Memories in Time - The Weaving House
It’s amazing how one small building can have so many memories. I have no idea when the Weaving House was built. I figured papaw Huskey built it, although nobody ever really said. It was located across a shallow drainage ditch, just above Granny and Papaw´s house, on Gum Stand Road in Sevier County, Tennessee.
It was a wood frame building, around fourteen feet wide and maybe twenty feet long. The foundation was simple large rocks, spaced along the sides and on each end, about a foot and a half high. People in those days used what was available. The outside was rough-sawn lumber that, as it aged, turned to varying shades of gray. The boards were various widths, nailed on vertically. The wood door was on the lower right-hand side and two multi-pane wood windows provided light. They could also be opened for a cooling breeze. One window on the left faced Gum Stand Road, which continued up the holler about a quarter of a mile, ending at my Great Uncle Frank’s house. The other was on the right side, facing the upper field our family used for either a garden or tobacco crop. The roof was flat, sloping toward the creek. The floor was made of rough-sawn boards. The walls were covered with newspaper to keep out the cold winds in winter. A short, wide wood stove with two removable round eyes on top provided cooking and heat. It sat just inside the doorway on the left.
While this building was primarily used for weaving, we even lived in it one spring and summer. We were saving money, I guess, while dad built our house on Gum Stand Road. I was six or seven at the time. There were five of us when we moved in. Momma, Daddy, my older brother Dwight, me and Chris, my younger brother. It wasn’t unlike buildings you could see on any farm in the hills and hollers of East Tennessee. There were out-buildings everywhere, used for storage, workshops and places to keep things out of the weather.
Looking back now, the building seemed small for five people, although at the time I remember it as an adventure. When we moved in, Momma made pretty curtains for the windows, added several colorful rugs, and hung pictures of our family and a couple more that captured my imagination. One I’ve always remembered captivated my soul and is ingrained in my memory. It allowed my thoughts to run wild, as I became a part of this picture. I saw myself as the young boy in the picture, running behind his Golden Retriever. It was a beautiful fall day; leaves on the surrounding trees were bathed in color. Brilliant orange, deep purples, and bright yellows were all so beautiful with bright sunshine showering them with light. He was running through a golden field of wheat and looked surprised as a covey of quail exploded in front of his beloved companion. I would become mesmerized, feeling myself running through golden wheat, becoming a part of his excitement, as it was portrayed on that canvas.
Furniture was kept to a minimum. There was only room for two beds - one for us kids, the other for Momma and Daddy. There was a large oak icebox for food, some straight back wooden chairs, and a dark green leather rocking chair, plus a small table to eat at. Momma always seemed to find a bouquet of pretty flowers to put in her silver and gold colored vase on the table.
She cooked most of our meals on the old wood stove in cast iron skillets. Later in the summer when it got hot, Daddy ran a wire from Granny and Papaw’s and she cooked on an electric hot-plate. We used coal-oil lamps for light.
Granny and Papaw didn’t have running water at the time. We walked to a spring, about a hundred and fifty feet up the gravel road on the left. It was good sweet water. A long-handled metal dipper hung on a tree limb next to the spring to get a drink or fill our water buckets. We also kept milk and other things cold in the spring that wouldn’t fit in the icebox.
Momma kept us busy helping in the garden, bringing in firewood, or fetching water. We got the water in metal buckets that held a couple of gallons. Depending on what we were doing, sometimes it took several trips. She kept a metal washtub hanging on a nail outside of the Weaving House. I can still see her washing clothes and remember bathing in it, too.
Sometimes, on a beautiful summer day, she took us down to the Little Pigeon River with a big bar of soap. The Little Pigeon River flowed from high in the Great Smokey Mountains through Gatlinburg and past where Gum Stand Road turned up the holler. Then it went through Pigeon Forge and Sevierville. All three are small towns in Sevier County, Tennessee.
Me and Dwight would get in the deeper water, but not over our heads, while she stayed with Chris in the shallow part. He was only two or three at the time. We got to splash and play for a while, but Momma always made sure we scrubbed good, before going home.
Dad was always working, building our house, working on a public job, or working in the garden. I remember he was tired a lot. When he came home, after washing up and eating supper he would soon be asleep. That was the only year we didn’t raise a tobacco crop - there just wasn’t time. Lord knows there was always something that needed doing.
