Shuttle

I am a collector.  The things I gather are evocations of the worlds I move between. On the wall, in a bookcase, these objects track my past and shape my story.

The South is new to me, and I feel it acutely. Roots are deep here. Family work histories and county names reel off easily between moments of shared understanding. It’s partly what drew me, these strong ties to place and generations-deep family anchors. My southern journey won’t be so long, but an urge for connectedness makes me seek out histories I can tame and bring home. Here and everywhere.

Years gather, and my collection grows.

Soft, pine needle-carpet walks and cicada cacophonies, screen porch rain and pit fires cadence the months here—but I need something to hold on to, to tie my own experience to this place’s complex undercurrents.

Passing through and in between.

Shuttle1

ShuttleHeader

An instant of recognition pulled me towards the thing—both essential and unknown. Made for mechanisms large and specific, it rested beside skeleton key, jar, hammer, and other implements more arcane on a dusty flea market table. I reached for it, and bore witness to its wear in the winter morning sun.

Time accumulates across its surface. The warm ruddiness of the wood is darker in some places than others—soaked with oil, from hand or machine. Mechanic discrepancies disrupt grain: grooves, bolts, and notches opaque in purpose. The rectangular sides, one smooth, one with lozenge-shaped holes, surround an empty center and come together at solid, pointed ends. On these closing points, iron encases wood in rusty sheaths. Designed for motion, this tool is efficient and subtle.

A clue: dirty grey fiber snagged between wood and metal.

This curio is a shuttle. It once shot weft between warp on looms large and industrial. I too am a weaver, and I know of looms and fabric styles across the world. But at this flea market in rural South Carolina, the words cotton and textile mill ring loudly in my imagination.

I leave with a shuttle and pocket the past.

Passing through and in between.

Hold the shuttle and feel the weight of its history. Once one of thousands, it is transformed in my hands.

It is powerful: it declares its utility with well-designed heft. This weight asks to be passed back and forth. Resurrect this motion, and its smoothness slides with ease.  Wood worn by a million brushes with soft yarn. Shaped by countless passes between warp and weft, as years of footfalls carve away marble steps.

The shuttle is cool now, but heat grows between fingers as metal and wood move left to right. Reviving this work, I am connected to those who wrung a living from this strange tool’s efficiency.

Passing through and in between.

Shuttle2Set it in motion and enter the mill.

Sunlight filters through paned windows, swirls of dust and lint are caught in white beams. The room is huge, rows of machines beat metallic rhythms. Workers navigate the spaces between like hallways. Lines of machinery, lines of spun thread, lines of wound bobbins readied for use. The scene is black and white, documentary. Lewis Hine and Norma Rae walked these floors.

Feel the pounding in your chest, drowning out the voices around you. This drum turns cotton to cloth through a thousand pieces moving in tandem. Day in and day out, up and over, under and through. Back and forth this shuttle adds weft to warp, iron now hot with the beat of repetition. One weft of thousands, a shuttle like any other. Human hands, young or old, do not linger. In this web of work the thing disappears into everyday toil. Shuttle loose, bobbin in, shuttle secured, weaving resumes.

Passing through and in between.

Lewis Hine, A spinner in the Mollahan Mills, Newberry, SC, December 3, 1908. 1908 December 3. LC-DIG-nclc-01472.
Lewis Hine, A spinner in the Mollahan Mills, Newberry, SC, December 3, 1908. 1908 December 3. LC-DIG-nclc-01472.

Once a single cog in a thousand gears, the shuttle now sits on my bookcase and tells of entire worlds. Of cotton fields, mill towns, swirling dust, and lunches eaten standing up. Of increasing mechanization that took the human hand out of industry.

The shuttle holds this piece of history and signifies my South. Taking its place between a puppet from Indonesia and a limestone fish from the Bahamas, this latest collection item stands in for my southern years, marking the time taken for books and coffee, leaps of personal growth and reflection.

Its surface is now cool, and dust has settled in its rivets. The wood has soaked up the familiar smell of my home: soap, sheets, and kitchen airs.

A hidden history, and a future remade, offered for the taking on a flea market table.

Passing through and in between.

 

 

Katy Clune