Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Big big loom

My loom. With Harry the dog, of course, as he always wants to be in the picture.
The story? Well, I'll start at the beginning. When I was a kid, about 12, I took weaving lessons to weave my own tallis for my bat mitzvah. It was an important religious experience and a good way to learn about weaving.
My dad also took lessons with me, and in time, we bought a Herald Loom. (this link is just to a photo I found online. Our loom was light colored wood but roughly the same size or larger.) The floor loom we bought was 48" across, and I could barely reach the treadles and throw the shuttle to weave. The front breast beam was higher than my appropriate parts. I'd stretch to make it work, and everyone hoped I'd grow.

Two things happened. First, I didn't grow. Not at all. I am still that same size! Second, I managed to come down with mononucleosis. (and no, I didn't get it from kissing, but rather from eating off wooden plates that hadn't been adequately washed.) I was really sick, and that horrible feeling rubbed off on my weaving experience. I no longer wanted to weave.

My dad kept the loom and wove a couple more projects. Then my younger brothers complained at how much space it took up in the play room and we sold it. All this happened roughly 24 years ago.

In the last few years, I've thought about weaving several times, but never felt particularly motivated. New looms were expensive and used looms were often advertised in pieces. I was afraid that I lacked the skills to assemble anything from a pile of pieces. It all takes up a lot of room in one's house, too.

Since moving to Manitoba, I'd been thinking about weaving more. I'd met lots of weavers here, and I started to remember how much I liked the physical act of treadling and throwing the shuttle. (and how much I hated warping the loom.) A friend assured me that a loom would appear, at the right price, when I was ready.

Surprise! In the afternoon, on New Year's Eve, I went to see a loom with my friend. She knew the seller and promised it was likely to be in good condition. It was in great condition, and it wasn't too big for me to use. Before I knew it, I was purchasing a Nilus Leclerc jack loom, 45", with a bench, bobbin winder, warping board, shuttles, lease sticks, reference books, and lots more for about $450 Canadian. The older lady who sold it is moving to an apartment near her children, and can't bring it with her. (For reference a new loom like this--without all the other gear--sells for something in the range of $2500.)

My friend helped take this loom apart in pieces. When it looked too heavy for me to manage, we called in my husband, the professor, to help haul. The two of them brought it out of the seller's basement, put it in my car, and then hauled it from the car, across the backyard, and into the house. Then it was up the stairs to the second floor. My friend put it together for me quickly, and was on her way.

There was a handspun warp on the loom, and I went deep into the recesses of my memory to figure out what to do with it. I had to sley the heddles and put it through the reed. I had to tie the warp onto the front of the loom and start weaving. With email support from my local weaver friend and a far away weaving teacher friend....I was off to the races.

At one point, when I told the professor all the questions I had, he said if it were him, he would wait and not touch anything until my friend had time to come over and help again. I picked up a book or two, emailed specific questions, and experimented until I got it going.

It's my first practice weaving, so it won't be perfect. That said, I've already done about 15" of weaving and I'm enjoying it. What I like best?

I am literally tied to the last owner of this loom. Her gorgeous gray wool handspun singles warp the loom as my first practice weaving. My weft (the horizontal yarn) is my dark gray Romney handspun. Not only is it my handspun yarn, but I knew the sheep who grew this wool, and I was at its shearing! I have a physical connection to weavers past through this warp, and a stake in the sheep and spinning of today, and hope to weave on to the future this time around.

Today is my birthday, and I am celebrating quietly, with the notion that this weaving, this handspun warp and weft, will continue to pull me into the future without losing any mooring to the past, either.

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Blogger Nancy said...

A fantastic birthday present you got yourself! I wish I felt confident that my loom would actually be OK in this house since it has a lot of cast iron and is very heavy when assembled. I am so happy for you, especially on this, your birthday! Happy Fiberday!

January 5, 2010 at 11:59 AM  
Blogger ilana said...

happy birthday! sounds like a beautiful gift to yourself for many years to come!

January 5, 2010 at 12:22 PM  
Blogger Melanie said...

Happy birthday and happy weaving!

January 5, 2010 at 2:33 PM  
Blogger PghCathy said...

Happy birthday! I love the thought of you being tied to the previous owner. We're all connected at some level; you just have a tangible reminder.

January 5, 2010 at 4:44 PM  
Blogger Willow said...

A very Happy Birthday to you!

I 'think' I have the exact same loom. I'm not sure because mine is lying in pieces in the corner of my bedroom waiting for a space in my little cottage to magically open up so I can assemble it where it won't dominate the room (like that's really going to happen!). So there it sits, waiting hopefully.

January 5, 2010 at 9:05 PM  
Blogger Deborah Robson said...

Most splendid! I'm thrilled for you. And with a handspun warp. What a fine start for this next Joanne-year.

January 5, 2010 at 11:13 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Happy Birthday - a bit late.
Terrific about the loom!!fa

January 7, 2010 at 1:17 PM  
Blogger PghCathy said...

Were you aware that today is St Distaff Day? That's the tradional day spinners took up their distaffs (spindles) after the 12 days of Christmas. You can read more about it & a poem on Barbara's blog at wwwdotsheepgaldotcom.

I'm telling you..the things I learn from reading these blogs!

January 7, 2010 at 4:27 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

I'm so glad you got it. What a great birthday present! Happy birthday (late, sorry!)


January 8, 2010 at 12:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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January 8, 2010 at 10:34 PM  
Blogger annmarie said...

A floor loom! What a great start to the new year! But, yes, there's always the warping of the thing, isn't there? That's what seems to keep me from my weaving even though my loom is only a rigid heddle...hmm.

January 9, 2010 at 9:56 AM  
Blogger vanessa said...

happy belated birthday!
welcome back to weaving!

January 10, 2010 at 6:42 AM  

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