Originally designed to be admired on a well-made bed, the thirty-six handwoven overshot coverlets in our collection continue to impress. The term “overshot” refers to the technique of creating complex geometric designs by floating dyed-wool weft threads over and under plain warp threads to weave the pattern.
Early four-harness looms were large and cumbersome but almost indispensable for farm households. Using stand-alone floor looms with four shafts holding separate heddles, a creative, technically skilled weaver would follow complex design drafts (patterns drawn on paper showing how to thread the warp threads through the loom heddles onto the winding shaft). Then, designated heddles would lift in unison to allow the colored weft threads to weave a pattern. Most of these coverlets were woven with purchased cotton and locally-produced wool yarns. While flax was grown in Floyd County, the processes required to harvest, break, and spin these fibers were extremely labor intensive. Linen thread made from flax plants was generally reserved for other uses. The Old Church Gallery collections include linsey-woolsey blankets made with linen and wool.
Shortly after the Civil War, Wilson T. Vaughn (1810-1883) started a commercial wool-carding operation near Buffalo Mountain. In time, his sons Thomas A. Vaughn, Columbus Penn Vaughn, and Christopher Green Vaughn expanded the business. In 1873 they added equipment that cleaned and turned wool into rolls for hand spinning and weaving, a great boon for home weavers preparing yarn for their coverlets. After J.T. Dunn joined the company around 1901, the Vaughn-Dunn Woolen Mill added looms and hired weavers to make coverlets in a factory setting. A water-powered turbine drove the carding machines, yarn spinners, and looms which produced coverlets, woolen blankets, and shirt flannel. Our collection includes coverlets and blankets created at the Woolen Mill.