Wool and Fiction

September 10, 2008

Here’s this:




Aaaand I recently discovered something.  About wool.

It’s warm.

Before you laugh, a couple of weeks ago I added a cotton-stuffed quilt to the cotton waffle weave blanket on our bed to compensate for the cooler nights.  Der Mann and I use different combinations of cotton blankets through the summer months, and cotton blankets under a light down comforter that we can pull up or shuck as needed in winter.  Well, we were starting to get a little chilly again, so when I did the wash I put away the old bedding and took out one of two super-cheap wool blankets I bought at IKEA with the intention of sewing myself a coat.  They are periwinkle on one side and ice blue on the other, warp-faced and weft-faced alternately, brushed to a nice loft; but the ice blue looks really terrible with my skin, and the whole point was to make a reversible coat with a contrasting collar.

“Okay, so they’re blankets after all.  That way I don’t have to feel guilty about hoarding fabric for a coat I’m never going to make.”  I put an IKEA blanket on the bed and covered it with a cotton spread.

That night we roasted!  I pushed off the bedspread.  We still roasted!  Under one wool blanket, after getting cold under a cotton blanket and a quilt!

This amazed me even though I know all about the insulating properties of wool: retains heat even when wet, etc, etc.  Part of my amazement comes from the fact I have worn wool coats all my adult life.  The wind blows up the sleeves and down the collar and up the hem, so it takes careful layering and tucking to stay warm.  Maybe they key is that a wool blanket does a better job of keeping a person warm than a wool coat, just like a mitten does a better job of keeping your hand warm than a glove.

I kept thinking about this because it tied in to something that bothers me in fiction.  I’ve always found it embarrassingly naive on the part of the author when characters charge off into the Northern European landscape with nothing but a small pack and either a wool cloak or blanket to sleep under.  Any novelist using her head ought to know that her characters could die of hypothermia that way, or at the very least be so miserably uncomfortable and sleep-deprived that it would make it’s way into the descriptions or dialogue.  Tolkien made the concession of elf cloaks.

I felt sorriest for the characters in the book The King’s Peace, by Jo Walton, an unromantic portrayal of Arthurian Britain.  The book straddles the line between historical and fantasy fiction, but Walton’s style is so concrete and reportive–nary a whiff of anachronism–that I expected better.  Her main character is a dignified female warrior in Arturius’ (Artos’?) army, and of course nobody in is having much fun (what with it being the last stand of a civilization against the dark ages and all), but their kits and sleeping arrangements got mentioned a lot, and nothing about the fact that everyone was freezing all the time.

The euphemism the soldiers used for pairing up was “sharing blankets,” which they did.  I supposed the extra body heat would help a little.  Also getting out of the wind and piling dried vegetation to get you off the ground, but you can’t always do that on campaign.  As I read I pictured the misery of cold added to the misery of everything else.  I’ve been to places like the ones where the characters were bedding down.  I’ve tried sleeping in summer-weight sleeping bag there.

But after my recent wool blanket experience, I think maybe it wasn’t all that bad.  My sleeping bag had a synthetic filling, whereas a good thick wool blanket or cloak you could roll up in might actually keep you pretty warm if you slept in your clothes.  Maybe all those characters aren’t being passed off as larger than life, with either a furnace-like metabolism or a heroic imperviousness to cold.  Does this mean I have to stop feeling sorry for people in history too?  The Roman foot-soldiers with paltry bedrolls strapped to their 60-80 lb packs?  The Highlanders whose entire outfits consisted of wool yardage?  It opens whole vistas.*

I didn’t like The King’s Peace enough to finish the trilogy.  The plot meandered like the politics.  Walton’s reserved style and fondness for logistics meant that while she gave a lot of information about a lot of different people, I never really got a feel for what it was like for them inside their skins.  I read her later books and found them much better.  Her super-consistent imagination lends itself well to audacious projects.  All through Tooth and Claw I kept thinking, “My gosh she’s pulling this off.  HOW is she doing this?  WHY is she doing this?”  Tooth and Claw is a pitch-perfect regency novel set in a society of dragons.

Walton also writes alternate history novels that take place in the fifties during the protracted reign of the Third Reich, after the English have made peace with Hitler in order to prevent the invasion.  Farthing and Ha’penny are both riffs on the detective novel–a genre that bores me–but they are so well conceived, and come at such interesting moral and social issues from such interesting angles, I eat them up.  Especially Ha’penny: a weakness for theater history is a hangover from my teens.

I’m thinking I should go back to her Arthurian trilogy and see if I like it now.  Fall makes me questy, and I’ve been having trouble finding good fiction.  I’m not in the mood for classics.  I’ve exhausted the work of all the modern authors I seek out, so it’s a matter waiting for them to write more, or finding new ones.  My best method of finding new fantasy authors used to be the informational sections of the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies (great for lovers of literary interstitial fiction), but my current library system doesn’t buy them.

