Our Weaving Ways (Summer 2016)

The weaving continues, con brio.

We’ve made an addition to our pride of looms. It’s big, it’s beautiful, it came from a good friend who’s an excellent weaver—great karma! It’s not the loom’s fault that I feel a little intimidated . . .

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Since I’ve indulged my ego in my most recent show-and-tell, I’ve woven quite a lot.

A bunch of cotton towels like this, with varying bands of varying colors. Many of them have already been given away.

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A set of these towels, heavy on linen, to practice some of the skills I learned at weaving school. You can see one of the handwoven hanging tabs that make me go “squeeee!”

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A blanket and coordinating pillow for a baby girl who was so excited to see the gifts that she came 5 weeks early!

And this set of Monk’s belt towels and a runner—you got a glimpse of these when I cut them off them loom.

My husband, Don, has been weaving, too. He made this pretty runner and has two more huge and gorgeous runners waiting to be hemmed and wet finished.

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He wove part of the baby blanket, too, since it was a gift from us both. He has been spending a lot of time on a big, non-weaving project that I’ll show you soon!

So many projects, so many plans . . .

Did you have a productive summer, doing your favorite things? Have you done your show-and-tell? If so, leave a link in your comment!

For All It Represents

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I love this dresser scarf. Or is it a table runner? Or a doily?

It doesn’t matter what we call it, I love it all the same.

Do I love it because it’s pretty? Not really. I can see why some people would find it lovely but it is not my aesthetic at all. It’s a little too fussy, a little too pretty and flowery and girly, for my taste.

Do I love it because it’s rare and seldom seen? Not at all. This sort of hand embroidered fabric, meant to decorate a dresser top or sideboard, is pretty much, literally, a dime a dozen. In the world of vintage linens, the only items more plentiful are crocheted doilies.

Do I love it because it’s practical? No. It comes from an era where women seem to have felt compelled to cover blank surfaces with “décor.” Antimacassars, doilies, runners, piano scarves—the philosophy seemed to be “let no piece of furniture go naked.” Some of these items had an ostensible purpose—antimacassers on the backs of upholstered furniture, for instance, were designed to keep a popular male hair product—macasser—off the fabric. But, really, most of these items were just meant to look pretty.

I have lots of reasons not to love this runner and yet I do love it.

I love it for what it represents.

  • A woman seeking to beautify her space. Whether this was made by a Yankee, to hold dark winter at bay, or an Okie, facing dust storms or a lonely road west, this woman wrought her own scene of beauty.
  • A woman with enough leisure to time to be able to think about beauty. Whoever did this piece had done enough of the daily chores, the must-dos, to feel justified in taking her leisure on a want-to-do. I’m happy she found that time.
  • A woman who found a way to “be productive” while sitting quietly and beautifying her world. I can relate to this and I know some of you can, too. If you are a person of action and you like to point at what you’ve accomplished, you relish a job of work that can be done while sitting in the shade and allowing your mind to wander.
  • A woman who took pride in something made by her own hands that would So much of women’s daily work was work that was undone—beds made that were unmade each night, clothes washed and dirtied again, meals made and eaten and made again. To embroider something or stitch a quilt was to create a lasting object, something that might, even, outlive the maker.
  • A woman, perhaps denied other ways of asserting her individuality, finding a voice in her handwork. She chose the pattern, the colors, the embellishment. It was unique and it was hers.

This little dresser scarf packs a lot of meaning for me.

I also love it because I saved it.

Those of us who have pets will probably admit that the ones you saved from a grim fate always seem extra special. The stray one, skittish and fearful, the abandoned one, in pain and alone, those pets have our hearts in particular ways.

This runner came in a box of linens found, as usual, under a table and ignored, at a garage sale. The box actually held many pretty and quite exceptional items but, there, at the bottom, was this country cousin of a runner. And it was stained and filthy. It was a stray, unlikely to be noticed or to find a forever home.

I soaked it for hours in three different washes. I progressed from regular washing through my big guns, the Biz and Cascade combo. It was still stained. I did the Biz and Cascade again and added boiling water to my already very hot washing machine. Finally, the stains faded and disappeared. I ironed it carefully and spiffed it up for its glamour shots.

