Weavers: A Legacy of Sharing Our “Recipes”
Part of being a weaver is participating in a legacy of sharing, so much bigger and grander than just you. When I weave, I know that countless weavers before me have not only gone through these same actions, but have woven these same patterns. From the miniature overshot of Bertha Gray Hayes to big books of drafts by the likes of Carol Strickler and Marguerite Porter Davison, it is comforting to know that just about wherever I tread, others have gone before me. (In that same sense, it’s perhaps even more comforting to know that when I make a mistake at any point during the weaving and finishing process, I am probably just one of many weavers who have done the same.)
Maybe it’s because I’m a former historian (and still very much one at heart), I love to learn about how things got their start. I like to look up the origins of words and the inventors of various tools. I like to know where the earliest examples of everything were found, and how old they are. I love looking at looms and handweaving in museums and being able to understand them, even if they are centuries old. I love the stories others tell me about the loom they rescued from the family barn that belonged to great-great-aunt Bertha and is now used to weave rag rugs, or the handwoven coverlet passed down through the generations that is still used to decorate the guest bed.
I recently added a new loom to my collection, a beautiful 40-inch wide, 4-shaft loom that I have tentatively named “Loom” Diamond Phillips. For the past 6 months or so, I’ve been wanting a wider loom, one suitable for weaving bath towels and lap throws. When I found this beautiful loom just a few miles from my house it felt like fate—it was the loom I’d been dreaming about and suddenly it was real.
Steve, the owner, told me that the loom belonged to none other than tapestry weaver James Koehler. When James passed it was donated to a local organization and eventually, as space got tight, it needed a new home. I was flabbergasted to know my loom belonged to such an important weaver, and it once again reminded me of how connected we all are as weavers. When a weaver passes or simply downsizes their studio, their old looms aren’t burnt on a pyre. Rather, they are passed to somebody new who will ideally weave new adventures and preserve the legacy for generations still to come.
I can’t think of too many other hobbies or professions where this is the case as routinely as weaving—weaving supplies and especially looms are typically not homeless for long. Perhaps it’s because we know that by passing along those tools, we’re nurturing a love of weaving in somebody else. I know I was endlessly grateful to the weavers who gave me bobbins, yarn, and advice when I started weaving. Perhaps it’s also because we know that, by passing along our looms and our shuttles when we no longer need them, we are also keeping a bit of ourselves alive in the weaving story of another. Amazing!
Similarly, weavers are also keen to pass on their knowledge and experience. One of the many reasons I love working for Handwoven is that I get to be front and center for this type of knowledge transmission as weavers from all over share their knowledge of weaving and tell us how to weave their truly beautiful designs. In the most recent May/June issue, for example, Tom Knisely and Deb Essen write about color and value and Madelyn van der Hoogt gives us the skinny on tied overshot.
The theme for the issue is Light and Dark, which means most of the projects are all about pattern. They are all visually stunning, from Beth Mullins stupendous “Dark and Light of the Moon” twill towels to Katie Allen’s wonderfully unique huck scarf featured on the cover. The fact that we find so many weavers willing to share their knowledge and designs each issue amazes me—I have a friend who has promised to never share her chocolate chip cookie recipe with anyone else, ever, much less publish it in a magazine. How lucky we are to have a community that is so open and so happy to share!
I’ve got a few more projects to go before I warp up good ol’ Loom Diamond Phillips. I’m thinking a set of bath towels would make a great first project, but by the time comes to order the yarn, I might change my mind and weave something else. Whatever I do, I will take joy in knowing that it will be just one of many pieces woven on the loom and hopefully just the first of many woven by me. I will also share it with you all here, and, if you ask, I promise to share the recipe.
P.S. In what ways are you part of a weaving legacy? Your equipment? Your instruction? Your choice of projects? Let me know in the comments!