In Praise of Crafty Newbies

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“Hi! I was just gifted a loom—I’m so excited to be a loomer! 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, 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.

There have always been newbies but, in days gone by, maybe they weren’t so obvious. A lot of us learned some basic skills 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.

We had a huge laugh in our sewing group a couple years ago, when a then-novice at quiltmaking was bemoaning the fact that her sewing machine bobbin always ran out at the most inopportune time. She felt she’d just get into a rhythm and then, boom, she’d have to stop, unthread the machine, fill the bobbin, etc., etc. Another, very experienced, member of the group listened carefully and said, gently, “Well, at the beginning a project, I just fill up a bunch of bobbins, to get me through.” Stunned silence from our sweet newbie . . . and then she said, “Duh. I would never have thought of that.” And now none of the rest of us will ever forget it!

  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.

Just last week, I got to show a friend the basics of hand quilting. She’s a far more experienced, better quilter than I am but she’s never taken the plunge for quilting by hand. It gave me a big thrill when I could show her and watch her pick it up very quickly!

  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 skilled and capable and motivated to keep learning.

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

I am one of those people who loatheslooking 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. For instance, it had never occurred to me to fill a bunch of bobbins at the start of a project  . . .

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

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

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.

 

 

 

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A Week Away, Weaving

Whew! We’re home again, mentally exhausted and physically sore, but full of ideas and enthusiasm for a craft we love.

And you, too, can achieve all this!

I have one purpose in writing—to encourage you to go away, to find an intensive learning experience in your favorite craft, whether it is cooking, knitting, writing, gardening, quilting . . . just go.

Not a mellow retreat, not an afternoon crafting with friends, although those have their place.

Find yourself an opportunity to spend a week, or more, undistracted by daily chores and obligations, to work really hard, with nothing more important than immersing yourself in something you love.

Our week at Vavstuga Weaving School felt, at times, like boot camp. But, like boot camp, we came out stronger and more confident, and ready to move to a new level of weaving.

The course we took was Nordic Classics and, because I know there are weavers reading, I’ll give an overview of what we learned. For non-weavers, feel free to skip the details and just look at the pretty pictures. But, as you look, also imagine what you could make, in your own chosen medium, if you gave yourself the chance.

The Nordic Classics workshop focused on 6 weaving techniques associated with Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway.

We had taken only the Weaving Basics course before (I wrote about it!) and this was much more difficult weaving than that course, or any weaving we’d done on our own.

Our classmates, the other 6 people in the workshop, were much more experienced weavers than we and I was a little unnerved at first. But, with skillful instruction and guidance, as well as encouragement from the others, we were able to do work we’re very proud of!

We took on 6 different projects in what amounted to 3.5 days of actual weaving so we didn’t come home with finished projects. We have, in most cases, good-sized samples that can be turned into finished projects.

An overview of what we made:

Leno lace

This lace is made of fine linen thread. I was familiar with Leno, from working with vintage linens, but most lace like this, when done at a loom, is done with a very time-consuming technique of manually picking up threads, twisting them, and then holding them in place with a weft thread.

The technique we learned was treadled Leno, which while still fiddly, was much faster and more efficient than the traditional method. I was able to weave a 31 by 17 inch piece in about 3 hours.

Our instructor, Becky Ashenden, had come across this method in an old Swedish weaving book, and figured out how to make it work. I won’t try to explain it here—I’m not sure I could!

We cannot use this technique on our home looms—we can’t approximate the setup used—but the experience taught me about creative problem-solving! It also gave me a better appreciation for all the handmade lace I see.

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My lace–all the samples looked the same!

Enkel skillbragd

This weaving is done with two shuttles in wool over linen, the way much overshot weaving is done. I found it very scary to try because it looks so complicated but it turned out to be a joy to weave! The setup is not difficult—we can easily do it at home—and there are really only three possible “building blocks” of the design that are combined to create all the different patterns.

Enkel skillbragd is Norwegian in origin and the weaving was traditionally used as coverlets, lined with sheepskin. I brought home a piece about 24 inches square, perfect for a big sofa pillow.

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My enkel skillbragd

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Don’s enkel skillbragd

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Each with our own–don’t these people look like fun?!

