Love of Weaving

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Photo by Pixabay/Nowaja

After years of sewing clothes, I decided to take up weaving, because I wanted to learn how warp and weft came together to make cloth. So, I took a weaving class, joined the local weavers guild, bought one loom, and then bought another. I became a weaver.

Setting up a handloom is a pleasure. They’re beautiful, often made of honey-toned wood, but they can be quite temperamental. Getting to know a loom is like getting to know a stranger: nerve-wracking, yet rewarding.

One of the most memorable looms I ever worked with was one I didn’t even own. This huge machine, made of hand-hewn walnut, was in the study collections of a museum I worked for, and the museum wanted to use it in demonstrations. The loom parts were a jumbled pile of lumber when this decision was made, and the staff had no idea how the pieces went together. The museum carpenters and I studied the parts and discovered they were marked with Roman numerals. We quickly realized corresponding pieces had identical numbers, like architectural beams in a timber-frame house. Between my colleagues’ knowledge of carpentry and my weaving background, we were able to assemble a working loom.

This particular device was a barn loom, so-called because its style of framework is similar to that of an early timber-frame barn, or perhaps because these looms were often stored in barns due to their size. Our loom’s frame was a large, open square made up of hefty wooden beams. The upper beams were suspended about 6 feet above the floor, and supported a swinging beater used to pack the weft yarn into the warp. A ratchet and pawl mechanism advanced the warp (unwoven) thread and wrapped the finished cloth around the massive octagonal back beam. The carpenters built a custom bench so I could sit close to the front breast beam. Not only was the barn loom beautiful and rustic, but it suited me perfectly. I sat up high, my feet operating the treadles that created the weaving pattern, and museum visitors could see exactly how the loom operated as I wove.

During the years I worked at the museum, I spent many days demonstrating weaving with it. I grew to love its creakiness and learned to anticipate its moods. I’d have to stop occasionally to tighten the wooden keys so the frame wouldn’t return to a pile of lumber.

The loom and I have lost touch over the years, but I still remember our good work in teaching people how cloth is made. Working with a cantankerous piece of equipment taught me patience and attentiveness. What has crafting taught you? Email me your story at RMartin@CappersFarmer.com, and you just might end up in the magazine.