And now the runner is beautiful.

Was it worth the time and energy? It was not, at least not because it was exceptionally lovely or rare or useful.

But, yes, of course, it was worth it! It was worth it because of all it represents, because of the woman who crafted it and all the women like her, and like us, who make our marks by making a mark with thread or yarn or fabric or paint, or any of a multitude of other media.

I won’t keep this little runner—a person can’t adopt every stray and be fair to them all. I’ll show it to friends and see if there is a worthy home among them. At some point if need be, I’ll list it on Etsy in order to match it up with a good home.

One way or another, I’ll find it a place where it’s appreciated for what it is and for all it represents.

Let Us Now Praise Newbies

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“Hi! I was just gifted a loom—I’m so excited to be a weaver! So . . . can someone explain how to weave?”

I am a member of several Facebook groups for weavers, where we go to ask questions and share our work. I have to admit when I see questions like the one above, from rank beginners, my first reaction is to roll my eyes and think, “Oh for heaven’s sake—go read a book! Take a class!”

Then I take a deep breath and remind myself how much newbies, newcomers to any craft or skill, bring to the rest of us.

I have been a complete novice myself recently, in the craft of weaving, and I am still struggling to learn a tiny fraction of what there is to know. My weekly sewing group includes a number of newbies—new to sewing, new to quilting.

Newbies have always been with us but, in days gone by, maybe they weren’t so obvious. A lot of us learned some basic skills in relative private, from others in our circle, by watching and emulating or by taking an organized class or reading. Those were the only options we had.

But now the Internet gives newbies easy access to knowledgeable and helpful people so their questions are public and their lack of knowledge and understanding are on view to us all.

And, though I will always think some newbies are being presumptuous in asking others to explain a difficult process in the space of a Facebook post, I really believe that these newbies are enhancing the craft world.

Are you a newbie at something, thinking about picking up knitting needles or sitting down to a sewing machine for the first time? Trying to learn a new set of skills, like hooking a rug or soldering silver? Surrounded, it seems, by people who already know the ins and outs, know the vocabulary, seem comfortable and calm in the realm where you feel edgy and inadequate?

I want to tell you how valuable you are!

  1. You are a source of amusement

Yes, it probably sounds harsh but let’s get it out of the way first—I am amused every day by a dilemma posed by a newbie. I laugh at the stories they tell about themselves and their confusion. They use the vocabulary wrong and make mistakes of the most basic kind. I am laughing with them, not at them—I see myself in their blunders.

  1. You remind us of the enthusiasm and joy of starting

The excitement newbies feel is energizing. This one just got her first loom, that one bought fabric for her first quilt. They have not yet felt the slings and arrows of outrageous craft fails. They are intoxicated with possibilities—and help me remember that feeling.

  1. You give us a chance to teach and feel smart

With novices, it always seems that, no matter how little I know, there’s someone who knows less. That gives me the heady feeling of having something I can share and teach.

  1. You allow us to feel competent and remind us how far we’ve come

There’s nothing like a newbie to remind you how much progress you’ve made, that you’re learning and growing. When I read the questions asked by newbies, I am pleasantly surprised when I know the answers to questions that would’ve been mysteries a few months ago. I feel competent and motivated to keep learning.

  1. You ask the questions we may not be comfortable asking.

I am one of those people who loathes looking foolish or incompetent. I hate to ask questions, to expose my ignorance. Newbies ask questions with abandon and I sit and listen carefully to the answer . . . and learn.

So, newbies, I say to you—keep starting new things.

Keep dreaming of being good at something that you have never tried.

Keep asking every question that pops into your mind!

Recognize the limitations of learning complex skills from Facebook posts or from one helpful friend and take advantage of all the resources available to you.

But don’t hesitate to start because the people around you seem so sure of themselves and the skills so daunting.

You are enriching the conversation by starting a new craft; you are bringing so much to the discussion.

A Moment . . .

. . . I’ve been waiting for!

