Saturday, January 23, 2010

Q-birds walk

I hope you'll excuse my laziness but a couple of days ago when Gfid posted a couple of pictures of a loom I found myself writing a very long comment where I reminisced about a weaver:

I have pleasant memories of warping but it's been a long time since I last touched a heddle or enjoyed the thrill of beating against multiple shafts. The language of weaving is oddly erotic, isn't it? I've looked at the loom a number of times now but can't tell if it's a Leclerc or something European.

One of my closest friends was a master weaver from Sweden when we first met in Montreal. She'd trained for seven years before coming to Canada with the equivalent of a doctorate to design and oversee the upholstery and other fabrics that were to be woven for the newly refurbished CNR trains. Once the project was over she stayed. She taught me to card, spin, dye and weave over the course of the 5 or 6 years we lived in close proximity. We both designed and made clothes but I was in charge of the sewing :-) She even had lace making pillows and some very old patterns so I got to try that too - a dozen pairs of bobbins to make lace just an inch wide was a pretty intense experience. One of my favorites of her stories was the year she spent planting a field of flax, harvesting, soaking, beating, spinning and weaving her former field into a damask tablecloth and napkins. You don't see a lot of that anymore.

She had two Canadian Leclerc looms for teaching on but the one she used was something like an antique Glimakra counterbalance loom that was huge - almost like a small cottage to look at and touch with an eight foot beam and 16 shafts and treadles. No metal anywhere either - it was all carved wood and had strings for heddles. Weaving on it was similar to learning how to play a full size pipe organ and reason enough to plan on staying in the same place for a long time.

She taught me how to look at hand made carpets from the middle east and to know by the subtle bends at the edges how many seasons it had taken to make by how often it had been cut down from a loom and restrung when the nomads moved from summer to winter lands and back. I learned about identifying carpets by the shades of the natural dyes they used and the design elements specific to certain tribes. It's amazing what you could learn from looking at a rug. We both despaired the loss of hand-made traditions long before most people were noticing.

I still have several of her pieces but the neatest ones are very small - two little bird bags she wove for me. Maybe it's time to take their pictures and do a post so I can show you.

So here are the two little bird bags as promised, opened to show the larger design. The fibers (wool, linen and chenille) were dyed using vegetable and flower essences. Inside each bag is a silk lining - pink for the pink bird and dark red for the other, both carefully hand stitched. The art schools taught me to draw but it was my friend who taught me to see and to take the same wild gambles with color that nature does. She is still around and is still my friend but lives in Philadelphia as a full-time Sufi practitioner and teacher. The weaver died un-mourned long ago.

Don't let your flying shuttles get out of hand.


  1. Wonderful story of a wonderful friend and works! I had great aunts and great aunts who were weavers in Finland and I've been blessed with linen tablecloths, wool blankets, rya rugs, lace things, and rag rugs. Some were gifts to me and some passed on to me from my mother. Sometimes I think I could have become a textile artist if the opportunity had been there in my youth. Thanks for letting me share my thoughts.

  2. Geesh, great aunts twice! Should be once then just aunts. I must reread what I write before posting, sorry... my granddaughter just interrupted for a chat in the middle of this .. .:-)

  3. I read this transfixed...the art of weaving is indeed, a commitment! the two pieces are lovely, especially, I love the blue one...I agree that to find the carpets done in the old way is nearly impossible and if you do, have lots of money on hand to pay for them...when i was always sure the weaver(s) did not see much of...

    lovely to see this gray morning... ♥

  4. Lovely bags and even lovlier tribute to your friend, Susan. Fascinating, what a rug can tell if you know how to read it.

