Portage River Farm

  (Pinckney, Michigan)
Notes on our struggles and successes on our family farm in rural Michigan.
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Vanishing Resolve and Loom Restoration

My wife Janet has been interested in fiber arts of one form or another as long as I have known her. She does cross-stitch and she also knits. Her specialty has mostly been knitting socks and hats. Lately she has taken an interest in weaving.

Over the winter she took a weaving class and the interest intensified. She brought home projects and proudly showed all of us the things that she had made and talked about the different weaving patterns and techniques. While I was obsessing over my farm planning, she was cruising the Internet and dreaming of owning her own loom.

On some evenings our paths would cross and we would have simultaneous one-sided conversations about our consuming interests. I would go on and on about my planting plans and farm research, no doubt an exceedingly dull topic for someone distracted by the lure of websites full of looms for sale.

True to form, I always responded to her talk of buying a loom with a predictable dissertation on our financial priorities and the laudable goal of me making a loom for her from scratch with my woodworking equipment in the garage. Undaunted by my reasoning, she correctly pointed out that it would probably be years before I would have the time to take on such a project. My weak rejoinder of "...yes, but how many opportunities will I get to build a loom for you?" had little effect.

The stalemate existed for quite a few weeks until she trumped all of my arguments by pulling the Ebay card. Wearing a skeptical expression, I leaned over her computer to peer at the image of the loom for sale. It turned out to be right here in Michigan. A glance at the very reasonable price tag and the vintage beauty of the simple loom that was advertised brought all of my objections to a swift end.

Before I knew it, I was drawn in hook, line and sinker. I asked her how much she was willing to spend on it and then I secretly put in a bid for considerably more. We impatiently watched the hours crawl past until the end of the auction and were delighted to learn that we had won. The price ended up being considerably less than either of us had been willing to spend.

I called the seller of the loom and set up a time to pick it up. That evening after work I met the man and his father at a church on the outskirts of Detroit. The loom had been purchased by them years before from an elderly woman who could no longer use it. It sat in a side-room in the church and was occasionally used by the children. Ultimately it was deemed to be taking up more floorspace than they could spare and they put it up for sale.

A stamp on the back of the loom indicates that it was built in Michigan in 1938 by an obscure and short-lived "Fredrikson pattern shop". I've been unable to find much of anything about them and would not be surprised if this is the only surviving loom of their manufacture. To my engineer/woodworker's eye it is extremely well-designed. We were able to dismantle it for transport without any tools as the entire thing is cleverly held together with simple wedges.

Unfortunately the loom is missing a few critical pieces. The previous owners confessed that they accidentally gave away the frames, heddles and supporting pulleys with another loom that they had sold earlier. I didn't really mind because the missing pieces creates an opportunity for me to employ my woodworking skills without being too big of a project.

Janet and I spent a few nights reading up on the finer points of loom design. We concluded that our new loom is a "counterbalance" design and is extremely similar to one sold by a Swedish loom company called Glimakra. After sketching out my ideas for the missing pieces, I headed out to the lumber store to pick up some maple boards for raw materials.

Now we just need to clear enough time in the crazy farming schedule for me to get those few pieces made. In the mean-time, the loom has become a conversation piece in our farmhouse living room. Janet is doing her best to withstand the wait.
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