E.E. Gilmore: A Lifetime of Weaving

E.E. Gilmore was a weaver and loom builder whose influence continues to this day.

Handwoven Editors Jul 28, 2020 - 13 min read

E.E. Gilmore: A Lifetime of Weaving Primary Image

This article about E.E. Gilmore, from Handwoven March/April 1986 is presented here in its entirety.

The history of contemporary handweaving in this country can be traced back to a handful of people, some of whom live in their contributions to education and writing, some of whom remain anonymous but for the coverlets they left behind. One individual who has had far reaching influence continues with great vitality in his dual role of weaver and loom builder after 56 years in the craft. Everett E. Gilmore of Stockton, California, carries on the great tradition of master weavers who introduced significant innovations in weaving equipment. We have him to thank for the "pushup" jack loom system that so many of us use today, and for helping weaving grow through decades of experimenting and sharing. Here's a bit of his story:

I was taught to weave for therapy by my cousin, Ada Marie Dykes, after my sister died. This was in 1930. My cousin had been weaving for about eight years. I found it interesting enough, but the loom was very awkward. It was a 45" 8-harness with string heddles and overhead jack type system. And the shuttles were flat sticks. I was told they had to be 47" long (2" wider than the weaving width of the loom)...It was terribly hard to get it through the shed because there was no back beam like on a loom today, there was just a warp beam back there, and the more warp you put on, the higher that got...And when you wanted to move the warp you had to get up and go around and pull a pin out of a disk, turn it around a little ways and stick the pin back in. You didn't make your warp with a lease cross, you just tied it in a bunch, tight, and then began picking them out and of course they would be tangled. After I'd woven for several months, my cousin said, "Everett, I've learned a new way to make warp, you only cut it on one end." So you can imagine the tangle you'd have down there where it wasn't cut. We didn't even know anything about throw shuttles until Mary Atwater had corresponded with me for two or three years and sent me her personal collection of throw shuttles to make some of my own from. The only other weaver I knew of then was a friend of my cousin's, Mary Luther, who had a small loom.

Later there was a lady living in Mill Valley whose name was Moore. I used to visit her often. And once when I went there, she said, "You know, I think it would be nice to have a weaving club in the Bay area. I'll try to contact weavers I know, and you contact people you've sold a loom to, and let's see if we can't get something started." We met at the home of a lady named Grace Horner who had purchased the first loom I'd ever sold in 1936. The club grew fast, and went on for a number of years. But when the war came along I didn't have any gasoline to get to the Bay area....

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I had a dream one night about a wonderful loom that pushed the harness frames up instead of pulling them down. It was so vivid I told my dad all about it the next day, and he said, "Well, we can make one out of pine and clamp it into your loom and see how it would work"...And we fixed those levers, and it worked to perfection. When my cousin heard about it she just about went nuts for me to remodel her Forsyth loom. Then I made myself another loom, and she found a buyer for my original loom, and when people heard about it.... After two or three years I developed a weak heart and had to quit doing heavy work in the mill with my dad. I laid off work from early June of 1936 until September of 1937. The heart specialist said, "Why don't you try to make a living off of making looms?" I could make 35 looms a year myself, doing everything, and I delivered them in my car because it was a convertible, and I was making folding looms.

I don't know how I got acquainted with Mary Atwater, but I did quite soon after I learned to weave, and began having considerable correspondence with her. I went to Basin, Montana, in June of '36 with a loom because Mrs. Atwater said that if she could see that loom she could recommend it to her guild members. So I made a 34" knock-down loom and put it in my car and went to Montana. Every night en route I would tie string heddles so we'd have plenty.

I started to put it together in her home, and on the third trip in with parts, she met me at the door and said, "There's no use to go any farther, it won't weave." Now I had woven that Town on the River pattern that's in my ad, and it's absolutely perfect, in 1934. And I had woven several big afghans the full width of the loom, and they were perfect, too, because I had hung individual weights on every warp thread to keep the tension. I realized something was the matter, but I didn't know what it was. So we got into quite a discussion. Finally she said, "You've had a lot of bad tension problems. All you have to do is drop the harnesses 2". And you should use metal heddles." Well, after I got reconciled to the fact that the harnesses had to be dropped down, I just cut that top side rail on my loom and made another piece, and dropped them down 2"....

