Our New Roommate . . .

I was delivered in late fall, in the mid-1950s. She was delivered two days later; we’re almost exactly the same age.

She lived her whole life in Vermont while I left upstate New York for many years, only to return and make my home here again.

Lately she found she needed a home so we invited her to live here. But she had to be willing to live in the garage until we found a place for her inside.

Does that sound mean? Making an older lady live in our garage?

It’s okay–she’s tough, and she’s happy to have a home where she is appreciated and can feel useful.

Our new housemate is a Macomber Add-A-Harness loom. Yes, another loom.

The Macomber company, started in 1936, is still in business and they could tell us that the serial number on our new loom meant the loom was delivered in late 1955 to Mrs. Maurice Jones of Montpelier, VT. Mrs. Jones, Jean, died at the age of 88 in 2013.

Her husband, Maurice, died just last year, at 93. When his belongings were dispersed, Jean’s loom sold at auction and we found it on Craigslist.

It’s a wonderful loom, sturdy and clean. It has 4 shafts but, as its name suggests, 4 more can be added, since the company is still going strong.

As often happens, the loom was sold with “extras”—when someone stops weaving, they have no need for the arcane tools of the trade.

And as much as I love the loom, it’s these extras that have really fascinated me.

Mrs. Jones went all in when she chose weaving as a hobby. She got books and magazines, some nice tools, and quite a lot of pretty thread.

In the 1950s, when a person wanted to buy weaving yarn, she couldn’t go on the internet and look at pictures or ask for samples. Mrs. Jones had to write to companies and request samples.

And she did. And she kept every sample she received.

Yarns from Lily and Butterworth and Troy and Golden Rule. If none of these names are familiar, it’s because the companies no longer exists. The Lily yarn you can currently buy has nothing to do with the Lily Mills of Shelby, NC, and though Troy still exists, the company now sells quilting cotton fabric. The others . . . all gone.

Mrs. Jones records are a mini-museum of weaving in mid-20th century America.

Did she become a great weaver? The evidence suggests she did not.

All of the requests for yarn sample are from 1955 and 1956.

The magazines are from the same years.

The items were all stored in newspaper-lined boxes, and the newspaper was from 1967.

Mrs. Jones’s obituary mentions that “Jean enjoyed flowers and gardening, her berry patch, mowing her acreage on her ‘Jean Deere’ tractor, bowling, square dancing, hand work, cooking and entertaining,” but says nothing of weaving.

It may be that she wove for a while. The man from whom we bought the loom remembers that, at the auction, there were hand-woven items and the auctioneer speculated that they were made on this loom.

Or maybe the weaving bug, that old arachnid, never really bit. And maybe the loom has been quiet for all these years.

I’ll keep Mrs. Jones records because I don’t know what else to do with them—I can’t just throw them away.

And all that yarn? Will we use it? That’s a tough one. When that yarn is gone, it’s gone forever, just like the once thriving textile industries is the United States . . .

But the loom will be quiet no more! Don has big plans for her.

She won’t live in the garage for long—at 60-something, she deserves better.

 

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The Vavstuga Way

 

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My husband and I spent last week at a most special weaving school and were introduced to the Vavstuga Way. Vavstuga was founded on the Swedish and Scandinavian styles of weaving and teaching, and offers a number of really cool workshops each year. We were there for Weaving Basics.

What is the Vavstuga Way? Well, by the numbers:

One excellent school, in two locations, in one small town in rural Massachusetts. One pretty river runs through the town.

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One incredible teacher, Becky Ashenden. Becky is the founder and the heart, the soul, the electricity, the flame—choose your favorite metaphor to convey “life force”—of Vavstuga.

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Eight students in a Weaving Basics course. Six women, two men, some very experienced, some completely new to the craft. All congenial and happy to be sharing the week together.

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photo by Bettie Zakon-Anderson

Five days of weaving, for 10 hours a day.

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Eights looms. Four projects for each of us to finish—two towels, a small tablecloth, a wool throw.

 

Three times a day the bell rang, to announce yummy meals provided for us.

Swedish fiddlers—two; dancers—several.

 

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Almost too many to count:

  • Lovely handwoven items to use and learn from
  • Choices of colors in threads of cotton, linen, and wool
  • Tools and gadgets to purchase
  • Books to peruse and inspire

Innumerable

  • Mistakes made by students and fixed by Becky
  • Confused looks during drafting lessons
  • Laughs
  • Aches and pains
  • Doubts about finishing
  • Sighs of relief at finishing
  • Thrills at bringing our work home

The Vavstuga Way, by the impressions:

Maybe there are really two aspects of the Vavstuga Way. One is based on the use of a specific kind of Swedish loom and the details of using them—setting them up, adjusting them for ergonomics, weaving on them successfully.

My husband and I don’t have this kind of loom at home so some of what we learned will go unused.

But far more important than the specifics of looms and loom dressing is the other aspect of the Vavstuga Way. I see it as an attitude toward weaving.

