Rhode Island: It's All in Our Backyard

Leavers Lace Project

June 20, 2014 by cgrosch

Steve Mason stumbled upon a photograph of a Leavers lace machine while visiting Slater Mill in Pawtucket. Formerly a photographer for General Dynamics, Steve had always been fascinated with the aesthetics of machines, a “wow-is-that-cool” kind of guy. Learning that this 100-year-old machine was being used at a factory in West Greenwich left him curious.

So he paid Leavers Lace a visit and embarked on what turned out to be a two-year project documenting the last lace manufacturer in the United States. “When I started shooting this,” said Steve “I thought this company might be going away. Instead, they have three times the number of employees and are running two shifts.” Steve partially attributes it to the current popularity of lace in the fashion world.

The term Leavers refers to the loom as well as to the lace it produces. Leavers laces have a handmade and dimensional quality that make them unique. Extremely fine threads are wound around brass bobbins that are then inserted into thousands of steel carriages which swing back and forth and twist around the threads coming off beams – approximately 18,000 total threads. One weaver claims he can hear when a single thread breaks. “There is an intuitive understanding of the process that borders on the mystic,” says Steve.

The looms themselves are massive, weighing 34,000 pounds and measuring ten feet tall. Each machine occupies 500 square feet of floor space. Since the looms were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, replacement parts have to be fabricated by hand as no spare parts exist.

This is the kind of story that needs to be recorded and Steve Mason does just that through his compelling photographs in which each machine, each gear, each bobbin, and yes, each length of lace becomes a work of art. Steve is currently working on exhibiting and publishing these photographs.