The Morwellham Quay Loom

The Morwellham Quay Loom

One of the best things about working in a yarn shop is the stories we hear! Last autumn Debbie was chatting to a couple of customers and they told her about an antique loom that they had recently restored. Anne and Yvonne have kindly written about their experience so that we can share their story.

The following was sent to us from Anne;

The Morwellham Quay Loom was designed and constructed by Dartmoor engineer Mr John Wheddon of Moretonhampstead. Influenced by the 14th cottage in which he lived, he designed the loom to represent one that would have been used during the Medieval period, at the height of the booming textile industry, responsible for generating much of the wealth of England.

The loom before it's restoration

The loom was given to Morwellham Quay in 2013, but due to a lack of specialist knowledge on site, the loom was never used. Subsequently, it was dismantled, stored away in pieces and forgotten about until last year when purely by chance, I visited Morwellham Quay, mentioned that I was a spinner and was then invited to come down and practise my craft. Yvonne, a fellow member of the Peter Tavy Spinners Guild, came with me and remembered the existence of the loom. We persuaded the owners of the site, the Lister family, to erect it once more and allow us to try and restore it to full working order.

We started by removing all the rust from the reed. Then winter saw us ensconced by a roaring log burner in the pub The Ship Inn, tying approximately 500 string heddles by hand, using two jigs that Yvonne and her family made for us.

Yvonne tying on the heddies

Alongside this, Yvonne and I carried out research into the history of textile production across the South West and discovered just what an important role it played in the economy of the nation. We decided that we would try and reproduce samples of this heritage cloth.

Tying on the warp

Our first warp therefore, was a’ Devonshire Dozen’. This was an ancient, medieval unit of cloth measuring 12 yds x 1 yd. Due to the sectional warp beam, however, this meant creating 22 individual warps, each of 12 yds long, which we accomplished in Yvonne’s kitchen, using several chairs. Together, they form a warp of 12 yds long and 448 warp ends wide.

The finished warp
Checking the shef

We are now researching the particular weave structure of the Devon Kersey cloth which we hope to reproduce as a heritage sample. We would then go on to create a more contemporary version using finer, natural fibres, all sourced locally, to be as green and environmentally sustainable as possible.

The first piece of woven cloth!

The loom can be viewed in the Costume Gallery, (located behind the Ship Inn), at Morwellham Quay. Yvonne and I are usually on site one/two days per week and are always willing to answer questions.

Once the ‘trial warp’ is finished, we shall be modifying the loom further, by using natural twine instead of ‘Texsolve’ and introducing ‘horses’ to replace the two rigid shed sticks, so that the loom is even more visually representative of the Medieval period in our history.

The stacks of stones which weight the warp at the back of the loom

One further note I would like to make, is that Yvonne and I are, or were, both novice weavers when we started this project. It has been a steep learning curve, especially when attempting to control the warp tension with sacks of stones! Nevertheless, it has been a fascinating and enjoyable journey and one we are certainly glad we undertook.

Many thanks to Anne and Yvonne for sharing their inspiring story!

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1 comment

This is fascinating and inspiring. I am keen to develop my own interest in weaving – first triggered a couple of years ago by a lovely beginner’s workshop at Wool On The Exe – now I am recently retired. I will take a trip to Morwellham Quay for sure!

Sarah Williams

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