Skip to content

The first thing you notice when you walk into Thistle Hill Weavers is the noise. When all of the 1890-1950s era American-made machines are in action, the rhythmic metallic thudding fills the hangar-like building and the quiet fields that surround the shop near Cherry Valley, New York. 

“My husband called it heavy metal weaving,” proprietor Rabbit Goody says. Boxes of foam ear plugs are tucked in with the fabric samples, pirns and bobbins, dust masks, heddles, wrenches, chain drives, and weights. Thistle Hill isn’t a collection of hand-weavers on wooden looms. Instead, it’s where early powered machines meet the ages-old need for cloth.

Half-a-dozen women and one man are doing all of the work that the machines can’t. Hundreds of strands of fine silk are being measured on a 1915 warping reel. More threads are being wound on a loom’s beam and threaded through hundreds of heddles. Another woman winds weft threads on bobbins. All this—plus the math and diagrams of the design—needs to happen before actual weaving begins. 

Once threaded and tied and organized, the powered loom takes over the labor of lifting the right warp threads, throwing the shuttle through the shed, beating the weft tight, lifting new warp threads, and continuing on and on and on. Fabric that would take months to make on traditional hand looms now takes a week or two. 

You’ve likely seen Thistle Hill’s cloth and didn’t know it. Abe’s shawl in Lincoln started here, as did textiles in Master and Commander, John Adams, and There Will Be Blood. Visitors to Plimoth Patuxet Museums, Mount Vernon, or Monticello have seen Thistle Hill’s work on furniture and floors. Clothing designer Gary Graham uses her fabrics in his work, including garments he made on Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum’s Making the Cut. The design collective 4 created the Rabbit jacket, which is made from Thistle Hill yardage in silk, wool, cotton, and hemp.

Meet Rabbit

While you know her output, you don’t know Rabbit. What kind of woman dedicates her life to creating fabrics on machines destined to be melted down for scrap? One raised in Tenafly, New Jersey, and who came of age protesting the Vietnam War. 

“From the time I was born, I knew I wanted to farm,” she said from the relative quiet of her office. “You’re going to grow food because it’s the only profession that truly is a legitimate profession in this world in 1969.”

Like many in her generation, she bounced around after high school. There was a move to Boston and a year of college. She hitchhiked out to Cherry Valley to house-sit for a couple while they went to Morocco, which led to buying 150 acres, building a cabin, and starting a farm. Shortly after that, Rabbit earned a degree in Anthropology from Bennington College. That led to a position at the Mystic Seaport Museum, which led to researching, teaching, and making historic textiles. 

By the late 1970s, she was handweaving silk and cashmere scarves for New York City stores like Bergdorf and Macy’s. She couldn’t compete with big manufacturers on price and speed so she focused on luxury.

“I knew at some point I could not continue to make my living as a hand weaver. My body was not going to last. Plus, I liked weaving machinery,” she said. In Pennsylvania she found a mentor who was weaving coverlets on early powered looms in his garage. Rabbit designed the fabrics; he taught her about nuts and bolts. From that, this business was born.

Thirty-three years later, “my roots here are as deep as my maple trees’ are.” She still farms and makes cheese. She owns all the weaving machinery she can handle, plus a few extra machines she cannibalizes for parts. 

“They’re all pieces of equipment that mills were throwing out and melting down,” she says.

More people are discovering the appeal of small runs of fabric carefully designed and woven on early 20th-century equipment. This cloth remains the product of a human mind, hands, and knowledge. If textiles can be said to have a soul, Thistle Hill’s certainly do—even though that very idea flies in the face of Rabbit’s approach to her work. 

“When people ask me what I do, I say I’m a weaver by trade because that tells people that this is not a craft. It’s not a hobby. I’m not an artist. I’m a tradesman. To me, a tradesman has both the understanding of the process and the ability to work with the equipment to come out with a finished product. Coming out with a finished product is the goal. Not being artsy fartsy. We don’t get paid unless stuff goes out the door,” she says.

Rabbit takes the opposite approach with knitting. 

“I learned knitting from my grandmother,” she says. “When my husband was sick, whenever he was in the hospital, I would play Penelope [from Homer’s Odyssey]. I’d grab my knitting, I’d knit. And whatever I knit that day, I pulled out that night. I never have knitted a thing. Knitting for me is simply a motion. I had to be at the hospital. I had to sit still, which I don’t ever really like to do. I knit and I un-knit and I knit. But I never want to knit something.”

Thistle Hill, however, has always been goal driven. She wants to make neat cloth and to employ local people. Human brains and hands have to be on hand when the mechanism or a thread breaks. Which is often. 

“I’ve had a lot of help—and I came from privilege. I mean, did I make it on my own? Well, no. I think none of us do. My father taught me things about business that are very valuable,” Rabbit said. Plus, he was able to provide capital when she wanted to expand. 

“This industry isn’t dying. We’re busier now than we’ve ever been,” Rabbit said. “Part of it is, I’m playing the game of Survivor. I’ve simply outlasted my competition.”

