Posted on April 10 2011
AT BRAHMS MOUNT TEXTILES IN HALLOWELL: ‘We believe in the power of making’; Their looms humming, artist propel the creative economy by reinvigorating textile manufacturing in Maine
By ARDEANA HAMLIN, BDN Staff
This story was published on July 10, 2007 on Page C5 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News
The spirit of Maine textile manufacturing is alive and well and living in Hallowell where its song is the clickety-clackety, rackety-clickety rhythm of its power looms. Claudia Brahms and Noel Mount, owners of Brahms Mount Textiles, are the embodiment of that spirit. Indeed, even the looms on which they weave blankets, towels, tote bags and other products were resurrected from the sprawling red brick recesses of Maine’s departed textile industry. They use looms recycled from Knox mills, Bates Manufacturing mills, Cascade mills and Biddeford Textiles mills. The looms were either given to Brahms and Mount for their enterprise, or “bought for very little money,” Mount said. Some of the looms they acquired are used for spare parts. For the last 25 years, Brahms and Mount have carried on their weaving in buildings that once were a part of Hallowell’s granite industry. “This is where they carved the State House in Augusta,” Mount quipped. The two buildings sit on a corner lot at 19 Central St. The clapboards have weathered to an elegant shade of faded gray, reminiscent of the subtle and sometimes vibrant palette of colors Brahms uses in her design work – shades of cream and indigo, faded blue, lemony yellow and misty green. Here the husband-and-wife team, who describe themselves as “artists who manufacture,” and their seven employees carry on the business of weaving their products of linen, cotton, blends of cotton and alpaca, or blends of linen and cotton. Members of the Brahms Mount team are Arthur Martin, John Smith, Carol Hicks, Cheryl Heath, Debbie Fuller, Daylene Couture and Cherry Shepherd, who work the looms, make fringes by hand, finish the edges of blankets and prepare the products for shipping. “Linen is the noble fiber,” Mount said, “the best of all fibers. It’s the real thing.” But getting the “real thing” is sometimes a challenge. The company now uses linen fiber produced in Italy. In the past the company has used linen fiber produced in Belgium, Ireland or Hungary. “Finding a constant supply is a challenge.” The building that serves as the factory store began its life as a school for girls in the 1830s, Mount said. By the 1860s, the site was the home of the Hallowell Granite Co. “We started with one handloom and a dream,” Mount said. That was in 1983 when he and Brahms crafted one blanket at a time and concentrated on selling it to “the highest-end market.” The dream Brahms and Mount ended up pursuing together had its roots in two diverse places on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean – Northern Ireland and New York City. Mount, who grew up in a family that owned a textile factory that wove linen cloth, decided to leave Northern Ireland when hostilities there between Catholics and Protestants, Irish and English reached ugly proportions in the early 1980s. He took his family to Canada, where he said he had “a streak of bad luck,” including the fact that he “found himself single.” From Canada, he made his way to Maine were he went to work for Guilford of Maine, a mill then owned by the legendary King Cummings. When he first met Cummings, “I thought he was the janitor,” Mount said. But that perception changed immediately after the two men began to talk and soon afterward, Mount’s luck had a change for the better. Cummings hired him to build a $6 million dye house for the mill. Mount had learned textile engineering at the University of Manchester in England. Meanwhile, Claudia Brahms also had arrived at the Guilford mill where she worked as a textile designer. She had grown up in New York and studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology and at the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Sciences. Her father, a furniture designer, sometimes took her, as a child, “to a brownstone in New York City that was filled with Italians carving wood furniture. I was impressed by that,” she said. Her mother was a fashion designer who introduced the velour warm-up suit that became popular with athletes and sports enthusiasts in the 1970s. Her mother also designed tennis wear for the female racquet stars of the day, including Chris Evert. When Brahms and Mount crossed paths at the Guilford mill, and the Blethen Inn in Dover-Foxcroft, where they both roomed then, it was the beginning not only of a beautiful relationship, but the blossoming of a creative partnership that would result in the establishment of their Hallowell textile mill. “We complement one another’s talents,” Brahms said. “So much of what we do is about the ‘hand’ of the fabric,” she said, referring to how the finished product feels. She said she designs “from the yarn up,” taking into consideration the number of plies the thread has, its gloss, its tensile strength and shrinkage factor, as well as its color. Brahms said as a new design challenge she is interested in weaving hemp because hemp fibers can be broken down naturally in water, leaving no industrial pollutants, which makes it of interest to those who advocate the “green movement.” Brahms Mount wholesales its products to Neiman Marcus, “small-name niche markets and specialty shops,” and sells to individuals on the Internet through their Web site, through catalog sales and at their factory store. They also market their products internationally, including to clients in Australia, Mexico and Europe. Brahms and Mount see themselves as pioneers in Maine’s creative economy. “Everything starts with artists. As artists, we believe in the power of making,” Brahms said. To obtain more information about Brahms Mount visit www.BrahmsMount.com.