In the 19th century, many people made their own clothes, towels, and bedding. To weave yarn into cloth, they needed a loom. Most looms were built by hand from locally available materials. The most common type of hand weaving loom is called the Counterbalance Loom. The Counterbalance Loom has a sinking shed, meaning that when any two harnesses are raised, two other harnesses are lowered. For this reason, they are ideal for making balanced weaves, which look symmetrical.
William Martin, a farmer and blacksmith from Jasper County, Illinois, made this three harness loom. It is set up to weave jean cloth, a strong wool and cotton twill popular for clothing. William Martin, who served as a member of the 123rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry between 1862 and 1865, probably wore a uniform made of jean cloth in battle. According to relatives, he built this loom following his discharge. This handmade loom then played a role in the day to day life on the Martin farm.
Stephen Sargent made this loom at the Sargent family home in Hutton Township, Illinois. It has a walnut frame and is set up as a two-harness loom. According to a family history written by Stephen’s grandson Samuel, "in addition to the regular rooms of the house is the old loom room, built to accommodate the large walnut frame loom built by grandfather, and the spinning wheel with the other necessary equipment to make the raw wool, flax and cotton into clothes for the members of the family, all of which grandmother was efficient in." -Samuel Sargent, 1942
This bedroom scene shows examples of the many different woven products used in the home in the mid-19th century. From bed sheets to rugs, these artifacts not only represent the varied use of hand-woven products in the home, but also depict the different materials used in the weaving process.