As we continue to work on the conference I have had time to think about this community of textile creators.
One of the things that appeals about conferences is the opportunity to meet other like minded people in real life. To have actual conversations as we fondle each others cloth. Exchange the 'weaver's handshake' (gently rubbing the cloth between your fingers).
What brings us together is our passion for textiles. Our curiosity about how threads are made, then turned into fabric.
Material used to be a trade good. Anyone interested in how this can play out, Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Series has one book of the series where an expedition to Russia is mounted with cloth in the hold to be traded for Russian furs. In North America, Hudson's Bay blankets were traded for beaver pelts. And so on.
Human beings have been playing with 'string' since the dawn of humanity. Elizabeth Wayland Barber has a number of books about historic textiles and the role they played in human development and history. The first one I read was Women's Work, the first 20,000 years. Since that book was published the date for using yarn/textiles has been pushed back even further.
Creating cloth is a labour intensive process. While there is no need for people to create their own as industry more than provides all the cloth humans need, there are other reasons for people to continue to keep the craft alive.
Research is showing more and more that people who make things stay 'healthier' than people who don't. (Can't find citations at the minute but I'm sure they are easy to find with a quick Google search)
There is the simple pleasure of feeling the yarn running through your hands. There is the meditative quality of creating one stitch, throwing the shuttle for one pick, one after the other. I use weaving as a working meditation. Weaving has helped me deal with stress, been instrumental in recovering from injury and also helped to pay the bills. Spinning I do just for the fun of it and because I enjoy blending different colours to make unique yarn I then knit with.
Not everyone wants to make their textile practice a 'job', however, but there are plenty of other reasons to make cloth.
You can go right from the sheep's back or garden plot to ensure the fibres you use are appropriate for the quality of cloth you want to make. You can dye it (before or after spinning) to get exactly the colours you want to work with. You can use fibre prep and spinning techniques to make yarn with exactly the qualities you want. You can then use knitting, crocheting, nalbining, weaving, etc., to make the cloth you want for the purpose you wish to fulfill.
Any hand made textile is slow cloth. Even if you are uber efficient, you will still be vastly slower in making that cloth than industry. Working ergonomically means you don't stress your body while doing it. (the side benefit of ergonomics is increased efficiency - just saying)
In order to do all of those things, you must have a passion for it. If you don't have that passion, it's just another kind of 'work'.
People who don't share that passion with me just don't understand why I do what I do. Case in point - I have been doing a local show since before I actually started weaving. I have missed just one year due to health issues. After about 20 years of setting up my booth and offering my hand woven cloth for sale, some people would see me in my booth, take a second look and say "oh! you're still weaving!" "Yes" I would say, "I am." I can't tell you how many times the response to that was "Well, I suppose it keeps you busy." The first time that happened I was flummoxed. I stammered out that yes, it did keep me very busy. After 40 years or so of doing this I don't get that comment very often any more, thankfully.
But yes, being a professional hand weaver has, indeed, kept me very busy. I have drawn from my passion to work to deadline, keep coming up with new ideas for designs, burnt the midnight oil to get things ready for shows and other deadlines, like my publications, traveled far and wide to teach, woven for other weavers.
Weaving for other weavers? Why yes. Yes, I do. Because they know that I will be able to meet deadlines while they work on other stuff. So yes, I wove for 9 years for a fashion designer. I have woven for other weaver/designers on special projects. I have written articles and woven projects for publication in magazines, beginning with The Weaver's Journal, SS&D, Heddle, the Ontario Handweavers Guild 'newsletter', Handwoven and others. And I have self published books, partly because I had information I wanted to share. I want to help make the creation of textiles less confusing, more interesting - for those who share my passion.
And so I press on with getting a second(!) book to the 'printer'. At this point I have turned the ms over to a professional editor that I trust, in no small measure because she also spins and weaves, and am letting her do the job of the final polishing. Because at this point and some nearly six years of working on it I have zero perspective left.
I told a friend this morning that I had wrung my brains out and onto the paper. I have tried to cover all the 'it depends' issues that weavers face when they set about to make a textile. I cannot tell them what to do in every circumstance so I have tried to give the background information that is needed to make good choices. What anyone does with that information will be up to them.
It is actually painful to me to see weavers in photos sitting too low, inviting injury, working in such a way that can lead to injury. Choosing inappropriate yarn for the project they want to create. Not understanding the factors that need to be considered. That every quality of a cloth is on a sliding scale. That you can take one yarn and create a library of different qualities of cloth.
Over the years I have settled on a range of yarns that I trust to make 'good' cloth. My palette of yarn choices is relatively small and I work within the quality that those yarns will produce. It is just a very thin slice of the weaving 'pie'. On the other hand, I have experimented with a lot of other yarns so I have a pretty good understanding of a wide range of different yarns.
Someone recently commented that putting on lots of short warps is beneficial to a new weaver. I agree with that because while weaving is not particularly difficult, it is complex. The processes, the equipment, the choices of yarns can be very confusing. By dressing the loom with shorter warps and doing as many warps as possible until the process of dressing the loom is understood and becomes second nature will be beneficial. Learning how to think about your results analytically will help make appropriate choices in the future.
Weaving, especially as a hobby, should not be painful. It should not be frustrating. It should not be cause for tangles, tears and blue language. Understanding the principles will help make weaving much easier, and vastly more pleasant.
Understanding the mechanics of the craft, including the equipment, will make the whole activity much more enjoyable and allow for full range of the passion of creating textiles to develop.
So I have been thinking a lot about the instructors we have lined up for the conference. And I'm thinking that I need to sit down with them and invite them to share some of their passion with people considering attending the conference. If I can find time when we can do that, I will - hopefully - begin writing up profiles of them for the conference blog.
Because the best thing about a conference is meeting - in real life - others as passionate as we are and having face to face conversations and give each other the 'weaver's handshake'...