The chief part of weaving is the thread for the loom. When I started up again, it was not too difficult to round up the basic supplies. People who used to weave for us, like Ann and my daughters, still had boxes of the stuff. Not boxes and boxes, but boxes. Not a big palette, but enough. I put it all on three or four shelves in the laundry room, and thought I had plenty to be getting on with.
In the old days, after I discovered thread jobbers, there was plenty of thread. I’d call and big boxes came in a few days. Beautiful mill ends from the cotton sweater factories, from the cotton afghan factories in the south, or in New England. Always plenty for the imagination of my sister to put together to weave into beautiful cotton fabric.
Once at show in North Carolina I had a great conversation with an executive from a well known clothing manufacturer who had been “drug” to the show by his wife. Rather wistfully he showed his wife our different weaves and textures, telling her “we used to do this here.” He had just finished overseeing the move to Indonesia of a large spinning plant their company used.
As our weaving career wound down, so did American spinning and knitting mills, though there was no relationship one to the other. Socks went to China. Ordinary fabric went to India. Poof, like dandelion fluff, cotton products left this country.
One good thing about the stock of thread I have left, aside from the cost, is the conundrum I must solve every time I put together a new warp. In the old days Jan and I would go to the barn with our trash bins on wheels, put a range of shades in the bins, go back to the studio and wind a hundred pounds of thread onto the back of a loom. Now I need to make five or six pounds of thread look equally as fun, and there are only so many ways to shade a bunch of natural cotton.
Sourcing inexpensive cotton thread in this second decade of the twenty first century is close to impossible. I can buy it from India, thousand pound minimum order. Haha. The jobbers in this country have no cotton to sell. All the odds and ends we once bought for $2 a pound are no more!
The weaving supply houses in this country, who cater to hobby weavers, import thread they have dyed for them. The thousand pound minimum order stuff, which they put onto one pound cones in house and sell, starting at $18 a pound. I’ve bought a few cones and it’s not the beautiful ring spun of cotton sweaters or coverlets. I’m sure the beautiful stuff is still being spun somewhere, but out of my price range.
Trolling the internet for thread is amusing. I have EBay on a constant search. It mostly returns the $18 a pound stuff from the last paragraph, from the same shops, but for $12 a pound and $5 shipping. I won’t weave with that stuff, but I do have a great end game plan: trolling the internet for old weavers with left over stashes.
I got a box today from Maine, from a retiring weaver (but younger than I!) who used to bring home car loads of cotton thread from the great New England mills. She sold for a hundred and fifty percent mark up, and I can live with $5 a pound thread. But not a penny more!
When all the thread is gone, I’ll retire for good.
The box from Maine. See that cone of Delft blue, up in the left corner.Using my best flashlight illumination technique, I took a picture of the label.
The Cleveland Yarn Company, Thompsonville, North Carolina. I'll bet this cone is thirty years old. Cleveland Yarn is no more.
Does anyone remember having a Delft blue cotton sweater? This stuff is soft as a baby's butt.