or, Pound Foolish at Pop-Henge


Ever since I got it home, the saying “Penny wise, pound foolish” has been running through my head. More like a couple hundred dollars foolish. By couple, I mean several. And by several, I mean four, if you count the $60 for heddles.

What I should have done was to get myself a buying agent. Someone like SpinningLizzy, say, who has a genius for finding used equipment bargains and is the author of delightful weaving-related reading material beside. Check out her rigid heddle shibori article in Weavezine!

What I did do was spot an ad for an 8-shaft, 25 1/2″ weaving width table loom for sale on craigslist for a third the cost of a new one.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may remember that not only am I not weaving at the moment because I am teetering and sweating like a substitute Atlas under the weight of the fixer-upper we are renting from my parents. . . but also because I can’t treadle. Long story short, my left SI joint seems to be permanently compromised. It flares up regularly even when I’m not weaving. This is on top of a lot of other physical problems. I used my little Spears rigid heddle loom this winter, but, lacking blocks, it was hard my arms–and I really wanted to do multi-shaft weaves.

All the same, I wasn’t looking for a table loom. It is rare to find one with more than four shafts and even rarer to find one as wide as I wanted. They cost too much, even used. I was so surprised by this craigslist loom that I pulled out the stops on the oughts and shoulds and woulds and coulds and mays. The monologue went something like this: “I ought to be weaving. Some day, although I can’t really imagine it, I may have the strength to weave again. If I don’t have a workable loom on hand when the time comes, I could miss the boat. So I should probably buy another loom. But it would be foolish to look for a lighter-treadling countermarche. Big countermarches cost a lot, and considering that everything downstairs will have to be trundled from room to room when I re-surface the other broken walls and replace the floors, where would I put it? Therefore, if I buy another loom it ought to be a table loom. I may never see another big 8-shaft table loom for sale this cheaply. If it is in decent shape, I shouldn’t pass it up. I could always sell it for a profit.”

Even with all the shoulding and oughting, I was too tired to really think about buying a loom. I was going to let it slide, which is what I usually do with craigslist finds, but on Memorial Day I showed the ad to Der Mann. He encouraged me to call, and we drove the hour and a half to see it.

Our final turning took us into a small property covered with pop machines. These were more or less evenly spaced, like standing stones and yet not, because there was no intentionality in their placement. And I can’t say they were surreal (though they were), because there was no artistry or irony about them, either. There must have been at least fifty broken pop machines sitting in the mud as if they had grown there. Even stranger, though some of them had parts loosened or coming off, the machines were all fairly new, with identical picture panels on the front. It didn’t look like a collection. It looked as if someone had bid on a huge lot of identical used pop machines at an auction and then said to the delivery man, “Oh, just put them down anywhere.” Wherever there weren’t pop machines there were sheds and barns for recreational farm animals. Goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits, and probably others I couldn’t see. The largest pole barn had an awning made from some of the glow-through plastic panels with photos of giant dewy pop cans.

On the phone I had gained confidence from the fact that the seller was a weaver, and had bought the loom to use for her complex weavers group. In person she was perfectly nice, if a little rattled with the effort of managing both us and her granddaughter who has just learned to crawl. But her house was a hoarder’s house. She apologized for the mess as soon as we came in and her toy poodle(s?) had calmed down, explaining she’d moved from a big house to a small one, but I know moving mess (boy do I ever) and I know hoarders’ houses, and this was a hoarder’s house with a hoarder’s moving mess. I’m talking about the actual psychological disorder, not mere packrattery. It was plugged with chest-high stacks of boxes. Most of the furniture was inaccessible. There was no way all that stuff could have been unpacked into that house ever; for that matter, there was no way it could have been unpacked in her her old house, unless her old house was a mansion. I had a feeling the move wasn’t all that recent. The top boxes looked like they were arranged for regular access.

