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Tarrytown Sisters Weave Old Threads for New Rug at Bylane Farm

The Marymount Convent weavers use ancient art to restore a 19th century tradition.

Foxhall Parker remembers running up the stairs as a child at Bylane Farm on Todd Road — and he remembers what kind of rug lined the steps to the second floor of his boyhood home.

When attention turned to restoring authentic decor to the inside of the home —now the headquarters of the Bedford Audubon Society — Parker, now 82, and his wife, Helen, suggested the rag runner — a flat-woven carpet popular in American homes in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

But they didn't want a mass-produced rag runner. With such careful attention paid to maintaining the historical details of the 1725 farmhouse during its recent renovations, they wanted quality craftsmanship that involved the local community.

Community involvement was a family tradition. Foxy Parker's mother, Mary Welsh Parker, lived there until her death at age 109, when she donated the home and the 120 acres of land upon which it stood to Bedford Audubon.

"Their goal was authenticity in the style that they remembered," said Bedford Audubon Society board member Carol Cioppa. Helen Parker also suggested that the cloth be donated by community members who might want to become a part of Bylane history.

Cioppa's research led her to the  run by Sister Bianca Haglich, who has been weaving for over 40 years. Sister Bianca agreed to the project, which will weave the lives of Bedford residents together through bits and pieces of donated fabric, adding a contemporary twist to an ancient art.

The Parkers met with Sister Bianca at the farmhouse, where she took measurements and made observations about the house which a critical part of the artistic process, she said.

"Foxy remembered the rug being narrow; we decided on a 22-inch-width and a length of about 25 feet, to go all the way up the stairs and into the first room on the second floor," said Sister Bianca. Her exact measurements were in meters, she said, because the looms they use are produced in Europe.

The project requires about 30 pounds of fabric, said Sister Bianca, who started weaving while on sabbatical in Finland in 1968. She now teaches workshops at the center in Tarrytown, which boasts 22 looms that are available for rentals and private tutorials.

The cloth will be cut into half-inch strips and mounted on the loom to repeat the colors — blues, beiges and browns, solid moss greens or prints of paisley. The finished product will be faded on one side, but textured and varied on the other — symbolic of the variety of community members who donate fabric.

"We've already received some samples," said Cioppa. "We're excited to see what else comes in."

Below are the requirements for cloth donations:

  • 100% cotton — woven, not knitted — e.g. sheets, shirts, trousers. Scraps must be at least 5" x 7"
  • No upholstery material, flannel, corduroy or other heavy material. No t-shirts or polo shirts.
  • Colors—blues (light and dark); beiges and browns; moss greens; paisley, solids and prints.
  • Items must be washed and all buttons and zippers must be removed.

Cloth donations will also be accepted at the Bedford Audubon Society's picnic at Bylane Farm on July 24 from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. A $5 donation is suggested. Rsvp by emailing rsvp@bedfordaudubon.org or calling 232-1999.

You can also donate materials at The Weaving Center located on 32 Warren Avenue in Tarrytown.

No word on when the rug is expected to be finished, but the sisters say that making a rug of this nature will take time and care. 

"Weaving is an artistic process. A time consuming one--but very creative,"  Sister Bianca said. "It's not a dying art. It's a craft that is alive and well."

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