In the French Quarter the brass bands and buskers jam out while tourists revel day and night. The noise and excitement of this historic neighborhood is invigorating. But just a few blocks from Jackson Square there is a small storefront, Louisiana Loom Works, which offers total peace and calm.
In the business’s window sleep several fat sunbathing cats and you’ll see a diminutive woman, Rhonda Rose, who works a five-foot, 126-year-old Weavers Delight loom rhythmically and effortlessly.
“Weaving is very hard work,” says Rose. “It’s very physically demanding and there’s not a lot of money in it, but I’m so fortunate that I get to do what I love to do.”
Rose makes high-end rag rugs. Traditionally these rugs were made of old clothes, sheets and other gently-used materials.
However, her rugs are made from new fabric and thread.
In 1989, after a Rose’s husband Walt Rose had a health scare the couple left Missouri to travel, goof off and pursued a few other endeavors, then settled in New Orleans. In 1997 they began their business. Rose quickly picked up her husband’s family’s craft, which he had learned as a child in a basement in Flat River, Missouri.
“I had such a strong feeling that this is where I belong.”
Walt died two and half years ago and Rose has never once thought of doing anything else.
The process of weaving dates back 12,000 years ago and is a relatively simple process.
“If you can thread a loom you can weave,” Rose says.
The store’s mostly custom-order rugs range in size from 1,200 square inches to a maximum of width of 10 feet and maximum length of 35 feet. Their most popular size is 2-foot by 3-foot and those usually take about five hours to make. The cost is simple at17 cents per square inch. Rose encourages clients to send paint chips, wallpaper samples or fabric swatches as she can match almost any color.
It’s impossible to talk about Louisiana Loom Works without mentioning the store’s friendly felines. They sit on looms, in boxes of material and in the window.
Her cats are all rescue cats: one was a French Quarter stray, one survived Katrina and Flambeaux was saved from a three-alarm fire at Cafe Sbisa nearly six years ago.
“I don’t go to shelters to get cats,” says Rose. “They come to me.”
Sometimes tourists and clients come in the store just to sit and relax. The rugs displayed on the wall muffle the outside sounds, WWOZ’s plays on the sound system and the gentle boom of the loom’s movments fill the room.
“Weaving is exact work and that’s what I like about it,” Rose says. “I’m a perfectionist and this work is so satisfying to me. At the end of the day, you can see you’ve made something worthwhile. It’s a beautiful thing.”