Peter Collingwood, Japan

Weaving Words for the Web-Weary - Peter Collingwood

A Weaver Travels in Sweden

The Göteberg Remfabrik
Åvägen 125
412 50 Goteberg, Sweden

From the start of my weaving career I had thought of Sweden as the place where new designs came from. I had books with pictures of rya rugs by Viola Grasten and Elsa Gulberg; pamphlets from the amazing Marta Maas Fjetterstrom workshop, with rug looms bigger than I could imagine. I had never connected that country with industrial archaeology.

But when giving a ply-split class at the Goteberg School of Design and Crafts I was told of an old belting factory nearby. Well, I knew what machine belting was, as I had for years used belting yarns in rug weaving, but I had never thought about the actual making of that belting.

This mill/factory was established in 1891 and worked up to 1977. It is a three-story building; its contents, including 35 immense looms made by Robert Hall of Bury, England, exist exactly as they were when it closed. A team of local volunteers, some from other closed down mills, are slowly restoring this unique equipment; and there is enough working to make a visit a wonderful occasion for any weaving enthusiast.

On the top floor, you begin by seeing the frame where the cotton warp is doubled up till thick enough for this special use. It is then wound on huge warp beams with circular flanges. A large number of warp ends are needed for such a dense fabric, and this would necessitate a vast number of bobbins for the warping process if done in one stage. So, instead, a beam is wound with, say, a third of the total number of required ends, but spread to the full width. Two more such beams are made; then all three are put on a frame, one behind the other, and all the warp ends combined, via a V-shaped adjustable raddle, onto another, the final, beam. It is easy to say the beams are put on a frame; but due to their weight and size they have to be winched up onto a ceiling track and slowly dragged into position.

In a corner of this room is the woodworking shop where shuttles were specially made to fit these unusual looms. Some are lying around still half made. In another corner is a functioning ribbon loom, the small D- shaped shuttle flying back and forth across a narrow warp. Beside it is the only non-power loom in the building. It was used for weaving from silk the fringed harness for the king's horses. There is a strange wood and leather shield fixed to the breast beam which seems to have been for the weaver to lean against.

The wound warp beams descend to the weaving floor below through a large trapdoor by means of a chain driven by an engine created from scrap by the volunteers, they said.
This postcard photo was taken in 1943.

The looms really defy description as every single detail of them is about 5 times as big as you have ever seen before, or in fact as seems necessary. There is just a great tonnage of cast iron, black, oily, dusty, all around you. Then someone switches on the large electric motor (originally steam was used and you can still see the big chimney now incorporated into the building) and the main driving shaft, running the length of the weaving room, begins to turn in its ceiling-high sockets. Driving belts from this run to every loom... .yes this is what belting was made for.. some idling, but two actually working looms.

One was weaving belting about two inches wide, extremely closely; the batten giving a double beat after every shot, something I had never seen on a power loom. The warp narrowed from the beam to the shafts. The shafts themselves were immense; at least 30 inches in depth and with clasped or linked heddles made of thick loom cord.

Everywhere in this room there is the usual workshop muddle, things just standing where they had last been put. But on such a gigantic scale. A stack of shafts took more space than a modern floor loom. Flanges leant in untidy piles like immense cart wheels. A roll of completed belting a great white circle high up at the back of a loom.

Every loom had the words "Robert Hall and Sons, Bury," as part of the casting of the main cross beam. When I started weaving I got in touch with this firm as I knew they made super-strong rug looms for use in prisons! But they were too expensive for me and did not have the flexibility of wood for someone who likes altering his equipment. The firm is long gone, but since this visit I am trying to trace its records in the north of England. To sell 35 such large specialised looms to one place must have been unusual.

Behind what looked like the end wall was a sudden array of colour. A narrow corridor flanked on either side with shelves going up to the high ceiling; each had slabs of wood with nails driven through on which sat endless bobbins of fine yarn. That seemed almost too much thread to comprehend, then the guide showed that each slab slid out showing that the bobbins were arranged four or five deep. Occasional old labels with "den" and a number suggested these were synthetics. All this had been saved from a closed down factory.

On the ground floor, which I found difficult to descend to as new things kept on catching my eye, there is the biggest loom of all. It was used for weaving wide conveyor belting. The specimen on the loom was as solid as wood and about ¾ inch thick and 20 inches wide. You don't often see a short length of a loom product that is too heavy too lift. I could not work out the structure of this piece. Under the loom were housed 6 warp beams, presumably all needed to feed the material for this extraordinary fabric.

Another loom here was being prepared to weave sailcloth, a volunteer filing away and then walking back and forth from here to his workshop where he was grinding some metal piece. In another room was the simple apparatus which impregnated the belting with linseed oil; puddles of this lay solidified on the floor and were carefully preserved by the team! Not originally in the factory were a few braiding machines, two working and making shoelace-size braids. A much larger machine, built by one of the volunteers, was a jacquard controlled ribbon loom, capable of weaving six ribbons simultaneously, and with a choice of four colours for every pick. Beside it a miniature power loom was weaving a little band at express speed.

The mill has a preservation society of over 100 members but of course no income except what comes from sales in a modest shop. So they are always looking out for things going free, anything which might come in handy later on. In two buildings across a courtyard I was told there is a complete wool spinning set up and a 1920's van!

The enthusiasm is very apparent as you are taken around; also the determination to prevent any diminishing of the completeness of this mill. This spirit of using cast-offs to good advantage extends beyond the mill itself, and some members have managed to equip a school in Africa from surplus items.

The Remfabrik.. (Rem by the way is just Swedish for belting) not open every day. So ring up beforehand either Lisbeth Birgersson, or her English husband, Trad Wrigglesworth, the main leaders of this project, at 31 71 18 075

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