Weaving Across the Ages
This is a guest post from Christina Garton, editor of Weaving Today and associate editor of Handwoven.
Last spring, my husband and I spent a lovely long weekend in the Santa Ynez Valley of California. While there were many reasons we chose that particular bit of California to visit, the way I was able to ultimately “sell” the trip to my husband was with the promise of Spanish Colonial missions to visit.
My husband loves to visit these old missions and churches and admire the architecture. There have been several occasions when driving home from Albuquerque where we added an extra two hours to go visit a tiny desert town and admire its beautiful church. We have driven up and down the dirt roads of New Mexico in tiny cars with no air conditioning to visit these buildings, and so a nice plane ride to Santa Barbara seemed like a piece of cake in comparison.
We visited a total of three missions, but my favorite by far was the La Purisima Mission, which is now a state park. Abandoned for many years, the mission has been reconstructed and dedicated volunteers work to help bring the past alive. Life in such a mission was hard. While some goods could and would be brought in from Spain, most items had to be produced onsite, including textiles.
La Purisima did not disappoint in their display of how textiles were made during the late 1700s and early 1800s. Though there were no historical reenactors at the mission while we were visiting, the display of textile tools certainly brought the mission alive for this weaver. Baskets of wool sat on a long table with carders, drop spindles, long shuttles, and simple rugs woven with naturally colored wool. A truly massive 2-shaft loom took up much of the room and made me appreciate my much smaller 8-shaft jack loom, and a spinning wheel took up slightly less space. Loops of yarn hung from hooks on the wall weighted down by rocks next to niddy noddies.
Most interestingly (for me, at least) was a tool made up of two pieces of wood with a number of thorny seed pods sandwiched between them. My first assumption was that these tools were used for processing wool, but when I spoke with a ranger at the main building, I found out they were actually used to brush the wool textiles much as we might brush a mohair blanket today. I marveled at the ingenuity of the tool. Whether it was devised by the local tribes and adopted by the Spanish or created out of necessity by a Spanish weaver in a new world I did not know. I later learned that the pod was from a plant known as teasel, and the tool was a teasel hand.
I think, perhaps, I am drawn to such historical displays not just because I enjoy weaving myself, but because I feel a connection to other weavers. In the worlds of handspinning and handweaving, there have been many technological advancements but much remains similar if not the same. Looking at the loom and shuttles, I could imagine myself working at them. I could feel the weight of the shafts as I pressed the treadles and felt the large shuttle in my hands as I would pass it back and forth. I felt connected to weavers long past, and it felt good to know that I am but one piece of a much larger history.
I know that I am not the only one to feel this way, not the only one to travel and seek out spinners, weavers, and knitters. It is something that connects us the world over, and that is one reason I love our upcoming March/April issue of Handwoven so very much. The issue is filled with textiles inspired by weaving traditions from around the world interpreted in different ways. We have traditional Japanese Noren done in stunning indigo and white, kitchen towels woven using drafts from Imperial Russia, and the traditional baby wrap reinterpreted with the modern man in mind.
I hope that you all read this issue and feel a connection to textile enthusiasts around the world and throughout time. For those of you who are isolated from other spinners and weavers by distance, and who may sometimes feel quite alone, I hope you read this and remember that you are part of a community that spans the globe and most of history as well.