Sewing Straight Lines
Before retiring and embarking on the Master Weaver journey, I spent a good many years involved in one way or another with the garment industry. For a lot of those years, I trained sewing machine operators to use commercial sewing machines in performing garment assembly procedures and techniques.
The beginning of this training, after learning how to start and stop the machine safely, consists of sewing straight lines. Straight lines using the edge of the presser foot as a guide; straight lines around square corners; straight lines before and after curves; and on and on until there is a lovely straight line from A to B with no presser foot or fabric edge for a guide. (This is a tapered dart—not used much these days, but important in the learning process.)
The prospect of Master Weaver Level 1 excited me no end. I’ve always been a little compulsive about weaving, starting with the looper loom at age five. After some decades of weaving on a tapestry-style loom, I graduated to a countermarch and ran off willy-nilly trying every technique I could wrap my head and hands around. I had some experience, I’d taken some workshops, I was ready to become a master weaver.
Shortly before the class was to begin, Olds sent out the syllabus. I skimmed through it; seemed like a lot of very basic weaving stuff. I regarded it as background and wondered what we’d really be doing in class.
Lightning strike: what we really did in class was a lot of very basic weaving stuff. Plain weave. Basket weave. 2/2 twill. Weaving with paper strips.(Really? Really weaving with paper strips? Did that at age 6 in first grade!)
Then there was homework. Keep detailed records of what was done. Weave samples in wool of different setts and assess them in loom state and after finishing. Even more basic: find a source for wool yarns and decide which will be appropriate. Weave more samples, in plain weave, 2/2 twill.
Good thing for me that I’m as old as I am. Patience came late, but did arrive. I did the best I could to put myself in the beginner mindset and work through the assignments.
Never having woven with wool before, I experimented with what I could find. I slowed myself way down and observed what was working and what wasn’t. I learned to throw the shuttle carefully, catch it consistently. I realized the need to place the weft with the batten, not smash it into submission. (Not calling it the “beater” helped soften things up.)
In this process, I learned why I always have one selvedge better than the other. When gaily weaving away at speed, I’d never observed that going one way I beat on a completely closed shed and the other on the closing shed. Now I’m working on fixing that, and other bad habits I’d not taken the time to notice.
It was only after hours and months of subliminal grumbling about the simplicity of the Level 1 curriculum that I realized that the simplicity (and the discipline to keep at it through the grumbling) was the main point. Olds Master Weaver Level 1 is the sewing straight lines of the weaving course. It’s not a workshop with some quick, tricky takeaways that feel good but have no lasting effect. It lays the groundwork for all the skills and knowledge that come after. It’s where it would have been nice to be in 2007 when the first countermarch followed me home.