Read anything character-driven, literate, and emotionally complex lately?  With magic?

I know, I know.


*  Fortunately I can still pity the Japanese who, through a thousand years of sophisticated culture, living in essentially unheated houses, never imported wool or raised livestock for fiber!  Not everyone could afford silk.  Whenever I watch anime or a film set in feudal Japan, I imagine myself in a permanent crouch over the hibachi, pulling on a fifth or sixth cotton kimono.


Yarn Samples and a Book

August 16, 2008

A while ago I made a little resolution that I will always plan and wind the warp for my next project while my current project is still on the loom.  Once my warp is wound, it feels like the job of warping is half done–an illusion, I know.  I play a lot of little tricks like that on myself.  It’s surprising I haven’t gotten wise to them!

I may not be half done when I’ve wound the warp, but with the reeling and beaming problems I’ve had in the past, those are the parts of warping that intimidate me.  Like an omelet: that moment when you decide it’s time to turn it over or it will burn, and it all comes apart if you haven’t got the heat and the pan and the filling right (I tend to overfill).  Once you’ve turned it over, successfully or unsuccessfully, setting the table and serving it up is easy.  So far I actually like threading and sleying.  They take longer but there’s no stress involved.  Winding and beaming are easier to face if I don’t have to face them both at the same time.

That said, I only just finished the second scarf on my navy merino scarf warp, but I have been spending a lot of time planning my next project.  First a sample warp, for which I have the thread, but then I get to buy some!

So, I finally placed an order to Vävstuga, something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time.

There is something so neat and potential-filled about sample cards.  When I took them out of the package, these gave me the same feeling as the oil pastel sticks lined up in a box of Cray-Pas when I was a kid.  Unfortunately, when I tried to start using them to compare colors, I realized that they were not very functional.  In tight rows you can’t use the samples as swatches.  Not only to the colors confuse each other through juxtaposition, 3 square centimeters simply isn’t enough color for my eyes to make sense of.  They are okay for matching.  If I can find a piece of clothing or a book jacket with the color that interests me, I can hold it up to the cards and find the nearest color; but since the match isn’t exact, I can’t dependably take that piece of clothing and hold it against another thread sample to see if it goes.

I’m not quite at the point of cutting the cards into strips and making a cardboard window to separate the colors.

Vävstuga’s regular Bockens sample book had been backordered a long time with no guarantee as to when more would arrive, which is why I bought the separate sample cards.  Does anyone know if the proper Bockens sample book gives you more yarn in a more useful configuration?

The other thing in my package:

I had been thinking of buying The Praktisk Vävbok for a long time.  Seeing it advertised over and over again in my 80’s copies of Väv must have pushed me over.  It is a nicely made book, a clean facsimile (all in Swedish) of one published in 1899.  I enjoy the homey assumption that weavers want to use their cloth for everyday home sewing.  The drafts are named to purpose like “Children’s Clothing,” or “Upholstery,” or “English Hand-towel Material.”  Another good thing about the book is that most of the patterns are for 8 shafts, probably because it is an old book which assumes that you are using a counterbalance–there are smaller sections for fewer shafts, but none for more than 8.  This focus is uncommon in Scandinavian weaving books.  Usually more space is given over to either 4-shaft patterns or 10-and-upwards.

Which brings me to my problem.  Most of the patterns are traditional 8-shaft plain and fancy twills.  I already have the same or similar patterns scattered through my other Scandinavian weaving books or in Edward Worst.  They are are all very Swedish looking–small all-over patterns familiar from old table linens.  It’s nice seeing them in one place, laid out compactly with a spot black-and-white photograph of the cloth right next to the draft, but for a reference book I would really want something more exhaustive with better photos, like Helene Bress’ The Weaving Book, which I have been missing ever since I left it behind at the public library where we used to live (and which I probably shouldn’t even mention here, for fear of driving the price up even further!).

Still, I like the fact that The Praktisk Vävbook features the 8-shaft versions of these twills.  It’s not too big, pleasant to hold, and it has the further advantage of not making my nose stuff up and my my throat and eyes itch.  I got most of my old Scandinavian weaving books as a lot on ebay, from a weaver’s estate.  They had been sitting in a shed or something for a long time and grown musty.  Which is bad enough.  But the real problem was that the over-zealous ebay dealer though it would be a good idea to mask the mustiness by putting them in a sealed container with a chemical air freshener for several days (I know this because I asked her).  I aired them in the sun repeatedly, but the reek is tenacious.