So, okay, nothing wrong with hoarders. Hoarders are people too. They have hopes and dreams and looms. Maybe the house was so dirty under the hoard-boxes and layered counter clutter because it had been dirty when she moved in. Anyway, as long as the loom was okay, no skin off my nose if her carpets smelled doggy and she had to keep her grandaughter in the playpen or in her arms because there was nowhere else to put her.

The lady took Der Mann and me to a back room where the loom was resting in a little carved-out chunk of floorspace. She really was quite pleasant and well spoken, and the loom looked okay. She had already explained that it was made on the plans of a Mountain Loom (a manufacturer of reliable looms until they retired from the business a few years ago), and it looked to me like the pictures of Mountain Looms I had studied online. I was a little surprised at the roughness of the wood, but it was hardwood and sturdy. Everything was square and symmetrical.


There wasn’t much space to get around the loom on the floor, but I did the best I could. I checked to make sure the teeth of the ratchets were evenly spaced and intact. Der Mann and I lifted it a few inches to get a sense of the weight. I checked the seating of both reeds in the beater. (The Gowdey-made replacement reed didn’t sit quite straight.) I raised each shaft by its lever. I noticed that the last shaft was catching on the underlip of the castle, but it would be an easy fix with a wooden guide.

That’s when I should have sat down, caught my breath and said, “wait a minute,” but the baby was fussing in her grandma’s lap, the small talk was rolling on (it takes at least 3/4 of my brain to make even the most fumbling small talk), and there were three televisions playing in the background. Der Mann told me about the televisions afterward. At the time I only had a sense of blocking out noise and confusion; when I am focused I am not good at perceiving extrinsic details; I am too busy tuning them out.

The heddles on the loom were fraying, hand-tied polyester, and only on the first two shafts. Again I should have said “wait a minute.” Now I understood that the lady had been saying she bought the table loom intending to use it for multiple shaft weaving, before she got her floor loom. She had never actually used more than the first two shafts.

Wasn’t it a good sign that it had been sold to her by a more experienced weaver in her weaving group for $500, though? (You don’t charge someone $500 for a faulty loom if you have to socialize with her afterward!) I could see for myself it was built by someone with decent carpentry skills. Because the loom was a copy of a Mountain Loom, I wasn’t critiquing the design, just checking that everything worked.

I am bad at quick decisions, but I honestly thought I had all the information I needed. I came all this way with the intention of buying an eight shaft table loom, right? The rest was just dithering. I was tired of crawling around on the floor and I could feel the woman getting anxious about how long I was taking, especially when I asked for a ruler to measure the height of the shafts. I said I’d take the loom and the 800 extra heddles as well. The heddles were new and uncut; she’d never used them because she was waiting for her friend to show her how to get them on the shafts (another warning sign; putting on heddles is not that hard). I bought the heddles partly because she seemed desperate to unload them, and partly because they were the same size to fit my Bergman if they didn’t fit the table loom.

I felt sorry for this lady in her dark hoarder house, daily babysitter for a fussy grandbaby who couldn’t be put down on the floor for fear of disturbing her hoards, beseiged by toy poodles and labor-intensive livestock and eerie pop machines. She said she was getting rid of it because she didn’t need two looms. When a hoarder makes a healthy decision like that, shouldn’t you support them? Wasn’t it convenient I wanted a loom and she wanted to sell one?


Five minutes and a lot of cash later Der Mann and I were waddling out with an extremely heavy loom. After having ducks, we tend to gauge the weight of things against the fifty pound bags of duck feed we used to unload from the car. The loom is more than fifty pounds.

You can guess how the story goes from here. An imitation Mountain Loom is not a Mountain Loom. When I got it home and got it up on a table, I immediately saw what was wrong: the lifting mechanism. Back at the seller’s house I had lifted each shaft by itself. I should have lifted them in combinations. The shafts drag and catch at each other as they go up and down.

The first problem should have been obvious even crawling around on the floor. Every time a lever is brought forward to lift a shaft, the lift cord catches on the nut that secures the bolt on which the lever pivots. The cord hitches and twangs like a bowstring as it is forced past the nut.




