Stretching my abilities to the max

I recently spent a week at Vävstuga School of Weaving, working on a long warp in 16/2 cotton. The structures are Monks’ Belt and turned Monks’ Belt. With these two structures, you can weave symmetric borders on all four sides of the cloth, although the treadling of each is far from symmetric.

It took me a very long day to thread the warp. 16/2 doesn’t have much weight and the threads stick together unmercifully. I was using an Ideal loom for the first time, and have come to the conclusion that it is less than Ideal for me. I couldn’t find a comfortable compromise that worked with my new glasses and my old back. I needed sit further back, but the Ideal is a shallow loom. I could have enjoyed more height at the breast beam and more room underneath to tie up, but the Ideal is a short little loom. I muddled through the threading on Tuesday, the sleying and tie ups on Wednesday, and seriously debated whether I would give up weaving for good on Wednesday night. I didn’t.  A good night’s sleep and some help from the weaving fairies (Thanks, Becky) and I was throwing the shuttle quite happily on Thursday.

I have learned something from the experience.  Individual threads of 16/2 are only visible to me when they are in pale colors and under very bright lights (hello, rainy weather!) I also can’t sit at the loom and pound through tasks for twelve hours with minimal breaks.  I think my limit is 4 hours per day, with frequent tea breaks. On the plus side, I have never had such beautiful selvedges in 16/1 linen, and I seem to be able to throw a shuttle just fine with my left hand. I didn’t have to use a temple; there was no need. I can also manage a profile draft just fine, with only a couple penciled notes to remind me what the notation means.

I’m not quitting weaving anytime soon..

I love to weave in community; something about the presence of other weavers inspires me and drives me to persevere. I will have to pick my community projects more carefully, and only use pale-colored warp, and narrow width. I will also have to pace myself and take enough tea breaks. Apparently, I can go full bore on weaving the pattern, because I can see that with my glasses and understand that with my brain.  Perhaps rosepath and smålandsväv would be fun. Perhaps an independent study of each, in my own studio, would be a good place to start.

See what I wove? I finished two table squares, each a half-meter in length and width. To support the turned borders, which run parallel with the selvedges, every pick is treadled in pattern. Four treadles are used to create the two blocks. The horizontal borders use two shuttles, and all six treadles. It’s clever how it all comes together.

At home in my studio, I’m threading the shaft drawloom for large table squares (or small tablecloths–It depends on how you consider 1.10 meters in width). I can see it just fine, as it is cottolin in wide stripes of white and unbleached linen color. I’m nearly done with the pattern heddles and will do something simple, like broken twill, for the ground heddles. The look will be rustic and bold, with a tow linen weft.

I”m also working on a wool scarf I designed, I’m really into simple weaves made rich through color play. There are six colors of thread in the Monks’ Belt pictured above. The scarf features four colors. More on that soon…

A parting thought.  I am a very seasonal person. Winter isn’t the time of year I weave. I plan and I shovel snow. I dream by the fire and I shiver when I venture too far from it. Spring is when I get creative, using the community of weavers to help me ignite my own well-banked creative fires. It’s an urgent time of creativity, before summer’s heat wilts me. I wonder what I can accomplish before July?

Quintessentially Glimåkra

While I was setting up my drawloom, a few respected weavers called into question whether my big Scandinavian loom was a Glimåkra Standard at all. At first, I shrugged it off. Then I started to wonder, and it started to bother me a great deal. By questioning Per’s origins in that way, there was an implication that I should know better than to expect an inferior pile of cobbled together loom parts to behave like a proper loom.

When I though I had the only loom like this in the world, it was a plausible theory. The day that a second loom, exactly like mine, showed up half-way across the country, it was time to come up with a better theory.

The answer was in plain sight on the GAV Glimakra website:

In 1950 the two entrepreneurs Lennart Persson and Yngve Nilsson started Glimåkra Vävstolsfabrik (loom making factory) in the small town of Glimåkra in the south of Sweden. 1975 this company was bought by one of the larger groups of companies in Sweden, the Bonnier Group.

 

In 1999 GAV bought the loom manufacturing and the right to the brand name from Glimåkra and moved the loom manufacturing to Oxberg, near Mora.

Knowing that my loom was purchased in Sweden in the late 60’s, and later brought to the US by it’s first owner, what I have is a genuine old–dare I say original–Glimåkra Vävstolsfabrik loom with it’s proper bench. In those days, Glimåkra looms had four spokes on their ratchet wheels. They were shaped a bit differently than today. They were virtually unknown in the US.

