Reading the Writing on the Weaving

IMG_9458One thing any weaver will tell you is that, with even a tiny bit of weaving experience, you will never look at fabric the same way.

You’ll look at your denim jeans and see the twill.

You’ll look at the packages your sheets come in and really understand what 400-count thread means, especially since your own weaving involves, maybe, 20-count threading.

You’ll look at all those fabrics in museums—the old tartans and the overshot coverlets—and see them differently, in really fundamental ways, because you have a sense of what went into making them and how hard the human hands worked, to create those patterns.

Even if I never planned to weave again (and I do!), I’d still value the insight into textiles and fabrics I’ve gained from learning the basics. With all my day-to-day handing of vintage fabrics, I understand them better than I did before.

Such is the case with a blanket I own.

I purchased a stack of old blankets from a friend having a garage sale. I’ve sold a lot of what I bought—the pretty blankets in good condition.

But I left a few others aside—when I originally looked them over, they struck me as simply tattered old utility blankets.

This one, for instance. Definitely made of wool—the moth holes and nibbles attest to that. The wool is heavy, undoubtedly warm, but rough and scratchy.

IMG_9451I didn’t give this blanket a second thought until last week when I was trying to dig out of my deep, dark pile of less-than-perfect vintage stuff. I took the blanket out to decide whether to try to sell it or donate it or give it to the vet for use in the animal cages.

As I looked it over, my eye, the eye of the fledgling weaver, let me see the blanket differently. I’m pretty sure that what I have is a blanket that was hand woven on a home loom in Canada. So, instead of a ruined old wreck, I’m seeing the blanket now as a fascinating bit of domestic history.

What have I got to go on?

I think it’s Canadian because most of the other blankets I bought were manufactured and had tags identifying them as being made in French Canada. Quebec is maybe 15 miles from my house and the woman from whom I bought the blankets is married into a family of French-Canadian descent.

I think it’s hand woven because of idiosyncrasies that we wouldn’t expect to see in manufactured fabric. The blanket is made of two long, narrow pieces (more on that in a bit) that have been sewn together. The pink and blue stripes on the two pieces simply don’t come close to matching up.

IMG_9453In weaving, there’s a phenomenon called “drawing in.” It happens when the weaver pulls the horizontal weft threads too tight on succeeding passes and the width of the woven piece gradually narrows. I’m guessing that’s what happened to one section the blanket, and it made all the stripes in that section a little narrower.

The overall width of the blanket is about 54 inches but the width comes from two 27-inch-wide panels being sewn together down the length of the blanket. It seems to me that no one would weave a blanket 27 inches wide unless they had to because they were working on a loom that small enough to fit into a small room in an older, rural home.

These are little things, I know—no earth-shaking discoveries that will change anyone’s understanding of textiles in 20th-century North America.**

But looking at the blanket again, and seeing these little clues, delighted me.

It’s still a tattered old utility blanket but now it’s a tattered old utility blanket with human fingerprints all over it.

Now I don’t see the moth holes or feel the scratchiness of the wool. Instead, the blanket conjures a mental image of a woman (although it could easily be a man), weaving wool from the sheep she keeps. She weaves in dim light, on a cold Quebec evening, making a blanket to add some warmth to the bed her children sleep in. She walks away from the loom, to stir the stew and check the rate at which the snow is falling. And then she sits back down again, to weave.

And to write her story.


** I’m also all too aware that I may be reading this all wrong because I am so new to weaving. If any experienced weavers read this and want to provide more or different insight, please do!

**EDITED to add: As my wonderful commenters have pointed out, I confused the warp and weft in the blanket–duh! But, isn’t it neat to see how they can “read” the blanket better than I can because of their advanced skill and experience?!


Loving Hands at Home: Baked Goods

mixing bowl“What kind of toast do you want with that? White, wheat, rye, sourdough . . . or homemade?”

There’s only one possible answer to this question, right?

I was asked to make just this choice a few days ago in a local diner and, of course, I said, “Homemade!” Then I looked at my companions and asked, “Who would choose anything but homemade?”

But as I thought about it, I remember my younger self, the girl who grew up on the farm. She took for granted home-baked breads and cookies and cakes and loved nothing better than Wonder Bread and Oreos and Hostess Twinkies.

In my memory, there was always something freshly baked sitting on the kitchen counter. My grandmother was the baker and she made everything, but the items I remember best were her loaves of bread, the tender dinner rolls, the sour cream cookies, the deep-fried doughnuts, and the lemon meringue pie.

We had it so good and we didn’t have a clue.

My sister and I ate everything my grandmother baked and enjoyed it. But we thought the biggest treat in the whole, entire world was when we stopped to visit particular friends of my parents.

These friends had a designated drawer for cookies and all the cookies were store bought. They came in crinkly cellophane packages and were crunchy and crispy, while my grandmother’s cookies were soft and chewy.

My grandmother’s cookies were as homey and comforting and real as she was. They were a given in our lives.

The store-bought cookies were exotic and decadent and, what? Cosmopolitan? Sophisticated? I’m not sure but it seemed like an adventure to eat them.

I like a little adventure as much as the next person. I like to take a trip and see the sights and leave my home behind, while I venture out.

But, boy, do I love to come home. Being in that big world always makes me appreciate home more, and recognize that it’s the place for me.

I’ve traveled in the world of store-bought baked goods for a long time now. I’ve gotten over thinking they are exotic and decadent and sophisticated.

Now, of course, I wish I could go home, to that kitchen where you never knew what was coming out of the oven next but you knew it would be warm and chewy and comforting.