I could drill shallow holes in the levers to recess the nuts into the wood, but I would need a drill press for that. It would be very delicate work, and how would I get a wrench in the recesses to tighten the nuts, anyway? Or I could look for a different fastener entirely, one with round heads on both ends, though I’ve never heard of such a thing. Or I could totally rebuild the top panel of the loom, which I have no desire to do.

The other problem can’t be diagnosed until you look at the underside of the castle:

tloomcord2Here it is. The metal eyes guide the lift cords up to the levers and down to the shafts. You can see how two of the cords on the right cross over and rub each other, and the the one on the left catches the outer edge of the next eye? You can also see here

tloomcord1how the top eye in the vertical row has been repositioned a couple of times, trying to fix the sticky first shaft. I don’t think this loom has ever worked properly, because I don’t think the person who built it actually got a good look at this part of the loom they were trying to copy.

There is another error in construction. The ratchet on the cloth beam is on the right side. The ratchet on the warp beam is on the left. The loom is 30+ inches wide and 29 deep. The pawls have to be lifted by hand, and I will have to stand up and stretch diagonally over the top of the loom every time I advance the warp. I can’t simply flip the warp beam, because then the teeth of the ratchet will be going the wrong way.

On top of all that, it’s just not that great a piece of woodworking. The person who made it was a carpenter, not a cabinetmaker. The rough boards and unevenly sunk screws don’t show up in the picture. It is mostly maple. The shaft-ends are oak, the cloth and warp beams are fir, and there is a piece of messy mahogany in the beater.  It’s not the kind of loom you want to stroke or name or feed little tidbits to.  I can’t lift it by myself. I can move the Bergman by myself when it’s folded by dragging it carefully across the floor, but the table loom will be stuck wherever it’s resting until I get help lifting it: by a weird twist of fate, I own a table loom that is less portable than my floor loom!

I don’t know why I’m not upset. Der Mann was certainly surprised at the way I switched over immediately into trouble-shooting mode rather than raging against the wasted money or collapsing in despair and banishing the loom to the basement. The best explanation I can offer is that even a substandard loom has some dignity simply by being a loom at all. I don’t think it’s possible to make this one work well, but I can make it work a lot better than it does. As distasteful I find the task, it does have the lip-smacking aftertaste of a crusade. If I can transform this into a decent tool before I pass it on, I’ll have brought something useful into the world.



May 16, 2009

I made two discoveries soon after we moved. First, that I had lost my laundry stick and second, that I now had only five handwoven napkins where I used to have six. This bothered me. I could make a new laundry stick, but it wouldn’t be the one my granny gave me, twin to her own. I could make another handwoven napkin, but it wouldn’t be part of the set. I kept the napkins rolled up in the top kitchen drawer, so I was pretty sure one must have rolled out the back of the drawer and was sitting in the bottom of the cabinet with the sawdust and spider webs.

What really bothered me, though, was the thought of it staying with my former raw-vegan-musician-nudist landlord.

This individual was such a trial there was no question of going back to ask if we could fish the napkin out of the cabinet or the laundry stick out of the laundry room. The goal was never to see him again. At all. The only thing more upsetting than the thought of my napkin remaining in his toxic (though unwitting) clutches was the thought of having to wake him up in the middle of the day in his white rajneeshi pyjamas and hear how the universe was ordering itself for his convenience because of how wonderful he was–a deeply held truth he inserted into most conversations–except when the universe wasn’t doing it’s part, which made him scared and mad.

Der Mann and I bore up by joking about him. Der Mann more than me, because I was around him more and tended to find him more scary than funny. Scary and pitiable. With an emphasis on the scary. Because a) he was very big and tall, and b) he was one of those guys who always has a toothsome groupie-girlfriend, and oozes a preening sexuality, and c) I grew up around mental illness and therefore have a very low tolerance for crazy people.

