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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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 . . .
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!
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!
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.