You can just call him Per Persson.

First project ON the drawloom

While the assembly of the drawloom consumed most of my summer and early autumn, I am now completely consumed by weaving the first project on my Myrehed single unit drawloom.

img_0451

There is something so satisfying about pulling draw cords according to the charted design that I drew. I feel like I have finally found an outlet for my somewhat primitive drawing skills. And, should I not feel like drawing, there are so many sources for charted traditional folk art motifs.

One of my uncles kept bees, and I have given serious thought to getting a hive. Bees are a threatened resource because of the pesticides used in industrial farming. I shudder to think of a world without bees, for it would be a world without fruits and vegetables.

What stopped me from getting a hive is that it would produce 40-50 pounds of honey a year. I probably use a pound of honey in a good year.

Instead, I shall weave my hive and bees, and buy my honey and beeswax from a local farm.

This is the  beginning of a pair of casual napkins for the kitchen table, woven in broken twill using 8/2 cotton. They will be perfect for the breakfast table, especially when serving toast with honey.

A good harvest

My garden is metaphorical, but the harvest has been very real. What becomes of winter studies and grand projects that leave me crumpled and worn down by the hot days of summer? They come back to life in autumn, when I am refreshed and once again excited.

img_7089 My winter study in Swedish art weaves is now my favorite shoulder bag. Something about the shape is familiar from my student days. I can feel my hand resting on that bag, but I cannot see it in my mind. The memory is based completely on touch and hand position. It is also familiar from more distant lives, a different bag holding the worldly goods of the barefoot gipsy girl that the gaj called Wild Blue, or another holding the few scraps of sacred text and the begging bowl of an old Buddhist nun.

img_7185The band for my Stjerne coverlet is off the loom, and I played with the ribbon swirls for a while before settling down to sew the band into a mitered border. Despite the three sewing machines in my studio, my hand reaches instinctively for needle and thread. Hand-woven fabric deserves hand-sewn seams. I can backstitch along at a good rate, and I enjoy the contrast between the cool linen border and the complex surface of cotton and linen overshot by woolen pattern threads.

Even the drawloom project is coming along. The first warp is neatly wound around the warp beam and threaded through the pattern heddles at the back of the loom. Now, the long-eyed ground heddle are hanging on their shafts and I am threading a simple broken twill for the first project.

The house and studio have been caught up in enthusiasm of the harvest. I donated three bags of clothing and one large bag of yarn, and have discarded several bags of useless stuff. It feels good to be free of things that no longer bring me joy.

I still marvel at the turns of fate that have brought me to this present moment, and especially at the inner calm that arises when I weave cloth.

 

You can live with someone for years

You can live with someone for years and think you know them. Then one day, you realize that you don’t know them at all.

Per, the big loom that I’ve always called a Glimakra Standard, has had his paternity called into question. When I was adding the extension for the drawloom, there were too many things didn’t fit correctly. His warp beam did not fit into the bolsters. The extension was 10cm. shorter than expected. Had I been able to insert the back beam, It would have been too low.

Why did I ever think he was a Glimakra? That’s what the logo on the beater says. But beaters do not a loom make. The rest of the parts are similar enough to the Glimakra Standards I’ve woven on at Vavstuga. Who notices 10cm when the looms are not side by side and the benches are different. The beater is old, based on the logo and the lack of hardware at the bottom. I just assumed that the whole loom was an old Glimakra.

image

Then there was the bench; the one that came with was not a typical Glimakra bench. But benches do not a loom make. I sit on an Oxaback bench by choice, but that does not turn Per into an Oxaback Cyrus.

So, who is this loom I’ve been living with for the past two years? For now, I’ll just call him Per and describe him as a large Scandinavian loom. He’s my big countermarch loom, 135cm, with 10 shafts and treadles, and I still love him, quirks and all.

We managed to customize the loom extension so that it would fit. Everyone at Vavstuga was so accommodating in making this happen. We made up solutions as we went along, adding blocks to the bottom of the extension uprights, and inserting a spacer between the uprights and the bolsters. Everything fits, and the add-ons are almost imperceptible. I even got into the act and cobbled together longer bolts for the bolsters, using threaded rods and locking hex nuts.

Wicked productive

Said with my best approximation of a Massachusetts accent, of course. It is the place I call home now, so I might as well use the local idiom.