It’s interesting. The same situation that gave me a very low tolerance for crazy people gave me a very high tolerance for eccentricity. I tend to take what people say at face value, then analyze. When you are a kid in the care of a crazy person you can’t just get away from the craziness, so you become an expert at sorting it. Not everything a crazy person says is crazy. You have to assess situations individually. For instance, when an adult tells you that if a stranger ever tries to drag you off, you should yell “You’re not mommy!” as loudly as you can, because if you just kick and scream people will think you’re throwing a fit with one of your parents–that is actually pretty good advice. But when that same adult tells you that no, you can’t have any gum this time because Bad People might have replaced all the white chicklets in the gum machine at Sears with Ex-Lax, followed by an explanation of what Ex-Lax is and what it does–that is not really something you need to worry about at the age of five. (And I did not worry, but I did spend several years marveling over all the Ex-Lax f@tishists who went through the world scattering digestive mayhem. Oh brave new world, that has such people in it!)

So, I often find myself nodding earnestly as people tell me completely crazy things–like my landlord telling me about the apocryphal Gospel of Andrew, which is where he got his nudism–while I weigh the merits of their ideas. When I have collected enough opinions and soaked up enough vibrations, my intuition processes it all. It says either something like, “Huh. This guy has arrived at some uncommon beliefs in a fashion consistent with his personality and values. I wonder if he first encountered the Gospel of Andrew when he was a Hotshot Evangelical Youth or a Fundamentalist Christian Dad, or when he chucked his family and started hanging out with the Humorously Out-of-Date New Agers. His dome tent sounds cool, although I wish he would stop referring to it as a yurt.” Or my intuition says: “Something is very wrong here. Internal inconsistencies. Grandiosity. Strong whiffs of narcissism. I still feel unsettled days after talking with him. Yep. It’s the old allergic reaction. Once a bedbug-crazy zealot, always a bedbug-crazy zealot.”

The irony is that I attract crazy people. Since I am noncommittal, polite, and take their ideas seriously, they are on me like flies on honey. (See my allergic reaction in my metaphor!) I know a clinical psychologist would be more inclined to see craziness as a continuum rather than a yes / no thing. They would also have a lot more interest in someone like my landlord. I can only plead that what I mean by crazy is someone who is not in treatment and who actively indulges their craziness to the detriment of others, and that I am aware the line I draw between crazy and not crazy is subjective.

If only my intuition worked faster! See, what happens is I am still smiling and nodding, collecting information, when someone else would have already said to themselves, “Oh my god. My new landlord has just told me that in the near future no one will wear clothes. And I have affably pointed out that I like clothes, handmade clothes can be an art form, and that I would like to make handwoven garments. In reply to which he has smugly informed me that come Nirvana-on-earth I can still weave blankets. This guy is so full of shit!

Or more likely, someone else would have just skipped the whole hour-long conversation that led up to the blanket exchange, in favor of an immediate, “This guy is so full of shit!”

(The upside to my attractiveness to crazy people is that I also attract eccentrics–although they tend to be shyer than the crazies, and so not as many. This has studded my life with fascinating LONG conversations and a few very interesting friendships.)

To proceed.

Not long ago, Der Mann and I set out for our evening walk and discovered that our tiny town’s “First Friday” event was in progress, with an art-and-craft show set up in the community center. We wandered in. It was crowded and noisy and there was loud, re-verbed droning New Age music in the background. I figured we’d make a full circuit of the booths in a spirit of community support. Suddenly Der Mann stopped in his tracks and whispered, “I think that’s K___!”

“Where?” I said.

“The live music,” he said.

Like spies in a spy movie we had ducked behind a partition and were whispering. Der Mann ducked out, trying to get a sight line through the crowd without the man who was possibly K___ noticing him staring. The music swelled and droned in majestic digital excess. I said I was going back to wait in the other room where the naughty art was. I was really taken with the brash oils of sports cars and shiny gold human figures (a painting of a statue?) engaged in an act with a name which will not appear on this blog. They put that one at ceiling level. As if kids don’t look up.

