|~ Newark Valley Historical
~ Looms and Wheels ~
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What is a Barn Loom?
If you have had the opportunity to visit our Bement-Billings
Farmstead museum, you might have seen a loom on display. It is sometimes
referred to as a "barn-frame loom", or "barn loom" for short. The frame
is constructed of posts and beams; much like the old timber framed
barns. It is held together with removable wooden pegs, allowing it to be
disassembled and stored when not in use.
A Small Linen Loom at Newark
At the Newark Valley Historical Society (NVHS) in Newark Valley, New York, there is a small restored barn-frame loom on display, similar to several other looms found in the area between Binghamton and Syracuse and also in what is known as the Finger Lakes District. (See What is a Barn Loom? for image.) This loom was donated to the NVHS by Clare Holden, of Newark Valley, to whose family the loom belonged. The loom was restored to working condition by Bill Ralph.
The loom, probably from the early 19th Century, is only four-feet-six-inches wide, and four feet deep and slightly more than six feet high, with a weaving width of about 36 inches. The structure of the loom uses a central castle with a cantilever supporting the shedding mechanism (harness) and an overslung beater. The design is often referred to as a Scandinavian loom or what John Tovey calls a Danish loom, although no Scandinavian connection has been found here. It's small size and the fact that it is designed to be taken apart suggests its use for smaller homes of earlier times.
The loom has several unique features which readily identify it as a loom for linen weaving. Linen yarn is particularly unyielding and requires the longest practical warp line. This is accomplished by first leading the warp threads up and over a back beam, increasing the distance between the warp beam and the cloth beam. Finely-spaced parallel incised marks on the hard wood of the back beam, barely visible but easily detected by running a finger nail over the edge of the beam, attest to the use of a linen warp. The back beam also imposes a steep incline on the warp line.
The highly tensioned warp required in linen weaving puts a considerable strain on the loom mechanism. To prevent the warp from lifting the warp beam out of its bearings when the warp is tensioned, the beam is set into hole bearings in the back posts instead of the usual open cup-shaped bearings common to barn-frame looms. The heavy warp beam (about 80 pounds)is cylindrical instead of eight-sided, turned from a single piece of hardwood, smoothly finished, and of a large diameter, winding on over a yard at each turn.(for a given length of warp, fewer turns on the warp beam diminish the problem of uneven winding and warp entanglement).
To lock the beam, a wooden pawl engages any one of 16 pegs or cogs around the end circumference of the warp beam. The pawl can be released from the weaver's position by means of a rope, to advance the warp. The wooden pawl is a replacement. The original was missing.
After leaving the back beam the warp line passes through the heddles, then through the reed and over the breast beam to the cloth beam. The smaller, eight-sided, five-inch diameter cloth beam is equipped with a fine-toothed iron ratchet, possibly made from an early recycled circular saw blade, which it resembles.
Judging from the treadle pivots at the rear of the loom the loom originally had only two treadles operating two shafts. The heddle sticks were probably hung from a pair of wooden pulleys since no roller bar was found with the loom. The loom may have been equipped with knitted string heddles. The restored loom has been equipped with individual string heddles and an early but not original cane reed.
Pegs and wedges securing the loom frame indicate provisions for disassembly when required. The loom may have been taken down and stored at times when not in use to conserve valuable living space. The side panels are permanently secured with draw pins but the cross beams (stretchers) are fitted with half-dovetail joints secured with wedges. This method provides a rigid, immoveable joint, easily disassembled when needed. Where stretchers join the posts, Roman numerals indicate matching joints since similar parts, although identical appearance, are nevertheless not interchangeable.
During restoration, provisions were made to convert the loom to a four-shaft operation if desired. This modification may be added or taken down at any time and does not compromise the historic integrity of the loom.
Special Note: Our special thanks to Bill Ralph. He was an old friend of the Newark Valley Historical Society, and a specialist in antique spinning wheels and looms. He bought, sold and restored wheels and looms at his home in the Village of Orwell, Pennsylvania. Bill had over 30 years experience and 500 documented restorations, using old time methods and tools.
Bill passed away in 2002. He will be missed by all of us.
The Spinning Wheel Sleuth & Farnham Research
This article appeared in issue #10, October 1995 of The Spinning Wheel Sleuth.
In Issue #7, we gave a brief outline of what was known about the
Farnham family of Owego, NY, and the spinning wheels they made. What
follows is a historic "work in progress" about this industrious family
and the others who followed in their style. Examples of Farnham-style
wheels are still coming in, and we welcome any additional information
that this article might generate.