Halvdrall

Halvdrall seems to mean “poor man’s damask” in Swedish but the structure creates a rich product! This is pretty straightforward to weave, with two shuttles, but looks so impressive!

Half of us wove on a warp of varied blues and the other half wove on soft autumn tones. We chose our own weft colors and the outcomes were so different and all gorgeous! Don and I brought home one of each colorway—they will make nice table squares at about 20 inches.

The technique was worked in a cotton and linen blend and would be great in placemats, towels—so many uses!

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My halvdrall

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Don’s halvdrall

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A variety from the group

Danish twill

This pretty twill can be done in innumerable designs, as we learned. It’s fairly straightforward to weave but is done on 10 shafts. That’s fine with me—I just acquired a 12-shaft loom! And I love twills!

We wove this on a loom that was quite wide and a little finicky. The weaving was accompanied by the sounds of shuttles crashing to the floor and muffled swear words . . .

None of us did very large samples of this—mine is only about 10 inches long. I like it a lot, though, and will find something to make of it. If I only knew how to put in a zipper . . .

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My Danish twill

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Don’s Danish twill

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A variety from the group

Gagnefkrus (Honeycomb)

Look at this texture!

I thought this looked so difficult but by the time I got to this loom, late in the week, it was like a walk in the park!

The fabric, even on the loom under tension, has a neat texture, with those cells of fine thread surrounded by thicker threads. But, once it is washed, it becomes even more 3-dimensional and interesting. It would make wonderful fabric for upholstery or pillows. At 26 by 15 inches, my sample could be a small pillow . . . we’ll see.

We made this with fairly fine cotton, what’s know as 16/2 weight. It just so happens that we inherited huge cones of 16/2 cotton with one of the looms we bought so I see honeycomb in my future!

Opphamta

I loved opphamta and am sorry to say I can’t do it on my home loom. Or maybe there is a way to do it but only one that would be more fiddly and time-intensive than the way we learned.

Opphamta is Finnish and there are all kinds of these designs that look like cross-stitch patterns to me. It’s done with fine linen and the colors and fabric are so crisp and clean . . . My sample is fairly small, 11 by 26 inches, but I WILL find a way to use it at home!

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My opphamta

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Don’s opphamta

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A variety from the group

Don and I left the studio at 6 every day, exhausted. We covered the same projects over the course of the week but didn’t work on them on the same days so we compared notes and shared advice. We had a quiet meal, a strong drink, and fell into bed.

We didn’t stay at Vavstuga’s dormitory this time, which meant we introverts had more quiet time to re-group between intensive weaving sessions.

But it also meant we didn’t get to know our classmates quite as well as last time.

And they were wonderful classmates—upbeat, passionate (!) about weaving, and all so funny and fun. But, by staying in a B&B, we did get to know an equally wonderful pair of quilters who were in town for an intense and demanding quilting workshop, and loving it.

Which brings me back to my original point. These hard, demanding, stretch-yourself-to-the-limits experiences are amazing.

To be among like-minded people, to be a little afraid and to overcome that fear and meet success, to share advice and tips in a generous way, to come home re-energized . . . priceless.

To encounter a teacher who will give guidance into difficult concepts and just assume you can keep up, who will answer even the nuttiest questions and fix the stickiest mistakes with good humor and good sense . . . all priceless.

Priceless, but they come with a price, as do all things we value. These experiences don’t come cheap—they take valuable time and money—but they are so worth the expenditures. We have all been known to spend our money and our time on endeavors worth far less than what can be gained at a workshop designed to make us better at the thing we love to do.

Let it be known, I will follow my own advice. I’ll be going back to Vavstuga.

I hope you’ll find the opportunity to go somewhere similar, to go away, to dive in, to surround yourself, immerse yourself, indulge yourself in what you love.

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.

Finally, A Finish

Have you ever wanted something really bad and then, when you got it, all you could do was just sit there and grin?

That’s how I feel about this pair of scarves. I’m not grinning because they’re special; I’m grinning because they are done!

This project has been on my loom, mocking me, since BGG (before Gigi). That’s six long months.

It was begun in summer, languished through a glorious autumn, waited patiently as winter approached and a New Year arrived.

And, finally, the project is finished.

Why do some projects stall?