And now a little cord update:  I looked into the smaller size of Texsolv tie-up cord Susan told me about after the Texsolv post, but according to the nice people at Woolhouse Tools, the smaller cord is a really, really small gauge, and not strong enough for lamm or treadle tie-up.  The buttonholes have the same 12 mm spacing as the regular cord, which won’t help with fine adjustments.  The Woolhouse people suggested I loop the cord back through itself to adjust in smaller increments.  I know what they’re talking about, but I don’t think it can help with a Bergman loom because of the way the cords go to cup hooks rather than through holes in the lamms.  I will fiddle with the cords and the pegs some more when I do my next tie-up.  There may be some configuration of Texsolv and peg I haven’t thought of.

This would be a lot easier with a trained monkey.  Smaller fingers.  Fits under the loom.


Monday I got back to the loom after about a month away from it.  After two “full days,” weaving (four hours is a full day of weaving for me; more than that and my brain is jelly) I am wondering whether I will look like the weaver’s version of these ladies if I keep it up a few more years.

What do you get when you combine large spatulate feet with skinny treadles for a day? Treadle Foot.  I think I need to try some leather ballet slippers.

Shuttle Finger is a more complicated problem.  A few months ago I injured the base knuckle of my right index finger.  While I was sleeping.  So, I don’t know exactly what I did to it or how, except that it ached badly for two days days, then got (mostly) better.  It hurts with protracted activity.  Like, typing.  Or worse, putting the final controlling flick on a thrown shuttle.  I should probably give it a break.  I’m hoping it’s tendonitis. When I had that in my heel it took about a year to get better, but at least it did.

Breast Beam Elbow is what you get from keeping your arms constantly crooked, managing your second shuttle.

Interestingly, I also seem to have textile brain.  After walking der Mann to work, limping home on my treadle foot, I took a short cut through the baseball fields and saw a long folding table with a plastic container on top.  There was a hand lettered sign taped to the side of the table:


It took me a good 10 seconds.  Enough time to go through the whole process of visualizing who would be be using the smocking area during little league games and what might be in the plastic container.

Oh.  Sand and butts.  No it wasn’t a misspelt sign, it was just me and something about how the letters were spaced.

Before I start, I suppose I should warn you:  I am not a crass person.  Not my style of humor.  But I do happen to think kids throwing up is pretty funny.  Growing up as the oldest of seven, with my closest half-sibling 6 years younger than me, I took my laughs where I could get them.

And to set things up even further: on Thursday, because a relative pressed money on us for helping them move, my husband and I decided to do something we never do–walk down town, have dinner in a restaurant, and see a blockbuster movie at the Regal Multiplex.

“Oh, so THAT’s why the last non-Japanese animated film we saw in a theater was Mulan, when we were in college,” was our general feeling.  At 10 on a weeknight we were the only people at Wall-E.  During the entire second half of the movie, bored out of my gourd as the plot cycled through all the requisite cartoon conventions, I kept thinking: this is just the same as when we watch a boring DVD at home, only at home we would be on the couch and I’d lie down with my head on der Mann’s knee and go to sleep.

The beginning was strong.  (They should have kept the whole movie in the garbage dump and not allowed the robots to talk.)  To get to the beginning, however, we had to run the gauntlet of the “Regal Kids” (was that what it was called?) marketing and movie previews for thirty minutes.  I mean “run the gauntlet” in the traditional sense of being beaten with armored fists and stuck with small knives by drunken Vikings.

Since our TV can’t do anything but play DVD’s, media culture tends to jar us.  We expect that.  Our eyes bug out when we catch a half an hour of television at my relatives’ once a year.  But the previews before Wall-E went far, far beyond a little eye-bugging.  My husband and I stared full into the abyss of orgiastic pandering that is children’s entertainment.  By the time the movie started, I was ready to scratch a hole in the ground, crawl into it, and wait for the cretinous Eloi and Morlock generations produced by these movies to grow up and eat me.

In other words, the tone of the previews totally undermined the cheery propaganda of Wall-E.

Our favorite place to walk is a trail in a valley with a creek and some woods.  We were very happy to discover it this spring, because it is the only natural greenway in our new city!  (The parks department here is good at sports complexes and bad at parklands.)  On Sunday we went there to stretch our legs and check on the progress of the caterpiller-treaded machines that are destroying it for posterity.

Very thorough, we concluded.  Then, since I was in a bad mood already I said, “Why don’t we go see Prince Caspian at the Kiggins Theater?”

I liked the Narnia books enough that I’d purposely avoided the movie version of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, but I was interested in Prince Caspian because it was supposed to be a throw-away.  People complained it went too far from the book.  In that case, I figured I could just forget about the source material and watch it as a fantasy action film.  And if we got bored we could leave because tickets are only $4 for a double feature.