Der Mann rejoined me after some reconnaissance. “I still couldn’t see, but it’s the hair. And the pyjamas.” We were both very giggly. We skittered outside feeling more like teenagers than we had in a while.

“And the car,” Der Mann added, pointing. At first I was willing to believe that someone else with a Volvo of that vintage and color was attending the art show, but it had the bumper stickers: Simplify. Begin Within.

We joked about our near miss all the way home. That awful music made me feel quite light about the whole messy business of extracting ourselves from the duplex. (I haven’t told you about the problem with the check he wrote us to refund our deposit.) Our former landlord is a skilled acoustic musician who could play anything he liked, and yet that is what he composes. That is what sounds good to him, and what he plays at paid gigs. Amazing. Those white pyjamas lost some of their sinister brilliance out in the fresh air, amid the pet-themed stained glass and homemade soap.

Further closure came with the napkin. A few days ago it fell out of Der Mann’s Homesar T-shirt. It had been in there since the last time it was washed, before we moved. I sang, I danced, I killed the fatted calf.

And when my granny told my grandpa I lost my laundry stick, he made me a new one.

I only seem to write when I want something. Washing machine advice, exclamations of horror. You’re so nice about giving them to me! However, you’ve probably given up on checking my blog by now, and I know bloglines doesn’t register my new entries until a month or two after I post them.

If you do come across this, maybe you will have something to say. Remember the gamboling wild kittens I mentioned in my pros and cons post a while back? Well, one of them is making a pitiful effort to socialize itself and has decided that we belong to it.

(Dog exclusivists will be bored by what follows. There’s no weaving in it. I’m warning you so you can stop reading and avoid that uncomfortable annoyed-by-the-stupidity-of-a-stranger-on-the-internet feeling.)

I once read a sort of natural history of domesticated cats by a vet, which did a lot to explain why cats relate to humans in a way unlike dogs. A happy, properly-trained dog thinks you’re its alpha pack mate. Cats don’t have packs. A cat (animal behaviorists speculate) thinks you’re its mommy. The kneading, the purring, the seeking of comfort, the lap sitting, the fixation on food when you’re around: infant behavior. Also the playing; you’re it’s teacher. I wouldn’t wonder if the wheedling and manipulating and leaving you in the dust when there’s something more interesting to do isn’t also a part of the metaphorical parent-offspring relationship–rebellious teenaged cat behavior as it leaves the nest and stakes out its own territory.

Well, I’m thinking that if a cat is going to enter into a successful social contract of protracted mama-cathood/kittenhood with its owners, it has to know what the relationship is about. It either has to have had a mama-cat, or a human who stood in for one.

Hence the problem with adopting feral cats, and the really weird behavior we noticed in the local kittens. I am used to kittens that interact with humans, that notice what you’re doing, what you want them to do, and so on; then they court you or evade you. The kittens around our house raised each other, so that while they had no fear of humans, they treated Der Mann and me as walking hurricanes–a collection of natural phenomena–rather than creatures. They would come right up to us to see what was going on, but they wouldn’t let us touch them. They would chase string without ever realizing we were pulling it. They would come in our house to explore if we accidentally left the door open without any sense of wrongdoing or any effort to be sneaky–just curious, as they were about everything else in their territory. We were weather to them because we were not cats.

In the last month or so the three black kittens have taken to making fewer and fewer appearances right by the house as they stake out their adult territories, while the Siamese-looking one seems to have made it’s territory here. Right here. Central command is our front porch, which it defends against full-grown neighborhood cats. Recently it started meowing and scratching at the back door, peeping in the windows. When we go outside it makes a beeline for us. It has learned about petting, though not well and not about laps. It seems to want something we can’t give it. Instead of sitting down and allowing itself to be petted, it frantically rubs its head against our hands while standing on our knees and gets more and more agitated. If we stop, it starts climbing our chests, kneading us, and sticking its nose in our faces.

