‘Mummu: The Lady Behind the Loom’
EDITOR’S NOTE: This work is exerpted from the book, “Mummu: The Lady Behind the Loom.”
MARQUETTE — Fannie Salmela was born in the Helsinki, Finland area in 1895. She came to the United States at the age of 16, settling in the central Upper Peninsula where she worked as a housekeeper and later a lumber camp cook.
She married Vaino Alander in 1917 and they had three children. They eventually purchased a farm in Lawson, Michigan, southeast of Skandia, where eventually Fannie took up carpet weaving.
What follows is an account by Fannie’s grandson, Jon Swanson, about his grandmother or Mummu’s carpet weaving.
Making the carpet was only a small part of the entire process. First, she had to find used clothing. Then she would cut it into long, narrow strips, sew the strips together and wind them into 10-inch diameter balls so they would be easy to handle. She obtained her material from any place and anyone she could find. In those days, used clothing was not nearly as available as it is today. In fact, I would not be surprised if this was not the time-limiting step in the whole process of making carpets.
Once she had enough material, then she would purchase the thread (warp) and begin the setup process. Step 1 was to wind each thread around a warping reel, which one can envision to look like one of the vertical fish net drying devices used by commercial fishermen. This was where some of her artistic talent would come into play, since she had to envision what colors of thread would be used across the entire width of the carpet.
For a 30-inch carpet, she would need to wrap about 360 individual strands of thread around the warping reel. Each thread would be the total length of the batch of carpets she had planned on making. For example, if she planned on making 15, 4-foot carpets, she would need each thread to be about 80 feet long. Extra thread was needed between each carpet so she could separate and tie them off.
Once the thread (warp) was set up on the warping reel, she would take it off by grasping it with her hand and making one large “chain” like configuration. Then she would take it over to the loom and begin setting up the loom. Once again, each thread had to be fed through the eye of the heddle, and then through the reed to create different patterns and stripes. The process of putting the warp on the loom took two people since the threads had to remain straight and under tension at all times. Her loom was called a 2-harness loom and had 2 pedals.
Finally, she was ready to make the carpets. Here again is where her artistic talent came into play. She had to select the balls of fabric such that the overall color of the resulting carpet reflected the mood she wanted to convey. Was it to be a bright carpet that may be used in the kitchen or a young person’s bedroom or was it to be a more subdued color for use in a room where one relaxed, such as a study or a living room. She’d also need to ask herself if she wanted the carpet to be made of wool or even silk, since used silk stockings were available to be used as carpet making fabric.
The one thing I remember is how hard she would pull the beater bar toward her after inserting the length of rage between the warp using the shuttle. From quite a distance away, you could certainly hear it when Mummu was making carpets. I can still see her now, inserting the shuttle, with the rag wrapped around it, between the threads, then pressing the pedal to cross the threads over the rag, and then drawing the beater bar towards her chest. Shuttle, pedal, slam, slam; shuttle, pedal, slam, slam; shuttle, pedal, slam, slam, until Taata (grandfather) would come out and say “Fannie, isn’t that about enough carpet making for the night?”
It was said that her carpets were so tightly woven that you could stand them on edge. Her legs were strong, as were her arms. In fact, I never do recall beating her in an arm-wrestling contest. I do not have a photo of her at the loom, I wish I did.
Fannie Alander passed away in 1965 at the age of 70. She had just finished making carpets and was sitting in a chair tying the ends together when she had a heart attack. She passed away before help could arrive.
To learn more about the Upper Peninsula’s crafting traditions, join the Marquette Regional History Center and several local guilds for the 3rd Lake Superior Fiber Festival from 10 a.m-4 p.m. Sept. 16. The festival features demonstration sessions including weaving, quilting, embroidery, and knitting.
Work from each guild will be on display with items for sale as well. Door prizes and a kid’s corner with hands-on make-and-take activities. The event is included with general museum admission and membership at the sponsor level on up.