As I learn more about weaving, I've changed my looms. I made folding looms for 24 years. When I first met Mary Atwater in 1936 she had Bernat folding looms. I thought they were neat little things. They were about 30" wide in 4, 6 and 8 harnesses. They were absolutely perfect. And although Mrs. Atwater condemned them, people asked me about folding looms, so I started making them. Mine didn't fold up as compactly and they were heavier, but they folded up, and people still swear by them that they're the best of them all....

Ξ€here was a meeting of weavers in Palmer Lake, Colorado, in 1937. It was in a great big house, two or three stories high, and the main residents of that place were handicapped girls. One girl, her name was Elizabeth LaSalle, that I teamed up with to weave on a wide loom, had only one hand. She could tie knots faster with one hand than I could with two. And there was this friend of mine from Stockton, Kansas, named Claire McNulty. Mrs. Atwater had taken her inkle loom that she imported from England, and I made about 35 of them. Then there was Elsie Gubser from Tulsa, and Glenna Harris from Santa Fe, and a lady from Rockford, Illinois, and some from Texas, Houston and other places. It was quite a gathering of people.

I had two looms there, one had been shipped and the other one I had carried close to 10,000 miles in my Ford convertible. I had been to Chicago, and to Penland, North Carolina (to see Edward Worst). Most of the Penland looms were real old. They were so old that everybody kidded me about having to take my shoes off to weave because the foot treadles were hinged at the back and were so loose you couldn't control them. I wove a little blanket for my mother that was 100% wool, and the warp was called Chimayo and came from somewhere in New Mexico, sort of a bluish gray. I wove it on three harnesses. I still have that, and I use it quite often in my travels to put my feet in, because they get cold, I guess because I'm old....

When I learned to weave, my cousin said, "If you want to learn to weave rag rugs," (and that was one thing my mother was very interested in me doing), she said, "Thread your loom up rosepath, 12343214, and use pattern treadles only." I have told dozens and dozens of people to do it that way. If you use plain tabby, you're not going to have a very thick rug. But if you thread it up to rosepath and use the pattern treadles only, you're going to have a rug at least three times as thick, and it's going to be heavy enough it will lay on the floor...Almost every rug I have ever woven has been rosepath except one, and it was woven crackle weave and it was no earthly account. It looked heavy enough, but it just wouldn't lay on the floor.

My next weaving is going to be some curtains for my kitchen woven in a lace threading that I got from Russell Groff in December '71 (the same lace pattern as Mr. Gilmore's tablecloth in the Sept/Oct '85 issue of Handwoven). It's going to be woven with six-ply floss. One thing I like about that weave is it's so simple and fast, and the maximum number of harnesses to lift is four, and one shed is only three. I've woven all the curtains on my windows, towels, the table cloth, a pad under the table cloth. One lady said it was ridiculous to have a pad that was so pretty under the cloth. It was woven in shadow weave, green and brick color. And it's pretty. And I wove wall-to-wall carpet in my bathroom, and that's pretty, too.

More people are doing weaving these days, but they're not learning very much. They just do the simplest things, and a lot of people I talk to think that 10 or 12 epi is very fine weaving. They can't imagine me doing 46 or 60, and I've even done 90 and 120 to the inch. I did two bookmarks with sewing silk in gold color at 90 to the inch, in damask. On one I wove about that much and then I changed the tie-up and with pick-up I wove "Golden Gate Weavers" and then I changed the tie-up again, and did the rest of it...it was beautiful....

Mr. Gilmore's loom company continues to produce quality equipment for weavers all over the country under the able management of Jimmy Lucas, his employee of over 40 years. Besides spending time in the wood shop and weaving, he devotes a great deal of time each day to carrying on an active correspondence with old and new customers and weaving friends he's made over the years. He will receive special recognition when the Stockton Weavers Guild hosts the Conference of Northern California Handweavers on April 25-27.

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