  5. WHat a wonderful friend to have Susan. I love the bags

  6. marja-leens - Not to worry, I knew what you meant on first reading. Grandchildren are worth a little confusion :-) I'm sure you treasure those lovely pieces passed on to you from a slower time and it's good you have a daughter and family who have the benefit of your taste and wisdom. I'm sure you would have made wonderful contributions to textile art but what you've specialized is amazingly beautiful too.

    linda - Yes, there was a ton of equipment involved in weaving, a burden I certainly wasn't willing to shoulder with my tendency to move every few years. Paints and paper etc. are easily packed and carried. No, the weavers didn't earn much (hopefully, enough for essentials) but there are things more valuable than money - like family and freedom.

    the crow - She's still a very cool lady and yes, it was amazing to learn they weren't just weird patterns. I had a 'real' one (10x15") that traveled with me for many years - my portable living room.

  7. jams - I still love them too - a pair of my oldest treasures.

  8. It's particularly wonderful to add all your stories together and get a sense of how many people have been involved in your education. What an amazing cast of professors, here on this blog and on AdventuresInk.

  9. Wow...I wish I had friends who did cool stuff like that. I've always been in awe of people who weave and sew. I just don't have the patience for it. I can only admire it from afar.

    Oh...and you're right, that lingo does sound erotic! Maybe I'll try it on my husband tonight and see what it gets me. ;-)

  10. nature takes wild gambles with color??? heh.
    i never would have considered that- nature (to me) seems to have perfect lighting; it never oversaturates, smears, muddies, and even when it fades, it renews itself.
    maybe if i had that much practice, i could be perfect too.

    one time we bought an 'oriental-style' carpet at a garage sale. for a great price, it looked brand new. we proudly put it in the living room, in front of the fireplace. it was beautiful.
    but it stank.
    we had it professionally cleaned-- twice. that cost $200, double the price we paid for the carpet. i sprayed it with stuff to take the stink out. i aired out the living room every day.
    and it still stank.
    i googled oriental rugs on the internet. apparently, stink is a common complaint with oriental carpet buyers. there were hundreds of complaints, perhaps thousands.
    it was probably something used in the glue holding the rug together.
    the bottom line: there was nothing i could do to make the stink go away.
    i've since sworn off cheap oriental rugs. and glue sniffing.

  11. I thought I detected chenille! Such an elegant fabric for weaving with other textures. I don't weave but I always have to stop and look at the creations of weavers in our area when I go to the craft fairs. I love to look and I always manage to sneak a stroke or two, just to gratify my sense of touch. I am never able to buy anything because it is always out of my price range.

    Lovely story of a very interesting sounding friend. An entire field of flax to make a tablecloth. That really makes one take pause, doesn't it? We take so much for granted in this modern world where goods are mostly created with synthetics and machines.

    I enjoyed this post immensely.


  12. steve - I never realized I was giving so much away :-)

    nunly - Sometimes people meet one another at just the right time for them both. It didn't work when my mother tried to teach me to knit. Hope the weaving talk got you what you needed :-)

    sera - Okay, I agree I went a little overboard with the 'wild gambles of nature' bit. You're right that it's always perfect as it is and all we can do is try to capture a bit of the natural magic.

    I'm glad you've given up glue sniffing and I hope you're saving up for a real oriental - they shouldn't stink unless the final product was stored too close to the camels.

    pagan sphinx - It's really good to know that so many people have taken up practicing the old crafts, isn't it? They may be expensive but at least we know they are things of value - unlike so much else that costs too much.

    Yes, I was dumbfounded when she told me about the damask table cloth. It simply hadn't occurred to me such fine things could be made by one person.

  13. regarding oriental rugs- maybe one day i'll have one. and you're right, wait to get a nice one.

  14. sera - The very big Persian carpet I used to own was already very old when I bought it in Montreal. The owners had brought it for cleaning and had never returned so I got it for that price. After many years it was mostly worn through so it was returned to the earth. Now I have a Zanjan carpet that's much smaller (5x7') but it's very lovely and reminds me of my mother. That's because I spent the birthday money she sent one year to buy it. Well, she always wanted me to have a home and wherever we live we have a few nice things.