May 22, 2008

or, How it Happened, conclusion


Picture yourself driving on the highway on a calm night in early November of 2006.  A minivan speeds up alongside you.  Perhaps the van’s faulty rear dome light is still on, revealing a strange bulk of varnished wood.  What are those people hauling?  Is it some kind of salvaged cabinetry?  It certainly looks old; it’s that old fir the color of buckwheat honey.  There are funny long sticks hanging off it though, bundled with cords.  Then you catch a glimpse of a wooden lever.  Could that be . . . a loom?

The Craig’s list ad was less than a day old when my husband spotted it.  I phoned immediately, but I was already one of many callers.  A guy traveling abroad had begged her to hold it for him until he got back, and a pair of ladies had come to look at it that very afternoon.

“Oh shoot,” I thought.  “I’m too late.  She’s just waiting for them to come back with the money.”

The funny thing was that the seller still wanted to talk with me about her loom, especially after I told her how beautiful I thought it was.  She told me it had belonged to her weaving-teacher grandmother.  Then she said some more about the weavers who had come by that afternoon.  Their only reluctance had been about the price, since the joints “might need work.”

So, why was this lady willing to spend fifteen minutes telling me about her grandmother’s loom when I was only a standby?  I would have thought it was a hard sell, but that didn’t make sense with the number of calls she was getting.  And if it were a hard sell she certainly wouldn’t be telling me a professional weaver had been shoving her loom around and finding it wanting in the joints!

And yet the first thing she’d said to me was, “I’d really like to sell it for the full price.”

I’m a bit dim.  Suddenly it clicked: this woman hadn’t just been talking about the money, she’d been talking about wanting someone to value her grandmother’s loom as much as she did.  She wanted them to know what they were getting, and to see immediately that it was worth the price she’d set! 

“I know you have to be fair and first come, first serve, and all,” I said, “But could I possibly see it, just in case?”

Der Mann and I left as soon as we had bolted some dinner and filled up the gas tank.  It took about two hours to get down to the city, where we found ourselves in a neighborhood of lovely early 20th century walk-up apartment buildings.  Wow.  We had been apartment hunting just a year ago, so I knew the market.  I couldn’t even imagine the rent on a place like this.

The lady who answered the door was in a mild tizzy.  Her grandmother had given her the loom when she was a young woman in the 1970’s.  In fact, she had given each of her grandchildren a loom from her weaving school, but the others had sold theirs years ago.  It was a guilt-loom.  A beloved guilt-loom.  We found out the loom lady worked in the arts sector, and had always meant to weave again.  (Since weaving rya in the 70’s, she hadn’t really.)  Now she figured her beaded jewelry was enough of a creative outlet.  Selling the loom was her first step toward downsizing for a move.  Her niece was there for moral support.  The atmosphere was tense and hurried.

Extreme tact was required.

I didn’t have to pretend to love the loom.  In fact, I was trembling with excitement as soon as I saw it.  It was in beautiful condition.  The loom lady pushed heavily on it a couple of times to show me the play in the joints–which was minimal, and only affected the side-to-side axis, not front-to-back.  “It’s fine as long as people don’t keep pushing on it all day!” I didn’t say.  In my head it was already mine.

I suspect the hurriedness and tenseness was because now that she’d started process of loom-excision, she wanted to finish it quickly, like ripping off a band-aid.  It was just my great luck that clearly she wanted to sell her loom to ME.  NOW.  I slowed myself down to check carefully for all the components.  They were all there . . . and then some.  What was that extra ratcheted beam in the castle?  An extra warp beam?  It must be.

Everything was very orderly.  She had even counted up all the string heddles and bagged them in labeled groups.  It was sad in a way–as if I would be hauling off not just her grandmother’s loom but her actual grandmother, and she wanted to make sure the old lady had packed her toothbrush and plenty of hankies.  Yes, loom lady, I’ll take good care of granny!  I hope she could tell.

We went back to the kitchen.  Der Mann had gotten as much cash as the ATM allowed, and I was writing a check for the rest.  About five large plastic storage boxes of yarn and unidentified wooden objects were sitting on the dining room table.

“For another $100 you can have all the yarn and shuttles and things if you like.”

I don’t know if she had even been planning to sell them until that moment.  It might have been a last minute kindness, or a last minute clean sweep.  Can you faint from bliss?  There was also a box of books I didn’t even have time to look at, and an umbrella swift in pieces.  The swift was the piéce de résistance: she said it had been her grandmother’s grandmother’s swift in Sweden, which meant it was probably at least 150 years old.  All it needed was restringing.  I didn’t count the shuttles but there were a lot.