The obvious reason here was the addition of the small furry whirling dervish and her big brother.

But I can’t blame it all on them.

Mostly it was that the work wasn’t meeting my expectations.

Projects like this one make me keenly aware of how little I know. And I hate not knowing. With weaving, I find it so difficult to predict how colors will interact, how the weft threads will subdue or enhance the warp.

In this case, the warp was gorgeous and nothing I put in as weft maintained that glow.

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The pattern didn’t work out as I thought it would. It’s an undulating twill and the weaving kept shifting and gapping. “Ugly” is the word that comes to mind.

To solve this, I had to take a new approach that involved using two shuttles, something I hadn’t done before and found very difficult to get comfortable with.

My loom had to be moved to a room with a door (Gigi, I’m looking at you) and I don’t like being shut away while I’m weaving, I guess.

Progress was slow and sporadic. I often filled my time doing anything but weaving. I gravitated toward projects that felt more fulfilling and fun. It was hard for me to stay motivated when, with every throw of the shuttle, I felt disappointed and fairly incompetent.

But now the scarves are finished and I’m thrilled to be done! They turned out better than I thought they would—fine, really. I like the one with the light weft color but I don’t love it. The darker one pleases me more. The intense color I liked so much in the warp is subtle, but the ghost of it is there.

I can also, now, be glad for all the project taught me. I hope I won’t make some of those mistakes again.

Mostly I’m thrilled to be done because now I can move on. I already have a new project under way—kitchen towels!

I am going to leave the pesky scarves out, in plain sight, for a while though. I want to grin at them.

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

IMG_4076In the spirit of the long-running column, Can This Marriage Be Saved?, from the magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal, today’s post will explore a troubled relationship in my own home, and its chances for success.

Kerry’s turn:

I didn’t want a new love. I had lots of others I was involved with and the relationships were comfortable. I had a busy, fulfilling life and the last thing I needed was weaving.

But weaving was so charming! I’ll admit, it wrapped me up and tied me into knots. I was completely infatuated! I dropped my other relationships or rushed through time with them, in order to spend more time with weaving. I didn’t care about any of those others—I thought about weaving all the time.

And weaving wanted it that way. It wanted all of me.

I liked that weaving was deep and complex and demanding. I didn’t mind the inconvenience or the cost or the quirkiness. I didn’t love everything about weaving—the physical abuse that came from dressing the loom, the temperamental little fits it would throw, if everything wasn’t just so. But I was willing to overlook all that.

I was in love.

Lately, though, weaving is different. The tension is weird. It’s like, if I don’t give it all my time, it does things wrong on purpose, just to punish me. Every time we get together—and I really am trying to spend time with it, as much as I can, I mean, I have a life outside of weaving—every time we get together, it messes with my mind.

It acts up, does little things to confuse me and get me all nervous and unsettled. And it tells me it’s all my fault. I don’t know, I just don’t feel so comfortable and happy with it anymore.

Weaving’s turn:

At first, it was great; she was great. She gave me all her time and treated me as her top priority. I never made any secret of what I wanted from her—devotion, time, energy, forgiveness.

I know I’m not easy. I’ve heard that before and many of my relationships fail because people think I’m too demanding. But she claimed to want that from me. She said she loved that not everyone could make it work with me, and that she wanted to learn everything about me, even if it took a lifetime.

She’s changed. She doesn’t spend time with me like she did and, even when we’re together, she’s distracted and irritable. If things don’t go exactly her way, she stomps out of the room. And she blames me.

And she’s definitely seeing others. It’s clear she’s cheating on me with chocolate and quilting, and she even thinks she should spend time with her family! And her cats! I mean, she knew that cats and I wouldn’t mesh well, but she got more of them anyway!

I’ve about had it with her. She knew I was looking for a monogamous, committed relationship and now I see her as a dilettante. I can make things very uncomfortable for her if she is going to treat me so casually . . . .

The counselor’s turn:

Like so many new couples, Kerry and weaving got caught up in the halcyon newness of the relationship. They focused on the here-and-now, all the perfect little moments together, and didn’t plan for a long-term commitment.

Their early total devotion to each other was unsustainable—we all need other people and interests in our lives. Kerry set up false expectations when she spent so much time with weaving and swore she’d never leave it, but weaving should also know, from past relationships with others, that relationships ebb and flow. Weaving can’t expect 100% of Kerry’s time and affection.

