How it Happened

April 30, 2008


I adore cloth.

I dislike sewing.

You have to understand what a betrayal this is on my part.  I am a fifth generation seamstress.  Actually, I am an infinite generation seamstress, because prior to my granny’s granny, the consummately chic Nanny (born a hundred years before me), my ancestresses didn’t have any choice: all of them sewed.

Maybe part of the problem was that mortifying and detestable 4-H sewing class I was forced to take in 3rd grade.  But no.  I don’t think so.  4-H did the job; I learned to sew.  I could have learned to love it later, but I didn’t.

To love sewing clothes you either have to be a spatial genius, like my mom; or a sensualist-pragmatist-perfectionist, like my granny; or maybe you just have to really, really like polyester double-knit, like my great granny.

I understand the last approach a little better than the first two.  I still intend to sew, because like Great Granny with her double-knit tunics, it is the only way to get the clothing I want.  In my teens I sewed ethnic caftans and bizarre gored skirts and fitted cotton half-slips because the clothes I wanted to wear did not exist, and I refused to compromise my aesthetic.  It was grueling.

Yes, I was a freakish child.

Skip ahead.  I’m in my late twenties.  The history and idea of weaving have fascinated me all my life; I pay careful attention wherever they crop up in my reading or at art exhibits.  Finally, restless for a real-life door to my daydream, I go to the library and borrow some how-to books by those krazy sixties and seventies kats.  Acrylic sunsets, anyone?  I consider constructing my own simple frame loom, maybe a Navajo loom–ooh, or better yet a bronze age Scandinavian loom!–not because I want to do tapestry, but because making it myself is the only way to obtain such an expensive tool, and a simple loom is the only kind I can make.

I was actually at the point of winding strings around an old oak canvas-stretcher I’d set aside for the purpose when we moved from our moldy rented farm-cottage into town.  The stretcher had been in the cellar, so it hit the dump along with the rest of our contaminated belongings.

After the move I read Women’s Work: the first 20,000 years: women, cloth, and society in early times by E.J.W. Barber.  Oh, this is a wonderful book!  It was in my head for months!  Closer. . .  Closer. . .  Meanwhile I found it necessary to sew curtains for every room in the new rental.  (Mini blinds give me the Puking Vertigo.)  So, it wasn’t until quite a bit later . . .

. . . that my husband was worrying about spending money on a Tai Chi class.  Not really thinking he would bite the bullet, I said, “If you take a Tai Chi class, I’ll take a weaving class.”

We were living about a block from a historic home owned by Parks and Rec.  Once a year they offered a weaving class there.  My husband signed up for Tai Chi.  I called Parks and Rec, but the weaving class had started a week ago.

To be continued. . .