People may be surprised to learn that there really are looms at Nantucket Looms. In actuality, there are six. And seated at each is a weaver immersed in the work of production hand weaving - the craft that has been at the core of this iconic shop since it opened in 1968. While the times have changed, the technique for creating a Looms’ throw, blanket or and scarf is as it always was. We stepped into our customer’s shoes recently and spent a morning with master weaver and company CPO, Rebecca Peraner.
Peraner oversees the Looms’ team of talented women weavers, and is the soft-spoken mastermind behind the exquisite hand wovens that the Nantucket Looms produces, having trained under Looms’ founding partner Andrew Oates in the Anni Albers and Billy Baldwin tradition. Exquisite in their simplicity, the hand wovens that come out of the studio are heirloom-quality, “functional art” and very much speak to the company’s tradition of timeless classic design.
While the loom itself looks somewhat primitive, its parts, when broken down, are actually very delicate. Constructed primarily of wood with some metal components, a loom in motion is quite remarkable. Each part of the process – every manipulation of the fibers – is done with purpose and intention.
Every detail of the finished piece is pre-determined from the moment the dressing of the loom begins: the weave structure, the density of the textile, the ends per inch (Peraner likened this to a sheet thread count), the overall drape of the finished piece and of course its size.
Once the fiber (alpaca, cashmere, mohair, merino wool, silk or cotton) is selected, the first step is to thread the loom. The way that is done determines the weave structure. The fibers (about 1400 ends for a 48”-50” blanket) are fed through the needlelike heddles, one by one, as the harness is manually raised and lowered by foot pedals called treadles. Each of those threads will correspond in a certain sequence to create the pattern.
Next, the fibers get hand fed through the reed. As she demonstrates, Peraner combs through them with her fingers. The weavers treat each of the elements – the loom, the fibers, the finished piece - with notable respect and genuine appreciation. Then it is time for the weaving to start.
The weaver controls the series of treadles very systematically, sliding the shuttle through the “v” of delicate fibers, constantly gaging the tension to ensure that the weave structure is perfect. As she progresses, the small run of the woven textile is wound at the front of the loom. When the run is complete, she will remove it from the loom and finish the piece – a process which involves brushing, “fringing” and inspecting it to ensure it meets the high, exacting standards of its creator.
Weaving requires mental endurance. It is repetitive, some might find it tedious, but for Peraner and her weavers, the process of marrying exquisite fibers with classic design and creating something new and richly beautiful has become a life passion.
You can hear the sound of the looms’ rhythmic beat when you walk into Nantucket Looms. We invite you to visit the second floor weaving studio the next time you are on island.