The loom lady: a love affair with walnut and wool

I love walnut and wool.

She says it in passing, almost as a whisper, but with a real sense of conviction.

If there is a nook or a cranny anywhere in Lucille VanSickle’s Clearmont home, it is filled with walnut and wool. Something she has created. Or rather, woven.

Projects finished. And projects just begun.

And looms, looms everywhere.

Warmth radiates from her weavings throughout her home, a reflection of the 90-year-old VanSickle, who believes having an interest in things has kept her young.

VanSickle grew up in Elmo and has lived most of her life in Nodaway County. She moved to Clearmont in 1967 with her late husband, Andy.

Her love for walnut and wool began a few years later, in the early 1970s, with an art class in Maryville.

fascinated by it

She had previously taken some adult art classes that hadn’t interested her much until a lady from Columbia came up to do a night class in weaving.

“I was fascinated with it,” she said.

The instructor let her take a loom home, so she did, and she was hooked.

“Some of those women bought looms and then put them in the attic. I never let mine rest,” she said. “It’s just been a real joy.”

Her adventures in weaving began with a big rug loom, making over 100 rugs for a church near Skidmore to sell at their bazaar.

“Then I got interested in lots of other kinds of weaving,” she said.

And her initial fascination transformed into a way of life.

In addition to the rugs, she has woven bags, belts, scarves, coverlets, pillows, baskets and wall hangings. She even tried her hand at Kumihimo, a method of braiding silk threads originally used by Japanese warriors hundreds of years ago, where they wove secret patterns around their sword handles.

“If you study the history of it, man has been weaving since our earliest history,” VanSickle said. “Every country has their own style of weaving. And that’s been fun to study.”

captivated by it
Her love of weaving has gone beyond just the art and the learning. She has been captivated by the looms themselves.

She has three big workable floor looms, two table looms and countless little box and cardboard looms. She has also had great big barn looms, measuring six to seven feet tall, and she even made a loom out of a gas pipe.

“There’s no way to count them all,” she said. “I enjoy making the looms and restoring old ones.”

Some of her greatest joys have been in finding an old loom, repairing it and getting it to “come alive again,” she said, like her first big barn loom.

She went to an auction where she was told there were big loom parts at an antique store in Cameron.

“I had a big old yellow Plymouth station wagon,” she recalled. “As soon as I could, I just drove clear to Cameron.”

When she arrived, the owner told her that there were indeed pieces of a loom out on the back porch.

“There was this whole pile of walnut lumber,” she said. “We loaded that walnut loom in the back of that Plymouth and it just went way down low in the back, so I had to drive home very slowly.”

And on the way home, she wondered what her husband would say about all that wood.

“I got it home, took it all out and got it cleaned up. And when my husband came home, he seemed delighted that I had made a good purchase,” she laughed, remembering that old loom. “I learned from that one. They’re each a little different and you learn from every one.”

animated by it

VanSickle lights up when she talks about sharing what she loves and what she’s learned over the years with others.

She becomes animated as she talks about teaching children to weave, about seeing the excitement in their eyes, about being a part of a local weaving group and also about attending the Midwest Weavers Conferences, where there are hundreds of people who, like her, are all excited about their art.

“One of the things I like the best is the friends you meet, other weavers, and sharing what I love,” she said. “Turning thread into something beautiful, making something useful and learning new techniques is fun. But then being able to share that learning with other people is a joy, too.”

Today, she continues on with her craft, just as excited as ever. Next on her list to tackle is learning how to weave clothing.

And it’s not surprising that she’s up for a new challenge.

Continuing her love affair with walnut and wool keeps her busy. And keeps her young.

“There’s food for your mind, food for your body and food for your spirit,” she said. “(Weaving) feeds my spirit.”

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