It’s well fed, so that’s not the problem–more that it’s little kitty wires are crossed. My unscientific theory is that its sociable Siamese genes are struggling with it’s lack of upbringing. Instinctively it knows that humans are good for something, it knows that the door into the house is a portal to delights, but it can’t figure out what they are beside food, which we never give it.

Several days ago, Der Mann talked to the neighbor we thought these kittens belonged to and found out that they had been abandoned in a box in the vacant lot between our houses. The neighbor fed them but didn’t let them in her house or interact with them, except for the one she adopted. She hasn’t gotten around to taking the others to the pound. I guess she wanted to find homes for them, although she doesn’t seem to have been trying very hard because they are about 7 months old. Now it’s not likely to happen. Their kitten appeal is gone, and they haven’t been taught any of the things they need to know, like not to scratch the furniture or jump up on counters. Worst of all–like most of the pets in this town–they haven’t been fixed.

When we heard about the impending impoundment, we had already (shame on us) let the needy Siamese it in a few more times to see what it would do. Each time we were forced to put it out–immediate, unrepentant claws to the new sumak rug, etc. If (we concluded) it’s possible to train this particular cat for indoor behavior (which I doubt), it will take someone (not us) weeks and weeks of lifting it down from the counter every fifteen minutes, by which time all their furniture will be in tatters (not ours).

And yet the first thing we said to each other when we heard about the pound was, well, should we save the Siamese?

It’s not that we don’t want a cat. We do, especially Der Mann, but Der Mann is allergic. Not severely allergic, but the kind of allergy that has to do with those numbered enzyme thingies most cats make (too lazy to look it up), but which a few fancy breeds or mutants make less or none of. Basically, second hand cat-spit makes him itch. If he doesn’t have any cuts on his hands, and doesn’t touch his face, and washes his hands right afterward, he can handle a cat without too many ill effects. But living in the same house with a cat would be a different matter.

If we took responsibility for the Siamese, it would have to have a cat door and bed down in the basement workroom, and not be allowed in the house. It would be an outside-only cat–not only because of it’s allergens, but because of it’s wildness and naughtiness.

Here are the elements of our dilemma:

Cat is going to the pound where it will probably be put down.

Cat is pretty. Cat is unusually smart. Cat has worked its evil wiles on us. We like the cat.

Cat is dysfunctional. Cat claws everything in sight. Cat is high energy. Cat sheds copious amounts of whitish fur. Cat is bossy. Cat is probably untrainable. It is not a desirable house cat.

Husband is allergic to cats. Even a desirable house cat is a bad idea.

Because a house cat is a bad idea, we’re not likely to go looking for one.

But one found us.

Only, it can’t be a house cat, it can only be a basement workroom and porch cat.

Our question is: is it right to take responsibility for an animal without really giving it the home it wants?

To put it another way: is it better to let the Siamese take its chances at the pound, or to give it food and outdoor companionship without taking it into our lives?

Several things muddy the issue. Since the pretty Siamese has better chances of being adopted than its long-haired, flat-faced, rusty black siblings, shouldn’t we save one of the ugly ones? And if we are only concerned about rescuing cats from death, why not fix and start feeding all four? And if we did let it in the basement workroom, can we absolutely promise ourselves we would not let it in the house, which would be terrible for Der Mann’s health and my sanity?

Aesthetically, I’m gaga for this cat. Stubby legged, small, and sausage shaped, she is not my usual favorite flavor of kitty–but that just makes her look all the more like a panda. The sharp contrast of her dark brown ears and legs and face and tail are incredibly expressive, like a mime in whiteface. I often want to laugh at the transparency of her gestures.

But cuteness can’t make up for a bad personality. The cats I knew growing up were the easy layabout kind. They never clawed the furniture. I couldn’t stand the kind of cat that jumps on your keyboard, bothers you, nags you, demands constant interaction, is deaf to the word, “no.”

I want this cat, but I don’t want this cat. We can have this cat, but we can’t have this cat. It’s very confusing.

Central Command

Central Command