out time". The sleeping bags came out, the Jiffy Pop popcorn in the handled tin pan was a lovely, daily snack and I learned to crochet. Mom would get out all the odds and ends left over pieces of yarn and thus started our "blizzard" afghan era. I've got to admit, they were pretty ugly. But, they were fun, kept us warm and I learned many a crochet stitch.

Fast forward some 30ish years...

ME: "Hey mom, got a crazy idea...I'm thinking of getting alpacas so I can make my own yarn, whatcha think?"

MOM: "Betty Marie!" long pause as I knew I would get the 'what are you thinking speech, because you know the use of your middle name means that'...."Oh, I could finally learn to weave!"

The first loom I bought for mom (er...our Alpaca business) was a 1920 Union Special Loom for $300.oo. It's sole purpose in life is to make rugs. It is an antique (which we both love antiquing) and it is a work BEAST! Sure she has a few blemishes and needed a little lovin, but who doesn't at that age?!


Quick side bar: The Union Loom Works was founded in 1918. John Elsaser, the Union Loom Works founder, was taught to weave by his grandfather, who had been a weaver at a time when hand weaving was a financially practical craft. In 1921 John Elsaser and his three sons incorporated this company in Boonville, N.Y. producing looms, small furniture, and employing 160 workers.

There were 3 basic designs, a hobbyist loom called the Union Home Loom, The Union Special Loom (a 36" weaving width loom, and thus most popular), and the Union Custom with a weaving width of 45 inches. From the beginning all Union Looms were designed with rug making in mind. The family dissolved the corporation in 1930, a result of the Great Depression. One son, Ben, continued the manufacturing of the looms as a private business until 1969. Over the years, the price of the 36" ranged from $29.50 to $110.00. Over 40,000 looms were sold.


Once we cleaned the pieces and oiled them, we put her together. We replaced the old rusty heddles with a larger eye heddle, replaced the dent as well as it was too rusted out to save. We replaced one chain that connected the two treadles to the two harnesses as it was broken and too short for proper movement of the harnesses.






The original apron was present, but it would of torn with the first tension round-so that got remade.
















The original rattle crank was missing, so we figured out (after several failed versions) how to adapt an old handle to fit. The female piece was like a jigsaw puzzle, a weird square with a little ear cut out. Fun.













I found a replica of the warping guide (www.greatnorthernweaving.com) once I stumbled across the original Union loom manual on eBay, and how to use it. Lifesaver!!
















The rattle to wrap the warp around-so many cranks equals number of yards. The more spaces between the spokes you wind warp onto, the wider your rug.

















Tying onto the peg of the next section of warp before we crank to wrap on. My job is usually to keep tension on the threads and watch the spokes so the threads don't jump over into the next section. The warping guide moves along the beam as we go to the next section.


















The warp will come out to the right and go under the back beam and head back to the left and towards the heddles by being on top of the beam.






















This is the original metal wrap thread guide with it's eyes. The base wood piece that is attached to both sides the the loom looks like a different wood with screws, so doubt that it is original, but could be.









The long metal handle leaning towards the right is the locking mechanism for the rattle spokes. This metal piece runs to the other side of the loom and has 2 "fingers" or are they sprockets?, one for each end.





This pawl piece is on the inside of the front section of the loom. It's job, with it's handle, is to keep tension on the front apron and to wind to rug as you create your length onto the front bar or take up beam.


The handle can be seen in the above picture better. It's in front of the beater bar pointing towards the floor.



Thanks mom for being you. I love our rugs and it is a wonderful handmade product to showcase another aspect of our alpaca's fiber.


To all the other Union looms out there, whether still in use or hiding somewhere, I appreciate your legacy and hope to see more of you.


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