The Story of Ardenweave
The Arden Craft Shop & The Dream of Clothing for Daily Use
Arden was founded in 1900 on the principle of the single tax system, wherein residents pay a tax only on their land so that the profits of any endeavors upon that land are theirs and theirs alone. The single tax system allowed Ardenites, who were heavily influenced by the ideas of William Morris and John Ruskin, a unique chance at pursuing the dream of the Arts-and-Crafts way of life because it encouraged individuals to use their land freely in pursuit of their own creative endeavors. Craft quickly became central to Arden. In 1913, the community used architectural designs by one of its founders, Will Price, to turn a building on its Village Green into the headquarters of Arden’s various craft gilds. Dubbed “The Craft Shop,” the building housed many different workshops, including the Arden Forge, the Arden Press, a woodworking studio, and a window-front salesroom where Arden craftwares could be displayed and sold. Today, the Craft Shop is still standing and houses Arden’s community museum.
Price’s original plan for the Craft Shop included a light-filled sewing studio, which he placed on the top floor of the building. He also explicitly included clothing design in his vision for an aesthetically cohesive Arden utopia. In the sewing room, he imagined, “some designing person will have the courage to make clothing for daily use which will distinguish between draping the human figure and upholstering it, and will do something to put out of fashion the black derby hats and colorless remnants of starched shirts with superimposed suspenders by which the male Ardenites insult the natural beauty of the landscape.”
A weaver named Maude Rhodes moved to Arden sometime around 1914, shortly after the sewing room was created, and eventually took on a lead role in addressing Will Price’s interest in crafting a new clothing for daily use. References to Maude’s outside work indicate that she had significant experience in crafts and weaving. An October 1919 article in The Evening Journal of Wilmington describes her as “director of handwork of the Philadelphia College Settlement,” an organization founded in 1892 to bring the Arts and Crafts mission to the immigrant communities of South Philadelphia. Based on Rhodes's established role in the crafts community of Philadelphia, it is plausible that Arden had specifically courted her to come and help establish the community’s textile production. By the early 1920s, Maude had set up a loom in her own Arden weaving studio in a building called The Cooler, which had once served as an ice cream shop.
The Story of Ardenweave
Maude Rhodes was personally involved in every stage of her shop’s textile weaving. She raised sheep to produce wool and imported linen yarns from Ireland in order to offer a range of fabric options to her customers. All of her fabrics were handwoven on her loom in different weaves, colorways, and patterns using a blend of Arden wool and imported linen yarns.
Rhodes taught other Ardenites to weave and had help from other weavers in the community, but given her extraordinarily small-scale, farm-to-fabric approach, it’s hard to imagine how one woman could have dreamed of producing a whole line of clothing to suit her community’s ideals. Maude Rhodes, however, did just that: her studio advertised a line of clothing made from their handwoven fabrics:
Above: Ardenweave brochure, hover over the pink tabs for more information.
Image courtesy of the the Arden Craft Shop Museum.
These advertisements for Arden’s textiles are like greeting cards from Arden to its surrounding communities. They juxtapose images of handmade fashions with descriptions of Arden itself, and in doing so create a link between clothing and the community’s social relevance within a larger sphere. They also use Arden products to tell the story of Arden itself to the outside community. This frames both the community and its products as having simultaneous “small-town” and cosmopolitan caché.
It is hard to know to what extent Maude Rhodes was personally involved in turning her shop’s weavings into the stylish, finished garments advertised in her shop's brochures. Perhaps this was undertaken by a completely separate group of craftspeople at Price’s sewing room at The Craft Shop. Rhodes clearly would have required the help of many different parties in designing, constructing and marketing the dresses, coats, and separates that she advertised. Whether or not Rhodes led the marketing effort of her clothing line, she was clearly the leader of her shop and the icon of Arden’s clothing business. Her products’ brand was thoroughly attached to her identity as an innovative craftsperson and to Arden’s identity as an idyllic crafting community.