Amid the rolling, wooded acreages north of the highway in Roberts Creek, members of the public will soon be able to witness an unlikely slice of 19th-century British industry, clanking away in a workshop just off Hanbury Road. The formidable, rhythmic noise visitors will hear is from one of the Macgee Cloth Company’s vintage, two-tonne looms turning out craft wool and cotton blankets.
The company, which will be open for an upcoming tour and product sale, has been the singular labour of love of Pamela Magee (without a “c”). A part-time Sechelt pharmacist, Magee spends most of her week otherwise engaged in running the extraordinarily complex machinery – originally developed in the 1860s – that she imported in hundreds of pieces from the U.K. after a years-long search.
“It’s a 1936 Dobcross,” Magee said of the one shuttle loom she currently has up and running. “I finally found it in a rusty container in a sheep field in Wales.” The two-metre-tall machine dwarfs the diminutive Magee, who looks even smaller standing by the towering, 1899 Charlesworth warper, a pre-looming device that organizes the coloured threads she imports from Yorkshire and North Carolina. Four other looms, including a 1956 Dobcross, stand in various states of re-assembly in her 1,500-square-foot workshop. It is an awesome operation, which she named Macgee with a “c” because another textile firm had already trademarked her surname’s spelling.
“I’ve been a quilter and I’ve sewn before. I love the feel of fabric. But I wasn’t a hand-weaver, it just seemed so tedious,” said Magee when asked what led her on such an unconventional quest. Despite the technical challenges and costly risks involved – and that she’s now building the business without the support of her husband, who died suddenly in 2016 – she said it’s worth it.
“Sometimes I wake up at night thinking this is all folly,” she said. “But then I come down here to the workshop, I smell the wool and I turn on the machine. You have to be part of it. It can’t run on its own because the bobbins run out. But it’s like a metronome that almost hypnotizes you and I feel a contentment that blows it all away. I just really enjoy the processes.”
Magee said she finds getting the high-end throws and blankets to market even more painstaking than making them, but now has teamed up with local author and administrator Laurie Verchomin, who is handling the roll-out of Macgee Cloth’s expanding product line.
“I’m her marketing director,” Verchomin said. “We’re just starting to develop our campaign and figuring out who our target market is. I thought it would just be women our age. But the more research I do, I’m finding millennials are also really interested in this kind of process, and want to own a piece of it.”
Verchomin and Magee are conducting what they call a Steampunk Textile Mill Tour and Heirloom Blanket Sale on Sunday, July 21, from 1 to 3 p.m., with more Sunday afternoon tours likely to follow. Those interested are asked to RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org