How to Identify Farnham Flax
This article appeared in issue #10, October 1995 of The Spinning Wheel Sleuth.
Today wheels made by the Farnham family of Owego, NY, are highly prized and in great demand. They are easily identified because they are all signed. The problem is that not all wheels found today signed "Farnham" are 100 percent original.
I have seen six different Farnham signatures, the most common being "J FARNHAM." Other signatures are "J. Farnham JR.,""J FARNHAM Owego," "J. FARNHAM near Owego," and "F.A. FARNHAM Owego." The signature is embossed in the wooden base of the wheel by stamping or burning. The letters are either 1/2 or 5/8 inches high, all in capitals. The words "near" and "Owego" are in script. Often the signature is found on both the top and the side of the wheel table. The sixth signature, found on a walking wheel, is a small cartouche, perhaps 2 inches wide and 3/8 inch high, with the name "FARNHAM" stamped in the end grain of the table.
There are two distinct styles of Farnham flax wheels. First is the traditional three-legged wheel. It is slender, lightly built, with a narrow-rimmed, 12-spoke drive wheel. The plain spokes increase in diameter from the hub to the rim, with a single band decoration cut into the spoke near the rim. A unique feature, more often seen on European wheels, is a wooden nut below the table which, when tightened, secures the mother-of-all to maintain the belt tension. Turnings are graceful and unadorned with free-flowing, rounded lines and no sharp demarcations. The maidens and the distaff post are topped with a small, cap-like finial. The flyer is delicately shaped.
The second wheel is of a unique design. It has four legs, a horizontal table, two vertical rectangular posts which support the drive wheel and at the top of which is mounted the distaff crossarm. The mother-of-all rides high on two pivoting arms. A long tension screw, threaded into the near wheel post, adjusts the distance of the flyer from the drive wheel. The turnings on the maidens, legs, and wheel spokes are very similar to those found on the three-legged Farnham wheel. At the center of the pivoting arms are holes to accommodate a long pin to hold an additional bobbin.
Almost identical wheels with signatures of "Truesdell" and "E.S.Williams" exist. Other quite similar wheels are signed "Schoonover," "L. Brown," and "C Heese." Some clones are unsigned. The design of this style of four-legged wheel is generally attributed to Farnham, but whether Farnham was the originator of this design is not known.
Since all Farnham wheels are signed, why should there be any question about the authenticity of a Farnham wheel? The problem is the replacement of original parts long since lost. Distaffs, flyers, treadles, and even the drive wheels are frequently missing after a century or more in storage in some forgotten attic or barn. Because Farnham wheels are now in high demand and somewhat expensive, it occasionally happens that someone who has an incomplete Farnham wheel, usually a dealer, will attempt to complete the wheel with parts which are not Farnham and which do not really fit. Replacement of one or two parts, expertly done according to the original design, is quite acceptable, provided the repairs are pointed out to a prospective buyer. But this is not always the case. I've seen wheels, not only Farnham wheels, assembled from parts of other antique wheels. They can look very convincing if you don't know what to look for, but they are worthless to a collector or historian or to someone who wants to spin on them.
No written description can adequately convey all the necessary information required to identify a genuine Farnham wheel. It is suggested that the reader go and personally examine a known Farnham wheel or, lacking that opportunity, study carefully several photographs of genuine Farnham wheels.
Identifying Farnham Great
This article appeared in issue
#13, July 1996 of The
Spinning Wheel Sleuth.
The name FARNHAM inscribed on the base of a great wheel considerably increases the value of the wheel for collectors as well as for the dealers who sell them. It is not surprising, therefore, that when a signed Farnham spinning-wheel base is found that is missing an essential part, such as the drive wheel, a dealer may take the needed part from a non-Farnham wheel. That causes a problem for historians, wheel collectors, and people who want to own a piece of authentic history. It is therefore important to recognize the distinguishing characteristics of a genuine Farnham great wheel.
Since Farnham wheels were made by a succession of Farnhams, there are several varieties of Farnham signatures. I have seen six different Farnham signatures, the most common being J FARNHAM. Other signatures are J. Farnham JR., J FARNHAM Owego, J. FARNHAM near Owego, and F.A. FARNHAM Owego. The signature is imprinted in the wooden base of the wheel by stamping or burning. The letters are either 1/2 or 5/8 inches high, all in capitals. The words near and Owego are in script. Often the signature is found on both the top and the side of the wheel table. The sixth signature, found on a walking wheel, is a small cartouche, perhaps 2 inches wide and 3/8 inch high, with the name FARNHAM stamped in the end grain of the table. This may be the earliest of the Farnham signatures. I have not found this signature on flax wheels. (For more about Farnham flax wheels, see THE SPINNING WHEEL SLEUTH, Issue #10, October 1995).
