Wednesday, October 27, 2021

lessons learned at the loom

these photos represent three months of work. at the end of july, i began winding a warp in linen. i had chosen what are arguably swedish colors - two shades of blue, yellow and white. the stripes came out rather organically, i would listen to my intuition and then switch colors, creating some stripes wide and some thin, as the mood struck. we decided to call it julie's crazy stripes. 

as you may know, i weave at a little museum about 30km away from home. it's one of those places that have a kind of magic that's hard to explain. you just have to feel it. and you can feel it instantly when you step out of the car. you feel your shoulders relax and you breathe more deeply. 

i haven't done the project alone. the weaving group meets every wednesday and i can't always get there, thanks to being busy at work, so another person wound the warp onto the loom and threaded it through the heddles and prepared it. i got to do a little bit of this, so i learned about it as well, but it was mostly done by one of the other sweet old ladies.

the loom is from 1913 and i like to sit there and imagine all of the cloth that has been created on it. but it also means that she is a bit of a temperamental old thing and she needs getting used to. and yes, i think she's a she. though i'm not sure i can explain why. i just get a feminine impression when i sit at her. and lest you think all looms must be female, the one i wove my rag rugs on is definitely a boy. a young boy. 

there were multiple frustrations, because someone else set it up in my absence, it wasn't until i sat down and had woven 5-6cm that i discovered that there were a number of mistakes that needed to be fixed. that was frustrating and i'd be lying if i didn't admit that i had to take a deep breath and remind myself that i could just as easily have made the mistakes. threading 400+ thin threads through the heddles and the comb isn't an easy job and if you're interrupted, it's very easy to make a mistake.

but what you can't do is hide from that mistake. it shows itself very clearly and very quickly. a loom is an honest thing - it gives you what asked for and nothing more. so if you didn't set it up correctly, that will very quickly become evident. there's no fudging and no covering it up and just going on. mistakes are clear and obvious and it's best to just admit them and fix them before you move on. there's a life lesson in that, i'm sure. 

so we stopped, and we redid a whole lot. and i say we because i'm very grateful for the wise, experienced women at the museum, because they know how to fix such mistakes and they patiently show me how and help me. and i couldn't do any of it without them. and it's such a good lesson for me - asking for help. why is that so hard? why do we think we have to be perfect on the first try? why don't we give ourselves room to make mistakes and learn and grow? 

above all, this wise old loom teaches me patience. she's steady and predictable when you get to know her, but she doesn't hide anything - least of all my mistakes. she shows them to me clearly and she offers me the choice of living with them or undoing them and starting over. over the course of weaving these four linen tea towels, i have made both choices. i had a section of about 10-12cm that was so full of mistakes that i couldn't live with it. nor could i bear the idea of the time it would take to pull it all out. so i fixed what was wrong with the warp and then started anew. and i have that section of cloth and i'm going to make a pincushion or two of it, to remind me that even my mistakes can be useful. that feels like a powerful lesson. and i'm not even sure that i can fully appreciate it, but i'm going to try. 

elsewhere, there are small mistakes. a time or two when a single thread or two was a bit loose and so the thread got sent through on the wrong side with the shuttle. those i can live with. they can contribute to the charm of the piece. to show that it's handmade and that imperfections have their own beauty. that it was made by a fallible human and not a machine. 

and today, i finally dared to cut them apart. it feels like such an act of violence. i sewed a zigzag on the sewing machine on both sides along the places i was going to cut, so they wouldn't unravel and i wove a ribbon to serve as the straps for the towels. it was hard to cut that ribbon up as well. i spent so much time making sure every thread was right, that it felt like a violation to cut them up. but it also felt good. i sewed a hem on each end and i attached my handwoven ribbon. and it was satisfying. 

and now, they're soaking overnight in an enamel bowl of cold water. i will wash them tomorrow and that will bring them together into the soft, usable, absorbent tea towels they will become. and then i will let them dry and i will wrap them up and give them as gifts to two people special to me. and it will all have been worth three months of work and all of the lessons learned at the loom.