Monday, October 26, 2009

Bitten by another bug....

Some textile crafts have fascinated me since I was a young girl; I got my first sewing machine when I was about 5, my mother began to teach me to knit when I was 8 or 10, various embroidery techniques were interspersed along the way and spinning has fascinated me as long as I can remember. Weaving is a latecomer to the fascination. Last Fall I tried to take a spinning and dyeing class but it fell victim to the crashing economy. I tried for the same class this year but the timing just didn't work. But, I wanted to find a vacation where I could DO something. I noted that there was a weaving class and decided it sounded like fun and it would be good to learn how fabric is constructed - given how many miles of fabric I have cut up and sewn it would be good to understand it's structure better. And a trip to NH in the Fall sounded perfect. So...

I signed up for Beginning Weaving and Beyond at Harrisville Designs. I did it with some trepidation, that "Beyond" worried me. My only experience weaving involved the most horrific harness loom ever created. 30 odd years ago my Mother gave it to me for Christmas. One end anchored around my waist - fine. The other....well, let's just say "anchor" and "door knob" do not belong together. It was set aside rapidly. I was sure that most in the class would have some experience and I would be lost. As it turned out most of us were beginners and I had nothing to worry about. The class was taught by Tom Jipson, he is as talented a teacher as he is a weaver. He threw a tremendous amount of information at us while keeping us calm and happy. Ultimately, I loved that this was a mixed class. Watching what those who had a clue could do was inspiring. And, as we toiled away on our samplers we got to see them make things - real usable things (though, I confess that I am seriously considering cutting up a sampler or two so I can make something usable). The camaraderie among the students was wonderful too, when a third hand or an opinion was needed one would always instantly materialize. We all wandered the studio checking out other's work - comparing where someone else's creativity took the weaves and how different colors changed their appearance. Warping a loom is a complicated many-stepped process and Tom made sure we were all comfortable doing it before we left. There was a tremendous variation in experience and comfort levels in the class but Tom managed to keep up with all of us, a truly remarkable feat! I managed to finish three samplers, pulling the last off my loom Thursday night. Friday required a quick project. Since I didn't have a loom waiting for me at home I decided to make something, skipping the last sampler. So I made a pretty scarf from Bronson lace. Tom talked me through figuring out how to do the setup and left me with my graph paper until I begged for help, I was way too brain-dead to do math at that point! But I did get my loom set up and my scarf woven and off my loom before the end of the day, I impressed myself and that doesn't happen often.

My scarf:

From the third sampler - Summer & Winter which makes a reversible fabric with the colors in opposites

I was sure I could resist weaving, that I was just there to learn and understand fabric better. My friends knew better, everyone laughed when I got home and told them I want a loom. Just as soon as I figure out where I can stash one I'll be buying one. In class we worked on 22" 4 harness looms, I want something bigger and with 8 harnesses. I figured out quickly what 4 more harnesses will do and I know I'll want one so I might as well just start there.

A bit about Harrisville Designs-
Harrisville is the perfect stereotypical mill town. A quaint little New England town with brick mill buildings and brick and clapboard homes surrounded by hills and ponds all set against a gorgeous backdrop of tree covered mountains. Mills began spinning by water power early here, just a few years after Slater's Mill and manufacturing died almost two centuries later when labor and fashions changed. What sets Harrisville apart from the many other manufacturing towns across New England is that someone saved this town. The last woolen mill closed in 1970, Harrisville Designs opened in 1971. They have saved not just an important part of American history but have kept some small bit of textile production here. While what was once a tremendous part of the American economy and has been almost completely pushed off shore they have continued to produce yarns and looms in New England, keeping American dollars in the American economy. And the owners and staff are all wonderful, friendly people.

More about a week as an itinerant weaver (albeit neophyte) in Harrisville and the town later.

Almost a century after my grandfather entered the textiles manufacturing world I know he would be happy to know that some manufacturing still goes on in New England. And, I'm sure he would be quite amused to know that I am learning to weave on a man-powered machine so like the predecessors to the huge, complicated machines he was familiar with. Maybe once I have a loom I'll have to make a blanket in his honor - "Mr. Blankets" to the home textiles world.

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