MEET THE MAKERS OF NEW YORK MAKERS
ABOUT THISTLE HILL WEAVERS
If a weaver who creates elaborate fabric from thin air on an antique loom reminds you of a Hollywood character, you wouldn't be too far off. Rabbit Goody (a name as uniquely delightful as she) is hotly in-demand in the film industry as the peerless craftswoman who can see, feel and then perfectly recreate fabrics from any era, be it the Revolutionary War, the 1960s or any time in between. But she resides far from the silver screen studios, nestled in a bucolic Central New York village called Cherry Valley.
Rabbits mind is virtually mechanical. It is little surprise that this daughter of an electrical engineer and inventor would be able to break the world down into its component parts and enjoy solving the most complex riddles. Her career could have taken many directions, but an introduction to hand-weaving at age 17 piqued her passions. The art of manual weaving was lost in the industrial era, and Rabbit created her own curriculum to learn everything she could about the craft. French hand-woven textiles were superlative in her mind, and she researched at the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Mass. It turns out that she's a pretty thorough teacher.
Her obsession with historic fabrics led Rabbit to a fairly obvious client set: reenactors and living history museums. The work of making period costumes and blankets exercised Rabbit's burgeoning talent, but the pay insufficiently rewarded the cost (and time) of labor. Rabbit's distinguishing skill is her uncanny ability to look at a historic fabric and decipher precisely how it was woven; she can also date and identify historic fabrics, including flags, as the result of her academic study of the subject. Where reenactors suffer from limited funds, movie studios and flag collectors' pockets are flush, and both found themselves in need of Rabbit's keen eye and skillful hand.
Today, the textile community regards Rabbit as one of the world's most respected weavers, textile scholars and the protector and heir-apparent of an ancient art. The puzzles she solves are entangled in the complex interweavings of fabric, a tactile record of human history. Thistle Hill Weavers' (the current name in a long list: Bramble Bridge Weave Shop, Rabbit Goody Wools, The Studio of Rabbit Goody) commissions include film and televisions projects such as "Titanic," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Cinderella Man," "John Adams," "Boardwalk Empire," "Transformers," "No Country for Old Men" and "Indiana Jones." For "No Country," the movie's cstume designer discovered the perfect 1960s men's shirt in a vintage store, but needed multiple copies; that's where Rabbit stepped in. For "Indiana Jones," Rabbit developed 15 identical versions of the doctor's cape, each distressed to varying degrees to represent the character's wear and tear over the course of the story. On a more glamorous scale, her cashmere and silk scarves were once sold at Saks Fifth Avenue and Henri Bendel. Her projects aren't merely commercial blockbusters, however.
Her historic recreation carpets, drapes, trims and linens can be found at George Washington's Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson's Monticello homes, at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, the Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens in Akron, Ohio and Valley Forge National Historic Park in Pennsylvania.
In New York, where Rabbit spent her childhood summers and has long been a resident, Thistle Hill Weavers designs are on public view throughout the state: at the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown (Central New York), in Martin Van Beuren's Lindenwald home in Kinderhook (Hudson Valley), and at the Rock Hall residence in Lawrence (Long Island).
A modest woman with neither the time nor inclination to indulge in her preeminence, Rabbit works out of the studio she built piece by piece. She considers herself a "tradesman, not an artist," and believes that in a previous life she was an 18th century French weaver. The mechanical genetics come into play on a weekly basis, as Rabbit works to repair the electric looms dating from 1899 and 1920 that she scavenged from mills that were going out of business in the New York region.
Rabbit states that New York holds the most patents for textile machinery (more than England and France, countries with robust textile industries), and that a cotton mill was once built on every small stream in Upstate New York. After the War of 1812, British cotton flooded the American trade markets and by 1819 many of those New York mills were bankrupt.
As the industry fades all around her, Rabbit is doing her level best to keep it going, and with integrity. As the textile industry died, the support industries vanished with it: the mills, yarn makers, fabric dyers, all dissolved. This was devastating on many levels, and inhibited Rabbit's ability to work quickly; Hollywood projects demand Rabbit to source yarns, hand-weave samples, expedite shipments to California, make fixes based on feedback from the movie company, and start the process all over again within the span of 48 hours. To stay on top of the game, Thistle Hill Weavers does everything in house: research, design, construction and installation.
Her legacy will be that she not only maintains the craft, but elevates it, too. She annually hosts the Textile History Forum in Cooperstown, an academic symposium, with scholars sharing their research, talking through weaving complexities and reveling in the joy of their art. Advancing the form even further, Thistle Hill developed a line of environmentally friendly fabrics without dyes, sourced and woven in America, made of bamboo, tencel, hemp, washable wool and American alpaca; a modern take on an old trade.
The industry's small size, and its association with a bygone era, might seem to render null a staff with the skills of Rabbit's mill. Not so, she says. While formal apprentices have never approached her, everyone who works for her "just needed a job and knew nothing about weaving." Sound familiar? But as we know, Rabbit's an excellent teacher.