Thursday, March 20, 2008

Coverlet Weavers in Northwest Ohio

Unidentified Seneca County, Ohio children pose for their photograph before an overshot coverlet used as a backdrop

In a letter to her husband, then serving in the Civil War, young Josephine Hetrick of Washington Twp. Sandusky County, wrote, “I have been weaving all day and must go at it again tomorrow.” Weaving cloth on a hand loom for her family’s needs was a skill that was part of Josephine’s heritage. The tradition of producing cloth from wool, flax, and cotton was brought to Ohio by European immigrants and their descendants. From the 1820s through the Civil War era, these talented weavers played a key role in Ohio’s textile production.

Seneca County, with strong German influence, claimed more than a dozen professional weavers during this period including, John Bick of Rome: Henry Miller of McCutchenville; Jacob Sherman of Attica; Charles Schoch of Thompson Twp.; and Henry Brinkman, Jacob Kline, and John Gites of Hopewell Twp. These skilled artisans produced durable, colorful, and richly decorated coverlets for their families and communities.

Overshot coverlet woven in Ballville Twp., Sandusky County, Ohio
ca. 1850
weaver unknown
Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center Collection

By the 1830s, many professional weavers had purchased Jacquard attachments for their box frame looms. The series of punched cards with encoded designs (a forerunner of today’s digital technology) was attached to the hand loom, making it possible to control the warp and weft yarns. Traditional geometric patterns soon gave way to the complicated designs that could be created only with the Jacquard attachment: birds, flowers, buildings, trees, animals, patriotic emblems, and folk motifs.

Weavers could purchase sets of punched cards or they could punch their own to produce unique designs and their corner “signature” blocks. In the “signature” block, a Jacquard weaver could advertise his product and identify himself by giving his name; date; and the state, county, or township where he lived. Sometimes a weaver even included the name of his customer. Today, it is the “signature” block that provides clues to a coverlet’s origins.

Functional and relatively inexpensive, coverlets were very much a part of Ohio’s middle-class life. They were used commercially in railroad cars, Civil War hospitals, and servants’ quarters. They can often be seen in period photographs such as this one, where a coverlet serves as a backdrop for an image of three Seneca County children.

More sophisticated tastes and the development of the automatic loom shortly after the Civil War forced weavers to find new work or migrate to other areas. Yet in rural Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and New York - where the German influence remained strong – families continued to use these durable coverlets long after their creators had died or moved on. They can still be found in homes, museum collections, and antique shops. Today, because of their rich designs and inherent beauty, woven coverlets are no longer viewed as common household goods, but rather as works of art.

Jacquard coverlet by weaver P. Shreffler, Washington Twp. Sandusky County
date unknown
Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center Collection

1 comment:

Bubbasmom / Brenda said...

I have a blue and white coverlet that has Ohio in one corner.It is in great condition .Do you have a guess on the value.Send me an email and I can send photos .It would be greatly appreciated.If you don't want to bother I understand .Just thought I'd try.Thanks Brenda (