Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Woven In

If you walk into my house, this is the first thing you'll see in my living room. A four-harness loom set up with some lovely greenish-grayish tones of cotton that I'm currently struggling to weave into a table runner. You should know that it's taken me about three months just to get to this point. Weaving is so fascinating in so many ways, but my goodness . . . it sure takes a while.

You may recall that I took a class in October to learn how to weave on a rigid-heddle loom, which is sort of like a big-girl version of that thing you made in summer camp for the potholders you came home with and gave to your mother and she pretended to like them. The rigid-heddle loom is a sort of self-contained tiny version of a floor loom, much narrower, and much more gratifying in terms of time vs. actual project finality. As in, I started at 10 a.m. Sunday morning, and by 2:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon I had a scarf.

The floor loom (borrowed from the lovely Gail Callahan, author of Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece — buy it as soon as it releases in a few weeks, as it is destined to become a classic) made the journey to my house in mid-November when I started what's called "dressing the loom." This means winding the warp, tying it onto the loom, and threading each tiny thread through not only a myriad of "heddles" but then through a reed that separates each thread into a pattern that will be set when you start your back-and-forth with the shuttle. The back-and-forth fabric is called the "weft," and you'll see many references in classic literature to "warp" and "weft" as metaphors for the fullness of life and its all-encompassing beauty. In The Odyssey, for any of you who made it through that epic poem, you may remember that Penelope, wife of Odysseus, wove a rug every day that she was held captive by her husband's enemies and each night picked it apart so that she would be able to weave it again the following day. Weaving is one of the oldest crafts on record, and many beautiful examples of woven fabric are in prized antiquities collections around the world.

In my case, though, I'm just trying to get through my first project. As a knitter I'm used to having an idea of how my garment will look after a few inches and being fairly confined to a set of options having to do with how fine the yarn is, the size of my needles, and the actual pattern of the garment. Weaving is a whole, exciting, weird, different world, where you can experiment with colors, patterns, and textures right on the loom itself, without any restrictions other than how long your warp is. So I'm just playing now, looking at the fascinating way that, like a more complex version of a lattice-top piecrust, the warp and weft combine in an interlocking grid to make beautiful fabric. Here's my "box of possibilities," as I've been calling it:

It's a pattern book, some bobbins of different colors of cotton, and my weaving tools, which have violent and fun names like sleying hooks, beaters, raddles, and the like. I'm going to take my time and leave my options open. For once.

— Amy Greeman, Director of Publicity

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