Peggy Hart, Bedfellows Blankets
The woolen mills of New England are gone, but inside a barn in rural
Press release from Wool Gathering exhibit
Press release from November/December 2015 exhibit WOOL GATHERING
a collection of local wool and linsey woolsey blankets woven on antique industrial looms
The leap from hand weaving to working on industrial looms isn’t one that many make, but in 1982 Peggy Hart of Bedfellows Blankets did that, to be able to weave affordable blankets. Hart says her looms give her the ability to weave more unusual, intricate patterns but with the flexibility to change patterns and colors in the loom as a hand weaver would. The shuttle looms were obsolete technology even then, decommissioned by a small family woolen mill in Connecticut. Loom fixer Leonard Brodt, longtime associate of Peggy’s and now living in Shelburne Falls, rehabilitated and has kept the looms running ever since. The looms live in Peggy’s barn in Buckland and when in operation, one definitely needs to wear ear protection!
Peggy became fascinated with the history of these looms and the particular weaves they produced as well as with the types of fibers early weavers used in America. In the early days of settlement in New England, a scarcity of wool was made to go further by combining it with a linen warp, hence the name “linsey woolsey”. This new collection includes variations on traditional linsey woolsey fabric as well as blankets incorporating wool from local farmers. Photographs of Hart’s looms and a timeline of technology, from hand spun to factory made, will round out the exhibit. To learn more about Peggy Hart and her work go to www.blanketweave.com.
Florence Montgomery in Textiles in America, 2003, defines linsey-woolsey as “A coarse cloth made of linen warp and woolen weft”. It is thought to have originated in England, in the parish of Linsey in Suffolk. Colonial governors reported the home weaving of linsey-woolsey in America in the seventeenth century. It continued to be produced through 1860, especially in frontier regions where factory made cloth was either too dear or too hard to procure. Using a linen warp (or sometimes cotton) was a way of extending scarce quantities of wool. It was a utilitarian fabric, often with a solid weft, sometimes with weft stripes, most often plain weave or a simple twill. Linsey-woolsey was used for clothing, bed curtains, and light blankets. Surviving examples include petticoats (skirts), men’s smock/shirts, summer blankets, and fragments in pieced quilts.
However, the term linsey-woolsey became associated with old coverlets using cotton or linen warps and wool wefts. This is, I think, a romantic association of coverlets with an evocative and quaint name, perhaps originating with the colonial revival at the end of the nineteenth century, but is not the first known form of the fabric. Linsey Woolsey in its original form is one of those extinct textiles, lost in the mists of time with farmer’s smocks and bed curtains.
I have always wanted to explore the venerable material and design possibilities of linen warp and wool weft. While my aim was not to make historical replicas, I did want to use materials that were historically accurate and local if possible. The wool used would have been a medium grade singles wool, a yarn which is no longer commercially available. I went the route of custom production: the wool for these blankets came from Cheviot sheep raised on the York Farm in Shelburne, and was carded and spun at the S&D Mill in Millbury, MA. The linen warp yarn is a singles line linen, ironically but tellingly sourced from China via the website Alibaba.
This new collection includes variations on traditional weave structures with inspiration from historic blankets and linens. This project was made possible in part by a grant from the Berkshire Taconic Foundation.