2009 Weave of the week #10: Sample weaving, part one

Broadway & 39th St., NYC

Broadway & 39th St., NYC

Burlington Woolens New York sales and design office, at 1450 Broadway, was in the center of the Garment Center (photo above).  I was one of six employees of the company whose job it was to handweave  samples of fabrics, exactly as they would ultimately be commercially woven for the fashion industry.

The weave room was located way in the back. To get to it we had to walk through the open, spacious, salesmen’s area, then to the end of a long corridor of executive offices, where we punched a time clock. The weave room was cramped and had all the ambience of a factory, but I was so excited about becoming a weaver that I didn’t notice. I worked on an 8-harness Macomber loom (one of six Macombers of various sizes), with shelves of reeds above my head. A small warping/ironing room was partitioned off from the main room, as was Elke’s tiny office.

Elke designed the fabrics and ran the weave room. She was a softspoken German, and her staff was an interesting, polyglot mix of people from all over. Esther, who was Swedish, and Lee, who was French, were the experienced weavers who worked on the big looms and helped Elke train us. The newbies were Edy, a Scotswoman who had graduated from an English art college, and FIT graduates Sonja, who was Puerto Rican, and Andrew, from Staten Island, who was openly gay and handsome as Michelangelo’s David. And I was the least experienced of all. Our weave room’s interesting mix of nationalities and cultures was not unusual — and not always harmonious either.

It took a while before I got used to the warping reels and could remember how to dress my loom without notes, but even with the problems, I can still remember that my first sample was magic to me. I made mistakes for weeks before feeling confident about what I was doing, and only after I had started to weave accurately and rhythmically did Elke let on that she had come close to firing me because she didn’t think that I would ever “get it.”

But the magic wore off and it wasn’t long before I was bored by 2×2 twill wool plaids. When I finally got to work on bigger looms and more unusual designs, I saved pieces in a notebook with instructions and drafts and here are the pages .

The pages are posted chronologically, and there is a progression from fall colors through red/white/blue “holiday” to spring pastels (click on the thumbnails to enlarge). If I remember correctly, the two designs that I like best of the nine were knockoffs of European fabrics (#3 was a gorgeous coat). I stopped keeping the notebook after making only these nine pages, probably because at that point I no longer needed it and was ready to go on to weave — and create — more complex designs.

Update: The catalog sheet  on my Gallery page  shows front and back views of my well-loved “Calum” tunic, which was designed by my friend Edy Lyngaas.


14 Responses

  1. Fern, I am so glad to have found you
    I love your sharing
    I look forward to getting together
    Long time
    Biba Schutz

    • Biba, How great to hear from you! Thanks for getting back in touch.

  2. hey, thanks for pointing me to your loom, i mean blog. it’s very interesting to hear about your work in the industry in new york. i’m puttin you on my blog list so’s i can read your updates now.


    • Hi, Andrew, welcome and thank you for visiting my blog and commenting. I enjoyed your post on weavezine and look forward to reading your blog.


  3. Fern, I remember when I was looking for contract work as a sample weaver in the 80’s you recommended JPStevens and I remember the “weaving room” with many Macomber looms and Ann Rosenthal was working there at the time. I did sample weaving for other companies too like Charisma and Shirley Fabrics. They’re all gone now. I knew many weavers whose livelihood depended on this kind of work.

    Thanks for bringing back these memories….


    • Thanks for posting. It’s great to hear from former sample weavers. I freelanced for some of those companies too, before I started my business.

  4. I’m way behind in blogland, but I knew when I first saw this post that I wanted to come back and look through all the pages! Great that you saved them!!

    And great that your friends are finding you!!


    • Hi, Sue, I’m way behind too so I really appreciate your taking the time to come back. Thanks.

  5. Hi
    great stories from your beginning days! When I came to NY in the 80’s there were tons of opportunities but no real place to train under. I remember working feaverishly to learn how to operate a computerized loom. There were no teachers to turn to for guidance. We were self motivated and taught!

  6. I remember this was my first job in New York in 1968. Esther was a rather crotchety Swede – cannot forget her describing the day many years earlier she saw the little plane crashing into the Empire State building (which was visible from our window.)

    This was where I met Fern – we learned a lot there!

    I got $65 a week- think this was the minimum rate. After 6 months I moved on to Charles Alexander & Son as his weave designer, where we did more upmarket things -rather bright U.S versions of Scottish plaids. Our main customer was John Meyer of Norwich and a rather shy young man, Perry Ellis, worked for him then.

    Eventually bought my own 16 harness loom and did free lance design from home/studio, before moving into knitwear art pieces and and design in 1969

    • Hi, Edy, Great to hear from you. Your comment reminded me that Sonja, you, and I were paid $65/week, but Andrew was paid more, and when we confronted our boss (Mr. Wilson?), he simply said, “Andrew is a man.” Case closed.

  7. Great story, I just love hearing all the interesting tales of creative people in the garment center. You must check out our blog which is specifically focused on the NYC garment center and the fashion industry. Plus your picture is our url, ha ha!


  8. Hi, Bonnie, Very nice to “meet” you. It’s great to hear from other weavers. Please stop by again.

  9. I love your story. For me, it was the road not taken, but I always wondered.

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