The Scary Weaving Teacher

May 9, 2008

or, How It Happened, Part II

You will recall I was on the phone with the nice lady at Parks and Rec, realizing I had just missed my once-a-year shot at a weaving class.  I asked if by any chance I could join the class a week late.  The Parks and Rec lady heard my desperation and took pity.  She said she would get in touch with the instructor.  She called back: “I gave her your name and phone number.”

In the end I called Eleanor Blom* myself.  Her voice was a surprise.  Really, there’s almost a kind of accent.  You don’t hear it much in the west–and maybe not at all past a certain generation.  I’ve always thought of it as the “Bryn Mawr drawl” because I first heard it from one my granny’s friends who had gone to a private women’s college.  Think Katherine Hepburn.

Galvanized rather than intimidated by this . . . I begged.  Actually, I was sort of surprised I had to beg, but it seemed the thing to do.  Eleanor Blom was explaining that she hadn’t called me because she’d still been thinking–thinking about whether or not to let me in her class.  (I pictured her spending the day with her eyes narrowed, smoking cigarettes and staring into space as she mulled over my fate as a future weaver.)  When students got behind, she cautioned, it was hard to catch up; the other students had already wound warps for the first project.  She asked if I’d done any weaving before.

I decided not to mention the 6” tapestry I made at summer camp.  Instead, I said something excruciating (if true) like, “No, but I’ve done a lot of reading about weaving, you know, theoretically. Now I’d really like to get some hands-on experience.”

A long pause.  Well, okay.  That did it.  I was in.  She even offered to show up a half hour early so I could get a start winding my warp.

I later learned that Eleanor Blom’s wasn’t in fact the only weaving class in town.  Eleanor’s was the hard beginning weaving class.  The mean beginning weaving class.  The beginning weaving class . . . for masochists.  Or at any rate, that was the implication when I talked to the local yarn shop owner.  The yarn lady said something along the lines of, “Oh, well some people really love Eleanor’s class, for some people, it’s just . . . ha, ha [uneasy laughter].  Well you know, she covers so much.  Some people want to spend more time weaving.  You know, not start out all complicated right away.”  But I could tell what she was getting at: the other beginning weaving class, the friendly weaving class at the yarn store, often provided a place of solace and recovery for Eleanor Blom’s former students.

Actually, I’m not at all sure it was my powers of persuasion that got me into her class.  More likely it was my name.  Eleanor mentioned it when I arrived; our names are close cognates.  I believe she is very fond of her own name.

In person she didn’t quite match her voice.  Somewhere between 55 and 70; her weaver-y agelessness fascinated me.  Scary, yes, but less to me than some–maybe because her salt-and-pepper hair, enlarged knuckles, and sudden bursts of irritation reminded me so much of my teenage piano teacher.  Scratch that.  My piano teacher terrified me.  I’m not sure why I wasn’t properly scared of Eleanor Blom!

Unless it is the fact that the Keepers of the Lore are supposed to be prickly.  Scary in a good way.  Otherwise, how would you know the Lore is worth Keeping?  “But why do I have to–”  was the sort of thing that set her off, not tangled warps.  Especially when she’d already said why.

“Why do I have to: –fix my mistakes? –finish my weaving? –calculate my sett?”  Or worse, “Why can’t I just. . .?” when the result would have been a shoddy work-around.  I would not have liked to be one of those students who irritated her.  I’m sure I’d have gone straight to the recovery weaving class at the yarn store and never looked back.

Which would have been a pity, because I can’t imagine a better introduction to weaving than Eleanor Blom’s.  The Parks and Rec table looms were a motley bunch, and (not having been brought up to dive for the goodies–shoot!) I ended up with one of the motliest: an ancient toggle-and-pull-cord device.  The wood was so worn that the toggles would slip and the shafts would fall, but I loved it!  We warped those looms three times.  First for a wool sampler that included several twills as well as double and tubular weave, next for a set of six hemstiched overshot mug rugs, and last for a project of our choice.  The weekly classes were 2 1/2 hours, and the assignments kept me busy at home for a large part of the week.  Yes it was hard, but when we were done, we really felt like we’d been set up to go on by ourselves.  Wonderfully confident!  (Or, um, overconfident.)

The truly scary thing about a scary weaving teacher is this: we who cherish her instruction sheets, follow her drafting lesson in awe, and manage (more or less) not to disgrace ourselves in her eyes . . . we say, “We have entered the dragon, and we have survived.”

And then we buy looms.

To be continued. . .


*not really her name; though I think she’d be be gratified to know she’s scary.


3 Responses to “The Scary Weaving Teacher”

  1. Barb Fessler Says:

    I love this descrition about your weaving teacher and class. Either you like weaving or you don’t. To much work and money involved to be a middle of the road weaver. I can’t wait to read more. And thanks for your comment on my blog.

  2. Jane Says:

    So, we both had the same weaving teacher?!! I was self taught, and read every single issue of Handwoven since it’s inception (even though I didn’t have a loom), devoured theory, and committed weave structures to memory.

    Best friend had a loom and so I was a weaving ‘princess’ — I could go over to her house and weaveity weave without every having had to wind a warp or thread a heddle.

    Suffice to say, when I finally could afford my own loom, I did OK. However COMMA I did take a fabulous intermediate weaving class from, yes, you guessed it, another Eleanor Blom. She actually had one student who left in tears, never to return. I still tease her about making students run screaming into the night.

    She was/is an excellent teacher, and I shall be forever grateful for the knowledge and techniques that she has passed my way. Oh, and I adore her! She is so like E. Mode the designer in the animated movie, The Incredibles.

    Love your blog — love your writing, and wish we lived closer to one another!


  3. […] own wonderful Scary Weaving Teacher, who has been doing complex weaves for decades, had a hands-thrown-up, cautiously-backing-off […]

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