The next best indication of a Farnham wheel are the eight parallel shallow grooves cut into the surface of the rim of the drive wheel. Every Farnham wheel I have encountered has these grooves. An unsigned wheel, however, with a drive wheel with eight grooves does not mean that the wheel is necessarily a Farnham. It could be an unrecognized solitary Farnham drive wheel attached to a convenient base to make a complete wheel.
The typical Farnham drive wheel is 46 inches in diameter, with 12 plain tapered spokes. The rim is made of a single length of split wood, 2 1/2 inches wide, 1/4 inch thick, with slightly rounded edges. There may be minor variations, but the eight grooves are always present. The wheel is mounted on a sturdy post with a ball finial. The post is secured by a wedge underneath the base.
A Miner's accelerating head is usually found on a Farnham great wheel (see THE SPINNING WHEEL SLEUTH, Issue #8, April 1995). The head mounting post fits into a barrel-shaped, rotating socket that is supported by two sturdy turned posts. It is secured by a wooden nut on the back post. This allows the drive-band tension to be adjusted by pivoting the spinning head.
A few Farnham wheels have a Miner's accelerating head with a Farnham signature. Signed Farnham accelerating heads are of two types. In one case the signature is imprinted in the rear of the mother-of-all in uppercase Roman letters 1/4 inch high. Another variation has a chartreuse oval label with the name Farnham pasted on the mother-of-all. One feature that seems to be shared by all signed Farnham heads is that the pulley wheel is painted green (again, beware of enhancements).
A Rare Farnham Accelerating
This article appeared in issue #15, January 1997 of The Spinning Wheel Sleuth.
It is a tiny wheel, barely 14" wide, 14" deep and 32" high. The name J. Farnham is clearly inscribed on the front of the wheel base in 1/2" high letters. Except for its dual-wheel accelerating mechanism and double treadle, the design is similar to the four-legged Farnham wheel described in Issue #10, but much smaller.
The accelerating mechanism consists of two solid wooden wheels, 8" in diameter and 7/8" thick, placed one above the other. The bottom wheel is the drive wheel, which drives the accelerating wheel above it. A cloth drive band 1 1/4" wide engages the 2" diameter extended hub of the accelerating wheel. This provides a rotational gain of about four times. The accelerating wheel has two grooves to hold the doubled drive band, which controls the flyer assembly. The drive-wheel axle crank is connected to the right treadle by a wooden footman. Also connected to the crank is a cord that passes over a pulley at the top of the rear wheel support and then down to the left treadle. In operation, the right treadle pulls the crank down and the left treadle pulls the crank up on the return stroke. Accumulated friction from the two wheels and the wide drive band does not allow sufficient momentum to carry the crank past the top center position for the next downward stroke, making this unusual treadle connection necessary. One advantage of this arrangement is that the wheel can be started using only the treadles, except for the top and bottom center positions, which a skillful spinner can easily learn to avoid. The almost total lack of residual rotation makes this a difficult and tiresome wheel to spin on.
Flyer drive band tension is accomplished by a threaded wooden rod connecting the mother-of-all to the wheel's framework. The mother-of-all is supported by two pivoting arms. Turning the threaded rod moves the mother-of-all toward or away from the accelerating wheel driving the flyer. There are no provisions to adjust the tension on the other drive band, but thin leather shims inserted under the accelerating wheel axle seem to solve this problem.
The unusual design of this wheel is not exclusive to Farnham. Similar small wheels are occasionally found in the New England states and in Pennsylvania, but all examples I have seen or heard of so far were unsigned.
Often this strange wheel is not recognized as a spinning wheel, especially if the flyer assembly is missing. A similar but larger wheel in the Cummer collection is listed as being from the last half of the nineteenth century, although examples I have seen, including the Farnham wheel, seem to be of a much earlier period.
In the U.S. Patent Index, there is a listing dated June 28, 1825 of a machine for spinning wool and cotton. The names of A.S. Wittse and J. Farnham of Tioga County, NY, are listed as the patent holders. Could the wheel described here relate to that patent? I doubt it. This wheel has a distaff holder used for flax spinning.
We can also ask whether this wheel is a Farnham design that was copied by other makers, or did Farnham copy the design from contemporary wheels? In any case, considering their rarity, it is fair to assume that not many of these wheel were made. We can guess that the wheel was simple and cheap to produce but was not accepted by handspinners because it did not spin well and was therefore soon discontinued.
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