Why do I weave, anyway?
Such a hard question to answer. All I know is that it called to me, over and over again, until I could no longer ignore the siren call of the yarns, the equipment.
Frankly I could have made a whole lot more money in a more 'traditional' job, one where I got up every day, showed up at work, did what needed doing, collected my paycheque, made pension contributions, had paid holiday time where I actually had a holiday instead of a working 'holiday'.
But that type of job was...stifling.
When I sat down at a floor loom for the first time, it was as though a heavenly choir sang "You're home, You're home!" It felt so...right...my butt perched on the bench, feet on treadles, shuttle in hand.
Has it been easy being a hand weaver in the 20th and 21st centuries? Nope. Jobs that are labour intensive, especially those done by women (and it so pains me to type that), are generally not much valued. It has been a constant struggle to justify my prices. The question most often asked at a craft fair is - you guessed it - 'how long did it take to make X'.
Thing is, economies of scale mean that I don't sit down and make one of anything from start to finish; rather I work in groups. So a warp of place mats (shown above) is 10.5 meters long. From that warp I get one table runner and 12 place mats. It takes me, say, an hour (probably less, but let's go with that for simplicity sake) to wind the warp. It takes about 5-10 minutes to rough sley, 10 minutes or so to beam. Threading might take 30-35 minutes, sleying another 5 minutes, about a minute and a half to tie on and throw the first six picks to spread the warp.
Generally when I'm weaving I do about 30-45 minutes at a time and can weave about 1/4 of the warp in that time (it's fast - there's a reason for that - two in fact).
If pushed, I could weave off the entire warp in one day. Since turning 65, plus surgery, I don't usually push that hard much anymore.
So let's say - oh, two days to make a dozen mats and a table runner. I could crunch the numbers down further to get a more accurate minutes/mat but let's just say two studio days.
The mats sell for (2017 price) $13 each. The table runner is $26. That's $182 for two days work. But wait! Out of that $182 I have to pay for the materials, the electricity for the studio, the rent for Puff, (the industrial press), and all the other expenses of running a business.
Even at $91 gross a day, that's pretty low wages, and more realistically, it is much, much less than that. And of course, there is still the finishing to do...
So...why do I do it?
I do it because I am self-employed. I get to choose whether or not I work that day (you can tell that I choose to work most days! I explained to a 19 year old on Thursday that when you are self-employed every day is a potential work day. Because if you don't work, you don't get anything done, and you don't have any income.)
I wanted something where I got to choose what I did. To walk to the beat of my own drum. I wanted a roof over my head and food on the table, but I didn't desire diamonds or gold plated toilets. I wanted a life that fulfilled me creatively. I wasn't looking for public acclaim. The only 'recognition' I wanted was the buying public to pay me the price I asked for the textiles I made.
I am now in the last 'half' of my 6th decade. I have lived a life that was part hard physical labour, part mental exploration, then follow up in reality to see if I'd got it right. I have taught and learned from many. I have - even if I say it myself - left a bit of myself behind in my writings, here and elsewhere.
While I still have things on my bucket list I really want to accomplish, I look back on the last 40+ years with a certain satisfaction. And, while there are things I would change, I would not change the decision I made lo, these many years ago, to become a weaver.