Most people today probably wouldn’t accept living this way, I look back and those were happy times. We accepted the challenges of life. Momma and Daddy overcame them through working together and loving each other. Our lives weren’t burdened by these things, but rather, enriched. Later when Daddy finished our house, he dug a new well and ran water up to Granny and Papaw’s house. We were all thrilled to move in and I grew up there. But that summer was special and one of the fondest memories of my early childhood days.
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The History of the Weaving House
The Weaving House was always being used during my childhood. Granny Bessie and Momma set up looms and wove cloth place-mats for a local company in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, named the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. Arrowmont then sold the place-mats to tourists in their gift shops and to businesses that sold them also.
The Arrowmont School was established in 1916, near a grammar school. That grammar school, named Pi Beta Phi Settlement School, started around 1912. It was named after the women’s fraternity which founded it and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They teach weaving, woodworking, pottery, and many other arts and crafts that are synonymous with life in Southern Appalachia to the local mountain people. Now people come from far and wide to attend classes there.
In the sixties, Dad took woodworking classes for about eleven months. He loved working with his hands with wood. While at the school, he made a beautiful cherry dining table and six chairs with woven cane bottoms that we were proud of. He also made wooden candle holders, bowls, a round wooden platform that turned on bearings, and a bowl full of wood fruit that sat on the platform. Everything was made the actual size of each piece of fruit, with attached stems, out of walnut, cherry, maple, and oak.
Momma didn’t attend any classes there. She learned to weave from her momma, Mamaw Clabo.
You could always tell when one or both were weaving, long before you opened the door. The sounds of their feet working the wooden pedals could be heard every time the shuttle passed through the cloth strings that made up the warp. A different pedal would be pressed to change the pattern and this made a clunking sound. When one pedal was pressed, half the cloth strings would go up; when released they would come back together. Pressing the other pedal raised the other half. After passing the shuttle through to the other side, the next sound was “womp… womp…” The beater was pulled back hard the first time, then another pull, a little softer, to tighten each thread, till it felt just right.
So it went - press the pedal, slide the shuttle quickly through the warp strings, it sounded like, “clunk” and then “womp…womp”, Clunk and womp, womp, repeatedly.
They were fast and could achieve this cycle in a few seconds, once they got into a rhythm. They would weave all day, five or six days a week, if other things weren’t pressing. It was hard work. It was also piece work. They were paid so much for each piece, not by the hour or day. This was a blessing of sorts. If they needed to work in the garden, pick blackberries, or were canning vegetables or fruit, or needed to do something else, they could without someone looking over their shoulder.
Of course, weaving was a process, the result of making the warp. This usually took about a day to finish. It was the first step as Granny and Mom worked together, Papaw and Dad also helped when they could, as did us kids. Families in those days worked together, and that’s why I believe families were closer than they are today.
The warp was prepared by attaching a certain number of cloth strings to the warp roller. The number of strings was determined by how wide the finished piece would be and the pattern being wove, then winding the strings around and around it from spools of thread. The warp roller had a metal handle, so it could be turned to accomplish this. The weaver had to be careful to keep a certain amount of tension on the threads as it was rolled up, till it was full and then locked into place. Each individual thread was then cut, one at a time and fed through an eye in the needles. These were vertical metal rods attached to the pedals and raised and lowered the cloth threads. Then straight back to and over the breast beam. This piece is located at the front and used to rest your arms on while weaving. The threads were then attached to the cloth roller, which collected the finished, woven place mats, until it was full and would later be removed.
After being removed, there was still more work, before Momma could take them to Arrowmont and get paid. After unrolling the finished place mats, each had to be cut from the roll and the ends sewn on a sewing machine so they wouldn’t unravel. Then they were packed in boxes and delivered to Arrowmont. It was a lot of work.
I realize now that Momma wove to help with money - money that in those days was hard to come by and probably to occasionally buy a few things for herself.
She continued weaving most of the time until we were all in grade school. After we started school, she worked at the Sevier County Hospital in the dietary department for many years. Momma always encouraged us to learn new things and praised us for helping. She is gone now, but these memories are of the family love we shared, the sacrifices we made, and by working together we could reach our goals.
The Weaving House was torn down many years ago. To most who saw it, it was just another old building, like you could see on any small farm in rural Appalachia. Looking back, the Weaving House not only helped bring in money, but for one spring and summer it was special, as Momma made it our home.