They both need to know that relationships are difficult and that, to last, consistent effort needs to be made. Consistency is a key—the relationship needs to be a priority every day, they need to spend time together, get to know each other at a deeper level, and not expect everything to always be wine and roses.

Weaving is not willing to put up with an on-again/off-again affair. Kerry will need to decide if she is willing to commit to the demands it will place on her. She knows that the payoff to that commitment is great . . . but is she willing to make hard choices?

Weaving needs to be more patient. The relationship is new and weaving is not the easiest partner to get along with. Weaving needs to remember that passive/aggressive behavior—the petulant breaking of warp threads or tangling of pattern and tabby wefts—are never a healthy way to deal with stresses in a relationship.

These two have strengths that can complement each other and I believe the relationship can, indeed, be saved. Patience, consistency, and relaxed time together should help them get through this tangled web they’ve woven. Come on you two–make it work!

Imperfectly Perfect

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I am not perfect.

I know that must’ve come as a shock to you, when I revealed it last month, but it’s true. And you know what? People love me, in spite of my imperfections! No, really, they do–they think I’m good enough.

The imperfect dishtowel I told you about is finished and it’s still imperfect. In fact, I had threaded my loom in such a way, with a long enough warp, that I am now the proud maker/owner of three imperfect dishtowels.

And, you know what? I love them, in spite of their imperfections! No, really, I do! I think they’re perfectly good.

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I learned a lot from making them.

I learned new things about weaving and the possibilities. The loom is threaded one way but, by pressing different treadles in different orders, I could weave three different patterns. It shows up most clearly in the striped colors but is also really pretty in the texture of the white.

I learned that it really is important to fix mistakes when you notice them. I made at least three threading errors in my towels. I knew one of them was there from the start and thought it wouldn’t be noticeable. Now I know better!

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I learned I really like this fiber. It’s called Cottolin and it’s a mix of cotton and linen. I’m told linen, by itself, can be difficult to weave but mixed with cotton it was very satisfying.

I learned that cotton and linen shrink a lot, especially in length. I had intended, and thought I had planned for, these towels to measure 26 by 18 when finished but the biggest one ended up 22 by 20 . . . Hmmm, and I’m just now learning that I must’ve done something very wrong from the start, if I thought the towels would be 18 inches wide and they ended up 20. That can’t be explained by shrinking!

I guess I’ve learned that I need to pay more attention to the math aspects of the planning stages!

I learned, or realized again, that weaving feels like a certain kind of magic. You start with thread, just endlessly long, boring thread, and create a web of fabric that is full of possibilities.

 

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I made dishtowels but I could’ve made cloth for a dress, a blanket for a baby, a coat for my cat, placemats and napkins for my table, a tapestry to celebrate a victory, a christening gown, a shroud . . .

And the fabric I wove makes me appreciate fabric like I never have before. Weaving anything gives you a sense of why, historically, fabrics were treasured and treated with care and patched and re-used. This is an appreciation that gets lost when all our fabric comes from mills in foreign lands.

My towels are imperfect but they will accomplish, perfectly, the purposes for which they were created. They have already taught me a great deal. They will be absorbent and will hold up to rough treatment. They will stand up to a hot washer and dryer and be ready to serve again. They will age beautifully and last long and make me smile when I use them.

And they offer an important reminder to us all—we don’t need to be perfect to be perfectly good!

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Woven Together

The weaving continues.

We pursue it with the zeal of converts.

The fact that we are learning together adds to the enjoyment.

We talk about ideas and plans.

We bring different perspectives to solving problems, and four hands to the task make some chores far easier.

We definitely have different approaches. He tends toward complicated patterns and lots of bright colors. He wants to make exuberant table runners. He is bold and fearless.

IMG_8777IMG_8048I tend toward wanting to learn about different fibers and classic designs—twills herringbones, stripes. I want to make tidy dishtowels and scarves. I am methodical and want things just so.IMG_7988IMG_8789We approach weaving as we have so many things over 25 years—on equal terms, balancing the load, each with our own strengths, respecting what the other does better.

Strong fabric depends on warp and weft. Woven together.