Fourth-generation loom weaver shares tradition
There’s something satisfying about hearing the steady thump-thump as you walk into Ava Craft Center in Burfordville. It’s that unique rhythm of the antique floor looms being worked by Lorrie Yount and her mother, Sherri Killion, which help the duo keep weaving history.
Ava Craft Center 2.0 SEMO is the evolution of a craft center formerly based in Ava, Illinois. Lorrie’s great-grandmother — along with four other business partners —
began the original storefront. The pact made among the original friends made the last survivor inherit the business. Lorrie’s great-grandmother was the youngest when everyone else passed on.
“So she inherited the lot,” says Lorrie. “The looms, showcases, building and contents. In 2019 we moved the business to Marble Hill temporarily, then here when we moved to the area.”
Lorrie, now 24, still has the original table mat she wove under her grandmother’s watchful eye.
“I’m a fourth-generation weaver. I was 4 years old when my grandmother, Frances, began teaching me,” says Lorrie.
This year marks the 60th anniversary for Ava Craft Center — now known as Ava Craft Center 2.0 SEMO. A charming Burfordville church dating back to the late 1800s (and formerly used for a business) was for sale and seemed like the perfect setting for a studio. Lorrie’s parents purchased the building and became partners with their daughter.
Besides being the third and fourth generation of loom weavers, Lorrie and her mother are proud of their collection which comprises nine antique Union Works No. 36 looms, two-harness floor looms where the rugs are woven by hand. No longer in production, these looms continue to help weave one-of-a-kind rugs, table runners, place mats and more which will last the owners for decades.
“It’s something you need to fall in love with,” says Sherri, as she watches her daughter work. Sherri says while she does weave, her main jobs are taking calls, sales, fabric donations and marketing for the center so her daughter can work on weaving projects.
It was Lorrie’s father who gave the nudge to keep going with the heritage art. “He said, ‘Lorrie, I know you’re passionate about heirloom crafts … do you want to keep this going?’ Mom and I agreed we wanted to continue with the business,” recalls Lorrie. “Then he said, ‘OK, you have two weeks to find a building. Then I’m pushing this place in.’ ”
Union Loom Works in Boonville, New York made the No. 36 loom which Ava Craft Center has used from the beginning. Known as the “workhorse of floor looms,” the Union No. 36 floor loom is one of the most solid, easy running, efficient machines for the practical craft. Back in the early 1900s, the new looms ran about $60. Today, a good, used No. 36 might cost you $800 to $1,200 or so in good condition.
The business owners, Black River Electric Cooperative members, say most of their rug orders are commissions and the list of orders is several months long.
“The widest thing we can weave on these looms is 36 inches wide, but most run 26 or 27 inches wide,” says Lorrie, “But they can be as long as you want them to be.”
A wall of shelves loaded with old jeans displays one of the most common items used to weave into rugs. Other favorite fabrics are bedsheets, corduroy, chenille bedspreads, old shirts and even upholstery material. All of the rugs made at the center are created from donated fabrics.
Another popular item is a memory rug made from the jeans and shirts of a loved one who has passed on. Rugs run around 85 cents per inch, depending on thread costs.
To prepare fabric for weaving, Lorrie cuts material into long strips, then sews them into one continuous strip. Then the fabric is loaded onto a shuttle or bobbin-like device. As the weaver stands at the loom, they push floor treadles (pedals) which in turn lift the shafts, moving the threaded warps (needles) open and closed. The shuttle moves between the threads as the machine separates them. Then the weaver pulls a beater bar to ensure the fabric is tight. This process is continued until the desired length of the item is reached. Then a selvage is created to finish the project.
Home-schooler Ella Rawson spent time at the studio recently to learn how to weave. “This is like attending art class,” Ella says. “I love seeing how the fabric looks when it’s turned into a rug.”
To help other artisans in Missouri, Ava Craft Center 2.0 also sells art created by fellow Missourians. Items include soap, candles, baskets, quilts, knitted items, chainsaw carvings, wooden toys, beautiful turned pens and more.
For those wanting to learn the art of loom weaving, Lorrie offers classes at the Burfordville shop. A $35 fee includes all needed supplies and instruction as you complete your rug.
Happy to carry on a craft passed down through her family, Lorrie has another reason which drives her to continue the art of loom weaving rugs.
“I’ve heard it said people see the price of everything but the value of nothing,” Lorrie says. “For me, what we’re doing has value. We’re not only preserving family history but a trade for future generations.”
Ava Craft Center 2.0 SEMO is open Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For inquiries, call 618-924-4160. The craft center is located at 134 State Hwy. U in Burfordville. Follow them on Facebook for updates.
This is one of the nearly 500 Missouri companies that are part of the Buy Missouri initiative overseen by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe. To find Missouri-made products or to enroll your business in the program visit www.BuyMissouri.net.