Tucked away in the back of our basement, beneath boxes of Christmas decorations and behind a wall of shelves loaded with archival material (that’s what we call the stuff that we haven’t looked at in years but is too precious to pitch) is a mammoth contraption made of tree trunks and rough cut lumber. It’s fully loaded with twine-like string and about six inches of the beginnings of a rag rug.
The loom is something I had to have when my Grandmother told me her friend was selling it. I’d wanted Grandma’s loom but she’d disposed of it before she knew I was interested in learning to make rag rugs, something she’d taught my mom to do. So, about 20 years ago I became the proud owner of the rustic loom, which Grandma said then was about 80 years old. I imagine that the farmer built it of trees from his land in the U.P., and his wife cut miles of old material into narrow strips for carpet rags she wove into colorful but humble floor coverings.
Grandma showed me how to warp (put the string on) the loom, and got me started on my first rug. And that’s where my weaving career ended. Until my recent visit to Baker Allegan Studios, where I was inspired to try again. Not that my rugs would compare to the beautiful woven goods at the gallery.
But owners Debbie and Joe Leverence are such nice people they convinced me I could and should use my loom to carry on the family’s rug-making tradition.
Debbie is a weaver and spinner who wanted her own gallery within 50 miles of their home in Dearborn, and Joe has the imagination and skills to transform a condemned, circa 1906 building located in a derelict mill district into that gallery.
He obviously has good skills of persuasion, too: the building is in Allegan, across the state near Saugatuck. Joe fell in love with the structure, and Debbie said when she heard the price she was convinced.
“We wanted a building that hadn’t been restored, and one we could afford,” Debbie explains. “A condemned building was pretty affordable,” she laughs.
Both of them have fallen in love with Allegan. “We were welcomed with open arms,” says Debbie.
The couple bought the former box factory for the Baker Furniture company in October 2006, and poured untold hours of work into gutting the interior, restoring the wood floor, replacing the roof and improving just about everything behind the scenes, too.
In 2008 they opened their doors to the main floor gallery with the work of two dozen area artists as well as looms, spinning wheels and yarn for sale. Downstairs are working artist studios. The third floor will be living quarters for the couple, who now commute from Dearborn to operate the shop Thursday-Sunday.
Most interesting is the walk-in studio with looms available to the public, where anyone (for a fee) can sit down, weave a towel or a rug, and take it home. Joe says it takes about 45 minutes to weave a foot of rug.
Why didn’t someone tell me that 20 years ago? I’ve already got six inches of rug done; I’m 22 minutes away from a foot…less than 3 hours to a nice 6-foot runner. You see why I’m inspired to sit down at the loom and work that warp and weft.
And I will, as soon as I find a another place to store the Christmas decorations.
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