Friday, January 30, 2009

Confessions of a Loomwad**

The course of true love never did run smooth.

William Shakespeare
A Midsummer Night's Dream

Let me begin today's tale with this statement: I am not a Weaver. Oh, I weave. And I'm reasonably proficient on a rigid heddle loom. But I do not Weave with a capital "W". I understand terms like "beaming on" and "Bronson lace" like I understand the term "nuclear fission"--I can use them all correctly in a sentence, but I have never actually executed any of the acts they describe.

Now, let us travel back to August of 2008. Gasoline cost $1.50 a litre, the Beijing Olympics were in their full glory, and Barack Obama was a gleam in the Democratic Party's eye. And I travelled to Gibson's Landing to teach at their Fibre Festival.

I had a wonderful time, and I have blogged about the fabulous festival, scenery and seafood before. But what I haven't revealed until now is that I developed a bit of a secret crush while I was out on the Coast.

I blame Jane Stafford for introducing us. It started as a casual conversation about weaving, but then, I had to meet "the loom". Oh, sure, she's just a little table loom, but she was so pretty. And who could resist the smooth action of those rollers on the pattern shafts. And the fact that she could fold down, even fully dressed, to fit that little spot in my studio between the chair and the fibre storage. And the price! Oh so tempting at an introductory cost of $750.

I had met JP.

I walked away smug in my belief that no one needed a shiny little table loom when they had a sturdy and faithful rigid heddle (aka RH) waiting at home. After all, who needs eight shafts to do plainweave?

But then I started thinking about warps set at 30 epi, or even 50. Fine, hanspun silks making subtle patterns. Linen napkins with a little lace insert. Portability. I dreamed of weaving with a boat shuttle instead of a stick. I felt guilty about these errant thoughts, but I couldn't stop thinking about JP.

Oh, I fought it. For months. Then, at the last minute, I placed my advance order. Jane, the one who was facilitating this sordid affair, assured me that the object of my desire would arrive before Christmas. Oh, how could I wait that long?!?

The days flew by in a frenzy of spinning and knitting. All the while, my faithful rigid heddle stood waiting to be warped for last-minute Christmas tea towels. But I dreamed of multiple shafts and Texsolv heddles and delayed my weaving projects. I needed to spin more cotton, anyway. Really.

As Christmas Day came closer, there were delays. But, just as I was about to abandon all hope, JP arrived the same day we were packing the car to go away for two weeks. I dropped all packing and organizing to release her from her crate. And I sat and stared. I knew I would have to wait a little longer to consummate our relationship, but I am patient. So I delivered her, still not fully assembled to my studio and left her there to get acquainted with the other equipment.

I came down with a cold on my trip, and it seemed like forever before the day came when I had the time and energy to assemble JP But it came. There were difficulties. It turns out that assembling the shafts on a loom is only slightly more complicated than building Ikea furniture. But I persevered. And there she was.

I could hardly wait to weave! But here is where the tale takes an ugly turn.

I do not have a proper warping board, but that's okay because I have a clever little set of warping pegs. Or, at least, I did. I spent the better part of the day tearing the studio, then the living room, then the basement, apart, looking for the cross pegs. Gone. Nowhere to be seen. Apparently swallowed by the same black hole that consumed my 10 mm dpns in early November.

But I had to do SOMETHING! With that lovely little loom sitting there, tempting me, I couldn't wait days, or even weeks to replace the pegs, or to get an actual warping board. I figured I was clever enough to get around this.

So I rigged up an inverted stool, which I weighted with a heavy file box, as my cross end, then attached the remaining lone warping peg to my rigid heddle and wound away. I was not pretty, but it worked.

The only problem was that my cross was at about the 24 inch level from the ground, which required a little bend from the waist each time I made it. After 160 wraps, this did cause a small ache in one's lower back, which will lead one to reconsider the brilliance of this system the next time one decides to make an impromptu warp.

However, a warp was run, 6 yards of cotton at 15 epi for a set of 3 tea towels. (Can you see the optimism in this plan?) Here it is before my first attempt at tying on the warp:

...and here it is after:

Now, let me make it clear that I do not blame JP for this. It was my clumsiness and inexperience that made our first attempt to weave a fiasco. There were tears shed. Where was the wondrous relationship I had dreamed of? I looked longingly toward RH for support. And I was reminded that things did not go smoothly for us at first, either. There are yards and yards of orange 8/2 cotton in the bottom of a bag that are just too tangled to do anything with, but that I still can't bring myself to throw away, to remind me of my first tentative foray into weaving. So, I dried my tears, and set out to wind another awkward warp.

Teagan The Wonder Schnoodle, who had borne witness to all of this madness, began to whimper as I set out to wind the second warp. Knowing that animals can sense impending disaster, I hesitated for a moment. But such was my obsession that I threw caution to the wind and warped on.

Aside from the fact that I had a cat flipping the end of my cross off the stool leg every time I turned my back to run the warp the other direction, this warp went a little faster and smoother. I began to consider the first one a "practice warp". ( Note to self: always buy twice the weaving yarn required so you can "practice" your warp. Or learn to warp?)

And off I set to beam on and thread my loom.

It took a few tries, but I got the warp tied onto the apron and the lease sticks in place. It took a little longer to untangle the warp and feed it through the raddle, but it got done. That was one whole afternoon.

The next afternoon was spent threading heddles --I used four shafts, but threaded for plainweave. Which was confusing enough, thank you. But I have only discovered ONE misthread (so far).

And weaving has begun. Not Weaving, but cloth is being made on a loom by my own two hands. Which is good enough for me. And JP seems content enough, too.

For those of you who may be concerned that my poor RH has been thrust out into the cold, don't be. She has been whispering to me about a tapestry project with all those novelty yarns that I've been spinning lately. And as I type this, Jane is cozied up under RH's stand.

I have, however, noticed that my Schacht wheel is looking a little forlorn with her empty bobbins over there. It's okay, Sweetie, I have lots of love to go around. Let's find that bamboo and
spend some quality time.

**Blame The Simpsons for this word. In one episode, the family goes to the museum to see an exhibit entitled " Looms, Labor and Liberation: A History of Women Weaving" and, before they can get into the museum, the banners change to read "Weapons--Sponsored by Kellogg's". When Lisa and Marge go "aww", the guy hanging the banners says "Sorry, loomwads, there's a new exhibit in town."

This same episode also contains the classic line: "WEAVING?? Homer, you're my father. You're supposed to protect me from things like this!"


  1. Keep persevering, Michelle, I'm not a weaver either, and have had warping fiascos too. My friends keep trying to turn me into a weaver. But I'm resisting with all my might. JP is very sexy. I too am mostly satisfied with an RH but my passion right now has turned to pin looms.

  2. LOL I need to watch the Simpsons again for that episode. Thanks for the laugh. And I applaud your impromptu warping board. I am a newbie learner, so don't have the pretty boards (or many other things) so have to improvise.