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.
I 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.
In 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?!