On the Loom
In the foyer of my grandmother’s home hung this framed quilt piece that was made by my fourth-great grandmother. The quilt was pieced together from well-beloved remnants of clothing that had become too worn to use, and only small pieces could be salvaged. Two generations after the quilt was made, my great-grandmother tried to salvage this small piece of the quilt so she added embroidery across the center and reinforced the seams. My grandmother later had it framed and hung it in the house as a reminder of the generations that this quilt loved and touched.
For many years, I have found that my love of textiles has brought me a strange sort of connectedness with my ancestors and the people around me. It started when I was young with basic embroidery, cross stitch, and sewing projects. I craved learning each new skill; each building upon the next. I had many instructors for the different crafts—my mother and grandmother taught me to sew. My great-aunt attempted to teach me how to crochet. My aunt taught me to weave with paper. Embroidery and cross stitch were learned from kindly neighborhood ladies. I even had some formal instruction from beloved school teachers and university professors. These people loved their craft and shared it with me in a guileless manner motivated by love. Textiles are the basis of my non-romantic love story.
Eventually, I found myself halfway around the world, in rural Scotland, doing a graduate degree in textile design. I tried different textile creation forms--knitting, printing, and weaving—and I found myself enamored with weaving as the basis of all textile handicraft, I had learned how to weave simply as a child, but full-scale dobby handlooms were a whole new experience. Threads, shafts, bobbins, and heddles became my new language. Hours in the weave shed seemed to pass in a haze of eagerness.
I found myself drawn to weaving—its simultaneous complexity and simplicity. The mathematics of developing weaving patterns, the creativity of materials and colors and the tactility of passing the bobbins through the shaft of the loom. Yet beyond the physical process, I felt weaving in a way that is deeper and more spiritual than patterns, materials, and making.
Weaving is the craft of the ancients and our ancestor’s labor of love. In the mythology of the ancient Greeks there are three women, known as the Fates, who wove the destiny of the individual. One to spin the thread of life, one to weave the thread into a larger tapestry of humanity, and one to administer the final cut with which to end a life. Metaphorically, weaving is the process of life, an example of things that bind and change our lives. Our lives are a series of interwoven threads as people and choices come and go throughout. As a weaver, I feel these philosophical concepts deeply during the long hours spent at the loom. It is one of the places where my hands are busy with creation, but my mind wanders.
But more than that I was caught up in the love that it requires and engenders. Weaving is a time consuming endeavor. Every time I stepped up to the loom, I felt the intensity of generations upon me. Imagining my many great-grandmothers sitting down to their looms in days of old, movements filled with strength and grace, as they worked, sang, and whispered prayers of love and comfort for family near and far. I wonder if they ever thought about me, in the vague sort of way, wondering if their efforts at the loom would make it through one generation or two, or perhaps many. Did they weave with a hope for the future?
The process of weaving is just as rewarding as the final result. There is a sense of rightness to each thread as they build up on the loom. And just as the threads on the loom build up, the finished quilt or coverlet is a harbor of memories. It seems that every time a quilt comes out of the cupboard, love and memories unfold with it. I think of my ancestors huddled on the plains as they traveled West, wrapped in a favorite quilt to stave off bitter winds. I think of a mother wrapping her crying infant, late at night. I think of picnics and blanket forts in which the quilt was an essential part. Wrapped in the warmth of a well-loved blanket, I feel the arms of generations encircle me, like a memory of faraway places that are familiar to my soul.
If you have not woven anything before, I suggest you try. Start small, perhaps using a bit of paper or loose thick yarns. Then invest in a small frame loom. This is the loom that I love and use and it comes with the entire starter kit. Create small things for your home, such as a dishcloth or dish towel. One of my favorite yarns to use for dishcloths is this cotton recycled denim yarn in various colors. I get tingles of excitement when I use something that I have made for my home, and I hope you feel the same.
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