I have been wicked productive in the past few weeks. My winter study project in the Swedish art weaves of the Skåne region is off the loom. Yes, it ran long past winter, but I was having such fun with it. I am thrilled to see the fabric, because it was woven face down. It’s fabric for a tote bag. This is the front

IMG_6792The plainer design at the bottom is for the back of the tote.IMG_6790Another project from the winter is finally done. You may recall this shawl, called Opposites Attract. I’m going to appreciate its thickness and warmth on a cold winter’s day. Today, I am content to drape it over a chair in the library and enjoy the warmth of a fine June day.

IMG_6789 (1)

What’s happening in the studio?

I still have warp for more Swedish art weaves on the 4-shaft Julia. The other Julia is set up to weave the wide border for my Stjerne coverlet.  Three meters done, and four to go. Per, my big old Standard, is naked, as is often the case, but there is something very exciting in his future. I have purchased a ‘harnesk’  or single-unit drawloom! There are some minor technical difficulties in getting the loom extension set up.  Per is a non-standard Standard. There are loom parts all over the studio right now. It looks like a loom exploded in there.

I have fallen in love with weaving damask, and am so excited that I will be able to do it in my own studio. Here are two pieces that I wove at Vävstuga Weaving School a few weeks ago.

IMG_6720 IMG_8950

Winter is over, but my project rolls on

I’m still weaving on my ‘winter’ project of Swedish art weaves. It’s been nearly impossible to share what I have woven, because these techniques are woven face down. I only had small glimpses of what my work looked like until it came so far over the beam that I could peer down at it.

IMG_6724

It is to be a small cushion cover, and I’m currently weaving a simple striped length for the back.

I’m not sure when this warp will be off the loom. If there will be enough left, I want to keep weaving. Halvkrabba pin cushions? Fabric for a small purse?

Honey’s new adventure

This time, I think I have the right mix of looms. Yesterday, I said goodbye to Honey, my first floor loom and long-time sidekick in this adventure we call weaving. It was time. Looms become sad from disuse, and weavers become sad when a beloved loom sits unused in the corner.

IMG_5845

 

A loom can be an absolute thing of beauty, but not be right for the weaver any more. The last two years have been such a journey of understanding for me. I have a much better sense of how like to weave and what I need in a loom. I’ve learned methods of weaving that are more efficient and easier on my body.

It wasn’t easy to come to this decision. I had been easing myself into it for almost a year now. You cannot imagine my sense of utter relief when my ad was answered by a weaver that I know and respect. That made everything so much easier.

So, Honey is on her way to her new home. New adventures in cloth await us all!

 

Weaving together the disparate threads of a story

This isn’t the story of a young woman who drew her life plan with such confidence, all the lines firmly inked with pen. Or how she found herself in love with a dreamer. Virgo and Aries were not destined for happy ever after. No, we leave that young woman in the past, standing on a mountaintop with a string puddled at her feet. while the balloon sailed freely away.

She took that string home and learned to weave.

She prowled the mountainside in the company of mythical cheetahs, leaping, and dancing, drawing life plans next with charcoal, and eventually with a stick in the sand. Virgo can be the firm bedrock of the mountain, but also the shifting sand, swept freely by wind, water or a carefree hand.

Isn’t weaving one of those things drawn with firmly inked lines, the thread held taut in submission and manipulated by the visions of frustrated mathematicians? Or does it become a dance of fingers across dynamically tensioned threads, a harp upon which to play music from deep within the heart?

This is the story of a dreamer who lets the thoughts of smiling people wash across her, occasionally wincing at a hidden thread of bitterness or sorrow. One who has worn the circlet of the stars with reverential mirth, and one who still feels too young to claim the cloak of the wise crone, though it came along with the teapot and other trappings of the office. She aspires to all this, but her dance card is full and there are countless ideas that deserve an enthusiastic “YES!”

In Grasse, the fields are carpeted with lavender, or at least they were the last time I was there. Things change, but not in the context of this story. The fragrance hovers above the ground, rising and falling with the wind and sun. This is the dynamic tension between dream and reality, balloon and mountain, me and the string. This is how I weave and why I weave.

May I present Aislin to you? She is the wise and calm woman of that chance meeting on a broken-down subway train, the face I see in the still waters that rise in the woodland glade, and when I ask who she is, her answer is always the same.

“I am whoever I am needed to be.”

Aislin