Design

Nantucket Looms Is Weaving a World of Their Own | Open Studio

In keeping with a decades-old tradition, the artisans of Nantucket Looms aim to capture the essence of island life.

By Annie Graves

Feb 21 2019

Open-Studio-1

Peraner at work in the weaving studio

Photo Credit : Georgie Morley

The romance is implicit in Nantucket Looms’ tagline: Handwoven Thirty Miles Out to Sea. But once I’m aboard the Hy-Line ferry, speeding away from the Massachusetts mainland, it snaps into sharper focus. I’m flying over waves toward a speck of land that’s been marinating in whaling lore, ghost stories, and salty mystique for more than 350 years—so much so that two of the most enduring characters in literature, Ahab and Starbuck of Moby-Dick, hailed from Nantucket, whose name translates as “Faraway Land.”

An hour later, the ferry makes its way into Nantucket’s harbor. Celebrities and tourists aside, this is a strikingly handsome historic town, a deeply authentic place to roll your ankle on cobblestones (“hobblestones,” as the local kids call them) while gazing at the beautifully restored old homes. It is here, in the heart of the village, at 51 Main Street, that you will encounter a rosy brick storefront topped with a gold-lettered sign: Nantucket Looms. Last year, the venerable little business turned 50.

The Main Street storefront.
Photo Credit : Georgie Morley

Inside, the first floor is filled with handwoven fabrics begging to be touched—Scottish cashmere and Japanese silk, brushed mohair and Peruvian alpaca—in shades of fog, ocean blue, and celadon, as if the essence of Nantucket could be distilled into textiles. This ocean of tranquility washes up to the second-floor studio, where the light filters across honey pine floors. Wooden looms clack quietly, and shuttles dart back and forth over the threads like dragonflies.

“It’s such a melodic, familiar sound, to walk into the building and hear the looms,” says Bess Clarke, as she guides me through the studio. The weavers’ handiwork is stacked everywhere: ivory alpaca blankets, cashmere scarfs and ponchos, checkerboard rugs made of linen and cotton. A framed thank-you note from Jackie Onassis hangs on the wall.

A snapshot of Nantucket Looms’ prevailing sand-and-sea palette.
Photo Credit : Georgie Morley

Bess grew up sweeping the cobblestones out in front, while her mom, Liz Winship, helped steer the company for 40 years. Eventually, founders Andy Oates, master weaver, and Bill Euler simply “handed [Liz] the keys and retired to Key West.”

Five years ago, Bess took over from her mother and formed a small partnership of women who were already deeply committed. Among them is master weaver Rebecca Peraner, who did three summer internships with Oates while she was a RISD student before coming aboard permanently. “I absorbed so much about the exquisiteness of natural fibers and the simplicity of weave structures,” she remembers. “The designs were timeless and beautiful.”

The third member of the crew is Stephanie Hall, who joined Nantucket Looms in 1996. “Liz needed help at the shop,” she says. “She and I had an instant connection—she was my mentor.” Together they expanded the business to include full-scale interior design.

Nantucket Looms partners Stephanie Hall, Bess Clarke, and Rebecca Peraner.
Photo Credit : Georgie Morley

“We all collaborate,” Rebecca says. In a flash, the talk turns to kids, school, and the weekend. “We’re all young moms,” she explains.

Bess interjects, “We depend on each other to help raise our families—we even spend Saturdays together at the beach!”

And just as quickly, we’re back to Nantucket.

“It’s inherent in everything we do,” Stephanie says. “It’s our life. It takes a lot to live here. It can be challenging on an island….” She trails off, as the others nod.

They’re mindful of protecting the integrity of their island, not overselling or exploiting it—not being too “Nantuckety,” as Rebecca puts it. At the same time, they’re weaving this coastal life, this cottage style, into pale alpaca throws and frothy mohair fringe. “Authenticity is a big thing for us,” Rebecca says.

Peraner at work in the weaving studio.
Photo Credit : Georgie Morley

I watch as a young weaver flicks the shuttle across her loom, her hands knowing. She’s weaving a romantic lifestyle into this throw, but it’s founded on something real.

“What Andy and Bill put value on was so special,” Bess says. “There was nothing ostentatious or overdone. And they passed it down to us.” She checks with her partners, this close-knit group whose members call one another “friends, business partners, sisters.” And she adds, “Liz, Bill, Andy—their voices are still very much alive in our heads.”

Back out on the street, wandering through a village that feels timeless, I’m thinking about these women, this island, the traditions of Nantucket. Earlier in the day, someone said to me, “Women always ran this town, because their men were away.” I’ve just met three.

To buy or for more information, go to nantucketlooms.com.