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Weaving Their Way Into History
by Bob Brooke


David Kiline checks a piece of fabric from one of his looms.In the world of antiques, many people frown on reproductions, but at Family Heir-Loom Weavers of Red Lion, just outside of York, Pennsylvania, history is a precious commodity. Here, in a former Meadow View Dairy milk bottling plant, David and Carole Kline and their son, Patrick, re-create historic fabrics and carpets for use in re-enactments and historic homes.

David Kiine, now 73, began his career in weaving as a loom cleaner just after high school. From there, he moved up to cut boy taking fabric off the looms, and then on to weaver. He learned so much about the looms that eventually he became a loom fixer. But the company Kline worked for used only plain looms. After it closed in 1955, he got a job at a York factory which used jacquard looms.

The pastebaord cards of a Jacquard loom.In the mid-19th Century, Joseph Jacquard invented a weaving system that relied on stiff, pasteboard cards, punched with various patterns of holes. At each throw of the loom’s shuttle, the weaver placed a card in the path of the rods. Thus, the pattern of holes in the card, acting as a program for the loom, determined which rods could pass through, enabling weavers to create complex designs.

When the second company folded, Kline got a job at Caterpillar, but weaving was in his blood, so when he got laid off from that job in 1982, he and his wife began Family Heir-Loom Weavers and Kline was once again in his element. At first, Kline produced only coverlets, but soon received requests for table runners, and eventually expanded into making placemats, tablecloths, pillows, and other household items on his jacquard looms since he had control of every thread of the warp, enabling him to create figural designs.

"I had orders for 100 coverlets before opening my business," said Kline. He produces 25 different coverlet designs on looms such as a 1935 model salvaged from Philadelphia University (formerly Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science). Most of Kline’s 32 looms, warping wheels, and other equipment came from now-defunct factories like the Blue Bird Silk Mill on Hartley and Maryland Avenues in York, Pennsylvania. They date as early as 1900, but most are from the 1930s through the 1960s.

"Historical accuracy is important to us," added Kline, "so we reproduce the elaborate borders and subjects of the 1830-1850 period. Customers can also have their names, sayings or dates woven into commissioned coverlets." The Klines also sell pre-made coverlets without personalization for customers who want to use them to enhance their antique-filled interiors.

One of Kline's hsitoric coverlets.Each coverlet is woven in two halves on jacquard looms and hand seamed just as they were in the early 19th Century. Kline weaves coverlets in patterns such as the Eagle, House, Pine and Bush, and Railroad, in a variety of colors. Then he personalizes each coverlets with a signature block at the corner which says, "Wove by David Kline/Red Lion/PA." followed by the customer's name and the date if woven to order. Some clients include an anniversary or birthday date.

William Brown, a ranger for the National Park Service, called Kline to ask him if he knew of anyone who could reproduce a carpet for Abraham Lincoln's house in Illinois. And so Kline embarked on yet another facet of his business, making reproduction ingrain carpets, which now represent about a third of his company’s volume.

Family Heir-Loom Weavers’ ingrain carpets now enhance the interiors of a number of historic house museums of former U.S. presidents, including Abraham Lincoln (5 rooms), George Washington (2 rooms), Andrew Jackson (2 rooms), Martin Van Buren ((2 rooms), James Buchanan (4 rooms), Ullysses S. Grant (2 rooms) and Woodrow Wilson (1 room). The Surrender Room at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, Washington Irving's "Sunnyside" in Tarrytown, New York, Walt Whitman s home in Long Island, and Mark Twain's house in Hannibal, Missouri are among the many others. His product has appeared in numerous historical films as well.

Popular during most of the 19th Century and affordable for the rising middle class as a moderately priced alternative to hand-loomed Brussels carpets and hand-knotted Axminsters, ingrain carpets range from 9 to 54 inches wide, though most are 36 inches. Room-sized carpets like these have to be handstitched together, just as they were during the peak of their popularity. Homeowners laid them wall-to-wall over wide-board pine floors. Mid-19th-century tastes dictated bold colors and multiple patterns in decorating a room, and these carpets completed the look.

One of the two-sided carpets from Kline's Jacquard looms.Family Heir-Loom Weavers produces 20 patterns of ingrain carpets as well as four types of stair runners in a variety of colors. When Kline first began weaving ingrain carpets, he had to have the designs re-created by textile designers. Today, he just sends a scrap of original carpet to the firm of Patterson Card Cutters, and they set the pattern on their computers, returning the cards to him to use in on his looms. On some of this machinery, the firm also makes dimity fabric for historic bed hangings.

But the company is probably best known for its varied line of Civil War-Era fabrics. Patrick Kline, became involved in Civil War re-enactments when he was younger, participating in the 1976 Bicentennial re-enactment in Gettysburg. He researched the fabric types and began weaving shirting in his garage. Eventually, he began producing a full line of fabrics for Confederate and Union uniforms and period clothing.

"Most Confederate uniforms were made of jean cloth, which has a twill weave," said the elder Kline. "We make a lot of this fabric and also weave worsted wool tape for chevrons [sergeant's stripes] and for suspender straps."

Family Heir-Loom Weavers collection of 19th-Century reproduction yard goods–kerseys (coarse, woolen fabric), broadcloths (stout woolen cloth with a smooth finish over 29 inches wide), shirtings (used for ladies’ blouses and mens’ shirts), jeans (twilled cotton cloth, plain or striped), satinets (a thinner, cheaper version of satin mixed with wool), linings, and blankets–is impressive. The Klines offer shirtings in a variety of plaids and stripes representative of those worn by Confederate troops. But they also weave the cloth to make civilian shirts, vests, and haversacks.

Over the last six years, the company has been asked to provide fabrics and carpets for a number of Hollywood films. Their first was the remake of "Washington Square," in 1997, which featured numerous Family Heir-Loom ingrain carpets. And being new to the workings of Hollywood, Kline didn’t fair so well on the business side, ending up with only a credit at the end of the film. But experience is a great teacher, and he went on to work with other producers, including Steven Speilberg for his movie "Amistad" and the producers of "Gods and Generals," a prequal to a film on the Battle of Gettsyburg.

His latest venture involved producing blanket and clothing fabric for "Cold Mountain," Charles Frazier's odyssey of a wounded Confederate soldier walking home to North Carolina in the waning months of the Civil War. This was the firm’s biggest movie order yet. The film’s costume designer, Ann Roth, who received an Academy Award for her designs in "The English Patient," visited the small factory to personally order the materials. When they finished the order, Roth had the fabrics shipped to Romania to be assembled into uniforms and blankets.

Patrick Kline is a favorite among Civil War re-enactors because of the authenticity of his materials. His main interest is making fabrics used by individual Civil War reenactors. "Our customers want to make the best impression they can out there," Kline said. "They want their impressions to do justice to the people who fought in those battles."

Family Heir-Loom Weavers coverlets and carpets are the perfect complement to an antique-filled interior, and their fabrics make the Civil War and other time periods come alive in the field. To see samples of their work, visit their Web site.

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