I brought these lessons home:

  • The equipment and materials should be treated with respect but not awe. We learned to be less obsessive about each tiny detail of weaving and to focus on the larger process—good technique, quality materials, solving problems in ways that work for each of us, and our individual styles.
  • Natural is better. We used only the sorts of natural fibers that have been used for millennia—cotton, linen, wool—and to fully appreciate the qualities that have guaranteed that longevity.
  • Simple is beautiful. We did some of the most straightforward kinds of weaving possible and used color and thoughtful, consistent weaving to make lovely items.
  • Upbeat and energetic saves the day. Becky, our instructor, taught by example. Nothing fazes her; no mistake can’t be fixed; no frustration can’t be leavened with a quick joke and positive action.
  • I will worry less in the future about weaving the “right way” and using my loom the “right way.” I feel much more willing to re-think my system, to see what works for me, and be creative about what doesn’t.
  • What we make is meant to be used. We slept under handwoven coverlets, wiped our hands on handwoven towels and napkins. Every meal featured different handwoven table settings, each lovelier than the last. The curtains at the windows, as well as the tieback ribbons, the cushions on the benches, the rugs, our teacher’s clothing . . . all woven by hand, all being used with respect and enthusiasm.

Our intense week at Vavstuga is over and neither my husband nor I have touched a loom since we got home. But we spent much of the drive home and our time since talking about weaving, thinking about it, planning for more. And we’ve admired our work repeatedly!

And, of course, we are already thinking ahead, looking at the course listings for more advanced weeklong workshops, to continue our exploration of the Vavstuga Way.


For more information about the Vavstuga Way, visit their website and the blog Tammy Weaves, written by a member of the inaugural session of the Vavstuga Immersion program.

 

Rapunzel Weaves . . .

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As a child, I was enthralled by fairy tales. I loved them all, from the grim and scary Grimms to the pasteurized versions from Disney.

I spent a lot of time with this beautiful book.

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I knew that it was gift from my paternal grandmother; the inscription reminds me that I was eight years old when I received it.

The book has many of the stories I loved—Sleeping Beauty, The Valiant Tailor, Red Riding Hood—all illustrated by Tasha Tudor in her captivating style.

And Rapunzel. Oh, I loved Rapunzel, with her sad, lonely life and that beautiful hair. I spent hours with this illustration, absorbing every detail, enjoying the romance of it all.

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Is it any surprise that, as I started a new weaving project and made the long, long warp threads into a chain to prevent them from tangling, all I could think of was Rapunzel?

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And do you remember what Rapunzel did, to try to effect her escape? Her suitor brought her silk thread every time he climbed her braid to visit and . . .

Rapunzel wove. She wove a silken ladder, with hopes to use it to escape.

I won’t weave a ladder but the simple, repetitive act of weaving, of throwing the shuttle and watching the fabric grow, will allow me to escape for a bit, into memory, into nostalgia, into whimsy.

Weaving Our Way Through Ireland

IMG_1614Oh, look—sheep! It must be Ireland!

Yes, it was Ireland and, for newbie weavers, sheep mean wool and wool means weaving. One of our goals for this trip was to talk to weavers.

Hand weavers are still working in Ireland but not so easy to find. It seems many of the folks who know the trade are working these days to educate and entertain tourists, as was the case at Avoca Mills.IMG_0635The man we talked to at Avoca was certainly knowledgeable about weaving, and he talked as he wove. He even let a novice weaver take a turn!

IMG_0612We’ve long loved a song called “Nancy Whiskey,” about a weaver seduced by drink (what a ridiculous concept!). In that song, there’s the lyric, “I’ll surely make those shuttles fly.”

We had never understood what that meant because, when we weave, the shuttles move very slowly. But on this trip we were introduced to looms with flying shuttles—it makes hand weaving go so much faster!

We also watched the production looms at Avoca, moving faster than the eye can see. And it was evident that, in spite of the presence of a hand weaver, much of the weaving coming out of this mill is done on mechanized and computerized machines.

As much as we love old-fashioned handmade work, seeing the production looms, and even the flying shuttle looms, was a good reminder of a practical fact. We may have the luxury of doing this craft for creative purposes, but other people made their living at it, and still do.

In fact, the one weaver we met who still does hand weaving exclusively, Eddie Doherty, in the town of Ardara in County Donegal, also owns the pub next door. When we rang his bell, he came from his pub to show us his weaving.

He explained that, in the small towns in Ireland, one profession wasn’t enough to support a family. Years ago, as a young publican, he had needed a second source of income and had chosen weaving.

IMG_1215 That got us noticing other examples—Mannion’s Pub, next door to Mannion’s Butchers. King’s Pub, next to King’s Grocery. And our favorite—Kennedy’s Pub, next door to Kennedy’s Funeral Home! No question who supplied the gargle for those wakes!

Watching these weavers inspired us. I particularly loved the ways color is used to transform relatively straightforward patterns into eye-dazzling beauty.

We were sorely tempted by the beautiful things we saw. On previous trips we have done our best to support the handmade community, buying sweaters and woven blankets and tweed jackets.

But this time we had come to Ireland with an agreement not to add to our wardrobes and linen closets. We had declared a shopping moratorium.

But we couldn’t resist one thing—we bought yarn.

We couldn’t resist bringing home wool and cotton and linen, in the heathery colors of this lovely country.

IMG_1687The plan is to use what we saw as inspiration, and to combine our Irish yarns with our own effort. We’ll make, at home, something to commemorate this particular trip to Ireland. We haven’t decided yet what form our souvenirs will take but we do know they’ll be one of a kind!

I’ll keep you posted! In the meantime, more eye candy . . .