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When you’re immersed in a project, do you have a favorite moment? Is it casting off the last stitch, putting the finished cake or flower arrangement on the table, sewing the binding on the quilt?

Or is there a step along the way that gives you the biggest thrill?

For me, and I suspect a lot of weavers, the best moment comes when I cut the warp off the loom and unwind the long, long piece of fabric.

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So many steps remain before anything here will be finished! Ends need to be woven in, hems turned and sewn or fringe twisted, various stages of wet finishing and pressing.

But right now, I can see what I have, what I have been working at for these last weeks. Much of what I’d woven had been hidden from me, wound onto that front cloth beam.

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I’d almost forgotten what the first section looked like so this is a sort of unveiling, a revealing of work of my hands.

This length of fabric will become a runner, two towels, and, my favorite, the random-sized piece of cloth at the end. Because it’s random, “extra,”I felt free to play and, off course, I like it best. It’s too small for a towel . . . maybe a bread cloth?

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Now that this project is off the loom, I can get ready for my second most favorite moment–the fresh, tidy new warp, ready for the shuttle to be thrown and the web to be woven.

 

Something for Everyone: A Quilt Show Tonight

Now, I know what some of you are thinking, “Oh, jeez—a quilt show. She’s going to show us pictures of quilts. I don’t quilt. I don’t sew. I don’t care about quilts.”

But I say, with apologies to Stephen Sondheim and the cast of “A Funny Thing Happened at the Way to the Forum,” that no matter who you are, there’s something for everyone at a quilt show, or at least that was the case last weekend at the Vermont Quilt Festival. Come, and hum, along and see if you agree.

Something familiar:

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Something peculiar:

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Something for everyone,
A quilt show tonight!

Something appealing,
Hung from the ceiling

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Something for everyone:
A quilt show tonight!

Something with houses, something with towns;

Bring on the fabric, notions, and gowns!

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Vendors for shopping,
Something eye-popping,

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Something old-fashioned,

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Something with flash and

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Something for everyone:
A quilt show tonight!

Something most modern,

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Something POSTmodern,

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Something with color,
Bright or much duller,

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Something most Op-ish,

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Something more Pop-ish,

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Something for everyone:
A quilt show tonight!

Impressive!

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Obsessive!

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Specific!

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Terrific!

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Something exotic,

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Something chaotic,

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Something Egyptian,

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One with inscriptions,

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Something so striking,

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Much to my liking!

Something so simple and so right!

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Real world tomorrow,
Quilt show tonight!


If those of you who love quilts have any questions, let me know!

This Would Be Great, Except . . .

“Being a college professor would be a great job . . . if it weren’t for the students.”

I’ve heard these very words spoken, and have uttered them myself, if only as a joke. After all, if there were no students, there would be no job, no need for college professors, right?

All jobs, no matter how fun and fulfilling, have their downsides, I suppose.

In all my years teaching, it wasn’t the students that were the problem for me—I liked the students. It was the grading I hated.

But teaching, at least in American higher ed, means grading. Without students and without grading, there wouldn’t be a job.

In every craft I’ve done, there are tasks I dislike.

Making yoyos is great, if it weren’t for sewing them together.

Quilting is great, if it weren’t for the basting. Ack—I hate basting.

Making jewelry is great, if it weren’t for the polishing stage.

Weaving is great, if it weren’t for winding warp/sleying the reed/ threading the heddles/finishing the fabric off the loom. This whole topic of unpleasant tasks is actually on my mind right now because I face a day, or more, of hemming eleven towels and tablecloths. I have been postponing this for a while!

And, yet, without these tasks would the craft be the craft?

Without sewing them together, yoyos are just a pile of useless, albeit cute, pieces of fabric.

Without basting the quilt top to the batting and the backing, there is no quilt, just a piece of fabric of no particular use.

Without polishing, jewelry is just, simply, ugly.

Without all those steps of weaving, no weaving happens, no fabric grows.

When I was first learning to weave, I read a book where the author’s response was very clear, to a student who hated to wind warp.

The student said, “I just want to weave, not do all this other stuff.” She meant she just wanted to throw the shuttle.