I can bake bread. I’ve found recipes for sour cream cookies and made them. I’ve gone so far as to deep fry doughnuts.

You know what I’m going to say—it isn’t the same.

I’ll probably never have baked goods that measure up to my memories but I’ll keep looking. I’ll go to farm stands and order the doughnuts they just fished out of the fryer. I’ll buy old, stained copies of community cookbooks and look for the right sour cream cookie recipe. I’ll always order the homemade bread at the local diners.

Because, even if they don’t take me all the way, they bring me closer to a place I’d love to be.

recipe box

They Sang As If They Knew Me

Morland_Maid-IroningI love linens. I love ironing. I love folk music.

And I love a man who loves a woman who irons.

Imagine, just imagine, how I would feel about the melding of all four of these loves! Can you imagine?!

Well, my friend with a Vintage Attitude could imagine, and she rocked my world by introducing me to this song:


(YouTube video)

‘Twas on a Monday morning
When I beheld my darling,
She looked so neat and charming
In ev’ry high degree
She looked so neat and nimble-o
A-washing of her linen-o
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
She stole my heart away.

‘Twas on a Tuesday morning
When I beheld my darling,
She looked so neat and charming
In ev’ry high degree
She looked so neat and nimble-o
A-hanging out her linen-o
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
She stole my heart away.

‘Twas on a Wednesday morning
A-starching of her linen-o
Dashing away ……….

‘Twas on a Thursday morning
Ironing of her linen-o
Dashing away ……….

‘Twas on a Friday morning
A-folding of her linen-o
Dashing away ……….

‘Twas on a Saturday morning
Airing of her linen-o
Dashing away ……….

‘Twas on a Sunday morning
A-wearing of her linen-o
Dashing away ……….

Oh. My. Goodness. I finally have a theme song.

The lovely lassie spends every day of the week working on her linens—I can relate!

But who would write a song about ironing linens??

Ah, the British, of course. The song seems to have been first published by the musicologist Cecil Sharp (1859-1924) and appears to originate from Somerset.

Those Somerset gals knew their linens!

I love that the song has a long history but, more than that, it’s a song about being adored for taking good care of linens. You don’t find a lot of folksongs honoring the hard work women did!

And work hard this woman did, to keep the linens clean.

She washes them. She hangs them to dry. She starches them. She irons them. She folds them. She airs them. And she even wears some of them, on Sunday, when she rests from the other tasks and steps out on the town!

Maybe I should change the last two verses of the song, to reflect the other steps I take—that’s the very essence of the oral/folk tradition, right?

My last verses will go like this:

‘Twas on a Saturday morning
Taking pictures of her linen-o
Dashing away ……….

‘Twas on a Sunday morning
A-selling of her linen-o
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
She stole my heart away!

Now if I can just get my husband to learn to play this song on his guitar. And to agree to gaze adoringly at me while he sings it . . .


How about you? Do you have a theme song that sums up large chunks of your life?

Thinking Can Wait

IMG_9246I’m ironing again.

Almost exactly a year ago, when feeling kind of overwhelmed, sort of stressed, I wrote about how ironing helps me chill out.

And, this week, I find myself ironing again, for the same therapeutic reasons.

I had what was, for me, a full and hectic week last week. A number of you suggested I needed to get back to making and creating and crafting, as a way to return to bliss.

I think you’re right . . . next week. But this week, even thinking about making something seems too much.

And, so, I found my iron, the one from the garage sale that gets really hot and has no steam function at all.

I found the big spray bottle, the one I sometimes use to stop naughty cats in their tracks.

I set up my ridiculously expensive ironing board, the one I treated myself to. I tell myself I’m worth it.

I dug in the pile of clean but mussy linens, and I found ones that make me smile. First, a set of heavy, lush damask napkins that make me think of being pampered. IMG_9262

Next, another set of damask napkins, with a pale pink stripe—they press up beautifully and say “garden party” to me. IMG_9253

Then, for fun, some jazzy, mid-century dishtowels.

There are linens in my piles that speak to any mood, any need.

Slowly, methodically, I iron. The heat and steam are blown away by a breeze coming in off the lake.

The pile of crumpled, disordered, hectic fabrics shrinks.

The stack of beautiful, orderly, crisp linens grows.

To paraphrase the old saying, “Sometimes I irons and thinks and sometimes I just irons.”

This week, I’m focusing on just ironing. Thinking can wait.


A Week by the Numbers, and the Emotions

stormy lighthouseOur weeks are usually quiet and placid and fairly solitary, but not last week. No, not at all.

I could tell you all about it—after all, what is more “hands at home” than family? But it’s all so personal, so full of people you don’t know . . .

A week by the numbers:

  • 2 house guests, a wonderful sister and a delightful teenage niece
  • 1 college visit in another state, with 1000 questions to ask
  • 1 day trip to another country, with 600 sights to see
  • 1 birthday, of 75 years
  • 1 anniversary, of 3 years of marriage, for my mother and her husband
  • 1 death of a beloved pet
  • 10,000 dirty dishes in the sink
  • 1 family picnic, gathering 40 relatives, most of whom we haven’t seen in 40 years, amid many inches of rain, dozens of shared dishes of food, hundreds of fond memories, and lots of new Facebook friends

It all equaled 7 intense days of life.

A week by the emotions:

  • Anticipation
  • Stress
  • Pleasure
  • Nostalgia
  • Joy
  • Frustration
  • Grief, deferred
  • Excitement
  • Anxiety
  • Relief
  • Letdown
  • Love, lots of love

It all equaled 7 intense days of life.