The loom lady said she had spun and dyed some of the wool with her grandmother, who had also raised sheep.  Then she lifted up a huge jar stuffed with scraps of cloth and pushed them them away from the rest of the stuff.  “Oh, and these are just her samples of things she wove.  You wouldn’t want them.  They wouldn’t mean anything to you.”

I so wanted to snatch up the jar saying, “YES!  I WOULD!”  I glimpsed all kinds of fine linens through the sides of the jar.  Sweet little rosepath borders.  Wool suitings.  But I already had an embarrassment of riches, and the fraught emotional atmosphere demanded my restraint.  It still drives me a little crazy though; I couldn’t tell if she really wanted to keep the samples, or if she really just thought they were were worthless, given they had been treated that way, stuffed willy-nilly in that old jar.  Maybe she didn’t know it’s possible to find out how to weave something just from looking at it?

Anyway, if I’d said I wanted the samples, I was afraid it would all disappear, as if I were the greedy man in a fairy tale who asks the magical being for just one thing too many.  “What!  You’d take my grandmother’s samples?  Well then you’ll have no loom!”

Amid the tying up and dismantling and reciept making and minivan loading I learned some more of its history.

Margaret Bergman, a Swedish farmwife on the Puget Sound, began teaching local women to weave in the late 1920’s.  She designed, patented, and had her family begin manufacturing a clever folding countermarche so her students could have their own looms.  One of her students was the loom lady’s grandmother, Mrs. S-G.  Mrs. S-G also took a textile course at the University, and started her own weaving school in turn on Lake Sammamish in the 1930’s or ’40’s.  Loom Lady was very proud to tell me that Jack Lenor Larsen (at the time I had never heard of him!) had learned to weave on this very loom; apparently when he was at the U of W he went out to Mrs. S-G’s place for lessons.  All of the 8? 10? looms she eventually acquired for her school were ordered from her old teacher Margaret Bergman–she believed there was no better loom.

When Mrs. S-G was past running a weaving school she broke up her studio.  The loom lady was her only grandchild who had wanted to weave.  When the young loom lady moved to San Francisco in the 1970’s, her dad made a special packing crate to ship her the loom.

My loom went to San Francisco with the flower children.

And came back North to it’s home town again, part of the general migration.

There wasn’t room for the custom packing crate in the car, so we’d have to make another trip for that.  It started to rain.  It was about 11 when we got home, but I didn’t want to wait to unload.  We carried everything inside. When we were done I crawled around the living room with a towel, drying every side of every piece of wood to make sure I hadn’t missed any of the raindrops.  It felt like we’d just completed a heist, and I had gotten away with something both terrifying and amazing.


8 Responses to “Getaway”

  1. Cally Says:

    Oh it’s beautiful! And I have no doubt it loves been woven on again, starting a whole new chapter in its life story. My joints give me trouble too sometimes, but I am fine as long as no-one pushes me from side-to-side…

  2. What a beautiful loom!!!! Some of the best aspects of weaving are find old equipment that was love. Now it’s your turn to love the loom.

  3. Jane Says:

    She is gorgeous! I can see why you fell in love with her, and I so understand the feelings of not wanting to jinx the entire sale at the moment of the samples in the jar. She was meant to be yours and you’re doing her justice.

    I’m wondering if you can call the woman who sold her to you, and let her know that you’ve been thinking about the samples and ask her if you could borrow them to scan so that you can put the scans with the loom? She may realize how much you appreciate them and the loom and share them with you. They certainly are treasures.

    Am so glad you’re blogging, you’re such a talented writer.

    Weave like an Egyptian,

  4. Alison Says:

    What a beautiful loom! I’m so glad you got her and can’t wait to see what you weave.

  5. Sue Says:

    I read your story of the acquitsistion of the Bergman loom with pleasure. I have three Bergmans and love them all dearly, but the first one [the 45″ 8 shaft floor loom] most of all. I like to warp back to front using a raddle, and because having the loom facing so I can wind the warp on that way isn’t possible, I had my husband make a raddle that is held in place with the pins that came with the loom on the back beam. There were already holes on each side so no damage is done to the loom and it seems a natural fit.

    Thanks again for the story – it made my day.

  6. I can tell you will love this loom and care for it well, just by the way your words caressed the story. Mrs. S-G is smiling from above!

  7. Stef Says:

    What a wonderful story and such a gorgeous loom! I look forward to seeing more pictures and reading more tales…

  8. Elizabeth Says:

    Hi! Your loom is so beautiful! I just purchased one today — (yes, also a Bergman), but the wood is nowhere as beautiful as yours. Would you mind helping me to figure out how to tie the shafts/lams/treddles together? Thank You!

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