The author’s position was that, when you wind warp, you are weaving. When you sley the reed and thread heddles and otherwise prepare the loom, you are weaving. It’s all weaving.

All the aspects of any job are critical to its being done.

So, if we care enough about the making, and the finished product, we learn to manage the bits that we find difficult or tedious.

I suppose, in some cases, we find more tedium in the craft than joy, and that may explain why we give some activities up and search out new creative outlets, to find the ones where the tedium/joy ratio is more to our liking.

For me, and the crafts I continue to do, I’ve either looked for ways to make the process more enjoyable or tried to re-frame my attitude.

I found a technique for basting quilts that works beautifully for me and, while I still don’t look forward to basting, I do it with much less gnashing of teeth than before.

For the yoyos and the weaving, I have simply (or maybe not so simply) changed my thinking.

Sewing the yoyos together remains a drag. But the only really unpleasant part is the longer stretches of stitching and it’s those longer stretches that also provide a sense of how satisfying the finished project will be. I keep my eyes on that prize and take time to step back and see how lovely this will be!

With weaving, I’ve found that many of the steps I used to hate get less soul crushing as I get better at them. Winding warp used to be my bête noire and now I have no trouble, although it’s still tedious.

I’ve come to grips with other steps by treating them as challenges, as fights I must win. Can I thread the heddles without mistake? Can I get the warp wound on without major tangles? I think I can, I think I can . . .

And along the way, I tell myself that, no matter what stage I’m in, I’m weaving. I am touching the threads and enjoying the textures. I’m watching the colors shift in the light and planning how they will come together. I’m doing some task that is integral to the making. It’s all weaving.

I wonder why we don’t talk about all this more often. I can’t imagine that we don’t share some frustrations about our crafts, as beloved as they are, but we spend our time talking about the fun parts and the finished projects.

Will you tell me about what you don’t like in your craft or in a job you’ve done? Or do you relish every step? Have you found ways to make the icky parts more fun?

A Tangled Yarn

I started as a tidy skein in rural Vermont. I lived my early days there, in a shop, with others of my clan.

If I’m honest, though, I thought I was special. I was silk and wool and soft. I felt pretty.

Then, one day, a lady came and chose me. It was very exciting but I was nervous—what did she want me for? What would become of me?

I left my sisters and brothers and went home with her. She stuffed me in a big plastic bin with others I did not recognize and she left me there, in the dark, for a long time. I was sad and lonely.

Then, one day, she came and got me! I was so excited to be out of the box and chosen!

I did not know what was coming. I did not know there were things worse than being sad and lonely.

She left me out on the counter. She told me she wanted to ponder my future. She forgot about me.

Her kitten found me. It was obsessed with me and would not leave me alone. Its claws tore at my neatly-wound perfection. Its tiny teeth nipped me into bits. I was a mess, physically and emotionally.

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I thought that was the end for me. Who would ever want me now?

But then one day the lady came back. She felt bad about what had happened and she said she still thought I was beautiful.

She spent hours with me. I tried to make it easy on her but, the truth is, I was all tied up in knots. I couldn’t help it.

She was gentle, she was kind. She did use shocking language occasionally but I just closed my ears. I could tell she was going to make me whole again so I could forgive her foul mouth.

And then that kitten came back!! Oh, no! Oh NO!

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But the nice lady made the kitten go away—she shut it on the porch!

Haha, kitten! I win!

Eventually we worked it out. I relaxed and she untangled me. I was wound into a big, neat, and tidy ball and was myself again.

Except for those little pieces of me that had been broken.

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The lady wound me into long threads on a board and then put me in a loom. She used my broken pieces, too!

My colors looked prettier than they ever had before!

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She added some other colors, just a little to make me sparkle, she said, and she wove other threads into me. They’re a part of me now.

I used to be a ball of yarn—pretty, but of no real use in that form. Then I was a tangled mess, not even pretty anymore.

But now I’m a piece of fabric! I’m an actual scarf! My life has meaning!

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The lady says she loves me and I wrap myself around her throat and promise to keep her warm and make her pretty, too.

Because I feel pretty. Oh, so pretty . . .

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