Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Becoming a weaver

This morning I started setting up the Leclerc Fanny for tea towels to use up the last of the fine linen singles in my stash.

The warp is 2/16 cotton, at 32 epi. The selvedge will have 4 threads per dent like the rest of the warp, but the outside four heddles will have 2 threads per heddle. This "trick" helps strengthen the finer yarns preventing breakage at the selvedge.

While threading I was also thinking a lot about how I came to be a weaver. As a child my family made things by hand, not just because they needed to, but because they enjoyed doing so.

My dad was the youngest of a large family and the boys made musical instruments - guitars and violins for the boys, mandolins for the girls - and they played at dances in the area. My mom is talented with various textile crafts, well taught by her mother. My favourite aunt crocheted and made hairpin lace.

Before tv mom and dad - and Aunt Betty when she visited - would sit around the kitchen table and hook rugs. Mom sewed much of our clothing, knitted and did embroidery. Dad carved wooden items and built things for the house.

Not surprisingly, I learned to knit at 5 or 6, embroider at 10 or so, sew my own clothing at 12.

My first loom, my mother reminded me a few years ago, was a small box loom someone gave us. Mom's memory and mine differ on my reaction!

Mom insists I was captivated. What I remember is finding the process tedious, much like darning my white cotton socks with sewing thread!

During high school, my best friend's sister-in-law was a spinner and Colleen was fascinated, wanting to learn to spin. I shrugged my shoulders and wondered why, when the stores were full of yarn, one would want to spin their own.

After high school, I travelled to Sweden to finally meet my pen friend to whom I had been writing since I was in Grade 6. I travelled to Europe by freighter, one of 4 passengers. My cabinmate was a woman who had been widowed 18 months earlier, spent 6 months with each of her sons, then decided to return to Norway to learn how to weave. "That's unusual" I thought.

My pen friend's mother-in-law was a weaver, with a Glimakra type floor loom in the basement, naked during the summer. Nearly all the textiles for the house had been handwoven - tea towels, hand towels, tablecloths, napkins, curtains and valances for the windows, stair runners. Oh well, I thought, each to their own.

Returning to Canada, life had changed irrovocably with the news that my father was teminally ill. Any thoughts of going to University flew out the window, and I looked for a job. The only thing I was qualified to do was office work.

After several years of bouncing from job to job, boredom setting in about 3 months after starting each new job, getting married, and watching my father gradually failing in terms of his health and slowly dying, much too young - I had plenty of time to think about the meaning of life and what's it all about, Alfie?

Gradually I came to the realization that the prime thing missing from all of my jobs had been the element of creativity. About the time I came to this realization, my boss told me about a new class at the local college - you could take a class in spinning and natural dyeing. Hmm, I thought. It wasn't the spinning that caught my attention, but dyeing using natural dyestuffs. I enrolled in the class.

Imagine my surprise and dismay when I found out that before we could do any dyeing, we had to spin our own yarn to dye! But by then I was enrolled in the class...

The class was made up of mostly 40 something women and one man and two 24 year olds. Me and Linda. Linda lived in Williams Lake, about a 3 hour drive south. Every Monday she would get on the Greyhound Bus, come into town for the Monday evening spinning class, stay overnight and take the all day weaving class on Tuesday. Every Monday evening, she would have a chair and spinning wheel set out next to her for me to use, and she would share what she had done in the weaving class the previous Tuesday.

At the time I was employed at a custom drapery house, selling curtains and drapes surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of textile samples. Beginning that September, I got a weekly tutorial on weaving while Linda shared her excitement and enthusiasm of what was happening in the loom room on Tuesdays.

In March of the following spring, new samples came into the store and my boss called me over saying that I'd be really interested in these samples, as they were made in Sweden.

One of the samples was a double weave with a bumble bee as the motif. After carefully examining the fabric, I knew in principle how the cloth had been made. I understood that two different layers had been woven simultaneously and that the threads from the bottom layer had somehow been brought up to the top, and the threads from the top layer had been brought to the bottom layer to create the little woven bee.

It took about two weeks of thinking about this and mulling things over in the back of my head before I finally said to my husband Doug "I think a person could weave fabric and sell it to make money."

Bless his heart, he replied "Then go for it."

I pointed out that our house was too small for a loom and so we set about selling our house and buying a new one, one with room for a loom..................

to be continued....

1 comment:

Jane said...

Oh Laura, what a wonderful story. I'm always in awe of how even when we don't see while they are happening, the pattern or patterns in our lives that lead us to exactly where we area meant to be, that upon reflection they are clear as crystal.

You were born to be a weaver, and it shows in every beautiful thing you do.

Weave on!