There is more to Thistle Hill’s success than simple endurance. The cloth has a personality in the same way that Alabama Chanin’s does. The details like one hot pink warp thread or a well-placed damask panel aren’t found in industrial fabrics. This cloth is the result of one woman following her curious mind and learning her craft.

Resources and more to explore:
Thistle Hill
Gary Graham
Heavy metal weaving video
4’s Rabbit Jacket

About The Author

Adrienne Martini, the author of Somebody’s Gotta Do It, would love to talk with you about the importance of running for elected office or about all of the drama of holding a seat on the Board of Representatives in Otsego County, New York. Adrienne blogs when the spirit moves her at Martini Made.


  • Wow! What a fascinating story! I had no idea machine weaving was happening here in the US. I would love to see those looms in action.

    • I lived very close to Cherry Valley and never knew about Thistle Hill. Now I’m in Florida and will probably never be able to go see this amazing business. I’m a dedicated knitter and actually finish almost everything I start, but I appreciate her attitude about the knitting process. Thank you for such an interesting article.

  • Totally magical, and a peek at a hidden treasure! Rabbit sounds like someone who is so at home in the world she has created!

  • Rabbit’s studio and workshop are close to our home! Thanks to Adrienne for focusing on the amazing dedication and work ethic that is seen in all of Rabbit’s work, she is indeed a treasure here in upstate New York.

  • Back in the early 80’s I had a chance to visit Weave Inc in Denver PA. They had a floor full of automated weaving looms. The image that always comes to mind is the huge paper patterns above each loom that were loops of punch card holes that created the fabric design on each loom. I always feel sadness thinking of this amazing business that is no more. I’m glad someone is keeping this manufacturing alive.

    • And those paper punch cards were adapted to feed data into early computers. So when you get on a device in the morning to read something with your morning coffee, thank a weaver!

  • Fabulous post. Interesting and inspiring. Love to see more

  • Such a wonderful and happy to learn about Thistle Hill. She learned her trade well.

    • Interesting!

  • So nice to see this go out into the wider world. Those of us in the dress history community have long known of Rabbit Goody’s work and always had a deep appreciation and love of it. Her workshops (?) ages ago were coveted.

  • I love inspiring “person” stories like this. The Stars and Stripes (I’m assuming) rendition behind her is so clever, Suss, a knitting designer, mentioned in one of her books that she also created designs for the movies. What a minefield of back-stories movie crafting could be. I loved the quilt in teenage Scarlet Johanssen’s character’s bedroom in “The Horse Whisperer”. I always wondered if it was handmade. I don’t think they mention handmade props in movie credits. So glad Rabbit is getting her due here.

  • Oh! What a warren of information labs today! I’ve opened multiple pages so I couldn’t go back to each of your hyperlinks to view a little bit later today. This is phenomenal!

  • So happy to learn about this woman and her trade. Thank you!

  • The machinery is so fascinating and intricate!

  • Great story, and such an inspiration to this almost 70-year old! I still debate in my head if I should take the leap and get a loom. But of course I’d also want the small farm! Thank you for the article!

  • This was fascinating! I am in awe of people who people who are committed to saving the older arts. I loved this story.

  • Thank you! So interesting and thought-provoking.

  • Fascinating- great story! Off to look at their stuff!

  • Facsinating – the machines and the cloth. Thank you Adrienne.

  • Thank you for this story. I have a Rabbit Jacket from 4 and it is perfect—the only jacket I’ll ever need for the rest of my life. The fabric is awe-inspiring, the construction is beautiful, and the pockets are exactly big enough.

  • Wonderful article, thank you!

  • Great story. Thanks for sharing it Adrienne. As usual, wonderfully written.

  • Anxious to sign up for Adrienne’s blog but I keep getting an error message….

    So thankful for this story on Rabbit Goody, a woman I have long, LONG, admired.

  • Fascinating. Thank you.

    • Pun intended, I’ll be going down a lot of Rabbit holes after reading this article. I was just given a Schacht floor loom, so while I won’t be mechanized, I’ll be trying to recreate some old pattern drafts by this summer, I hope. Can’t wait to do more research on these people!

  • OOH! Absolutely loved this and all of the links! Thank you so much!

  • Omg gorgeous! Gary Graham was my favorite designer I wish I could afford one of his garments. Old textiles are the best!

  • My first job out of college was running and repairing jacquard tape looms very similar to these. That was 1989 and I still miss the rhythm of the work, the scent, and the language of the looms. Thanks so much for this article.

  • Rabbit’s technical know-how is equaled by her common sense approach. Decades ago I attended a lecture she gave on historic textiles, and one woman asked how she could get dark spots out of her antique linens. Rabbit offered some cleaning advice but then reminded the audience that returning everything to a pristine white was not practical, added something along lines of — “but remember, if you were as old as the textile, you’d have dark spots too.” It was such great outlook!! One I obviously still remember. I have visited Rabbit’s workshop twice at her open houses (in early December). Watching the machines, and the weavers, is just fascinating. The 1915 warping reel mentioned in the article is a room-sized machine. Thanks for this profile!

Come Shop With Us

My Cart0
There are no products in the cart!
Continue shopping