Weaving Around the World

  Weaving tools of the past were much larger than what we use today.

imageplaceholder Christina Garton
Editor, Weaving Today

Last spring, my husband and I spent a lovely long weekend in the Santa Ynez Valley of California. We stayed in the wonderful town of Solvang, which was built by Danish pioneers and is known for its downtown filled with traditional Danish architecture, including a windmill or two. 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. There have been several occasions when driving home from Albuquerque where we added an extra two hours to our trip 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 four missions, but my favorite by far was the La Purisima Mission, which is now a state park. The mission, which was abandoned for many years, has been reconstructed and a troupe of volunteers works to help bring mission life 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.

  An old-fashioned tool used to brush wool textiles.

La Purisima did not disappoint in their display of how textiles were made during the late 1700s and early 1800s. Thought 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 yarns. A truly massive 2-shaft loom took up much of the room and made me appreciate my much smaller 8-shaft jack loom. Loops of yarn hung from hooks on the wall weighted down by rocks.

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. Now, 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 do not know.

I think, perhaps, I am not just drawn to weaving in historical displays such as these just because I enjoy weaving myself, but because I feel a connection to other weavers. While there have been so very many changes in weaving technology in the past two hundred years or so, much remains the same if not similar. 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 in the 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 weaver to feel this way, not the only one to travel and seek out other weavers and other weaving. It is something that connects us to 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 weavers around the world and throughout time. For those of you who are isolated from other weavers by distance, and 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.  

Happy Weaving!


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