The Kiggins Theater is a poured-cement art deco cinema from the 30’s that shows second run movies.  It’s a surprise it’s survived in this town.  I like it, though we’d only been there once before since it doesn’t usually have the movies we want to see.  It’s such a home-style place that you walk inside and buy your ticket (only there are no physical tickets) from the teen-or-early-20’s person running the concession stand.  And since the movie doesn’t seem to start until they’re done serving refreshments I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re also the projectionist.

There is something I really miss in modern theaters: big big screens with curtains.  Of course the curtains are totally pointless (dust reduction?) if there isn’t a stage as well; I don’t know why I’m so attached to the theatrical symbolism, but I am.  When all the munching masses were settled in their sprung seats at the Kiggins (many are mended with floral vinyl circa 1969) and the curtains parted on the huge screen in the huge auditorium, I felt the most wonderful “ah” of happy 1930’s expectation.  Like time travel without the Morlocks.  Like Life On Mars without the irony.

There were no previews, and Prince Caspian was the perfect movie to carry that feeling, since it begins with the classic cinematic device of a desperate royal escape: paneled chambers and swirled cloaks and a moonlit horse chase.

Since I wasn’t watching it as Prince Caspian, and the Pevensies didn’t show up for a while, I was totally enchanted.  It just happened to be one of those films (rare for me) whose faults are the kind I find easy to forgive.  As far as I’m concerned Caspian and Reepicheep carried the movie.  And the location scout.  And the costumes.

One of der Mann’s and my favorite things to do is get on line and read A.O. Scott’s New York Times movie reviews aloud to each other, preferably of a film we’ve already seen, the better to savor his bon mots.  We happened to read the review for Prince Caspian a few months ago and I remembered Scott commenting (though he disliked the movie) on the exceptional performances of both Miraz and the young Italian actor who played the prince.

Um, no.  I’d misremembered the review.  The actor who played Miraz is the Italian, and very good, but I went clear through the movie thinking the actor who played Caspian was this incredible Italian ingenue:  “Wow, his delivery is flawless!  He’s got an almost perfect feel for the cadence of English, yet without any of that stage-brat actorishness British actors tend to bring to heroic roles!” I marveled.  “They made a really good choice casting an Italian instead of a Brit!  And he isn’t even very good looking!”

The remarkable thing was the way Caspian (Ben Barnes is his name) could take the silliest overblown lines and utter them with perfect authority and sincerity–natural sincerity, not the over-wrought over-earnestness that most people use.   With a consistent accent.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen that kind of screen presence in an actor born after 1920.  It made sense to me that he would be Italian because it was just so . . . foreign to the usual experience.

This level of dramatic authority is very useful if you are the centerpiece of a movie with a bad script, bad direction, talking animals, and impaired fellow actors.  It would have been a shambles without him.  As it was, I enjoyed it thoroughly!  I’ve seen a single good stage actor rescue a stage play just the same way.

What was most interesting to me was that Prince Caspian had all the elements of a really good movie; it was as if they had just been misassembled.  If the powers had cut out some of the stupider bits (forced love interest, for example), and expanded a few of the non-stupid ones; added some more CGI where it would really help the story (conveying the feeling of “Aslan on the move”), and taken it out where it was wasted (gryphons clutching aerial spies), they could have made something really grand for exactly the same amount of money, with all the same sets, all the same costumes, and all the same actors!

Different director, naturally.  (I’d have voted for Alfonso Cuarón of the third Harry Potter movie.)  I think it is mostly the director’s fault that the kids’ performances were so poor.  They gave poor Peter a bad hair day for the whole movie!  No wonder he pouted like a rock star!  Their scenes were so short the kids had no time to craft them, and (I’m pretty sure) no help getting in the right place to jump in cold.  Edmund was the exception.  Like Caspian he was a pro and always had perfect presence.  I was really looking forward to the scene when he delivered the challenge to Miraz, and I wasn’t disappointed, even though it was too short.

Der Mann and I reminisced that we had both been really impressed by the idea of the combat on the links when we first read the book as kids.  Deadly, courtly single combat is something you just don’t find in novels for children.  It seemed grown-up and illicit.  The whole book had very much that feeling of a series of important vignettes, which I think would have been the key to a good adaptation.  We agreed that we would have liked to see fewer scenes crammed in, allowing the ones that were included to be given more weight.  They tried to do that with the combat.  Der Mann liked it, but I thought it became too stagey and intense by taking place in the ruins rather than on the grass–more like a passionate duel than a deadly contest.

On the whole, pretty much everything I didn’t like about the movie just made me laugh.  I laughed at the gryphons.  I laughed at the trebouchets (gotta have trebouchets!).  I laughed at the crude subplot of Peter’s and Caspian’s jockeying for male dominance.  I laughed when that bizarre pop anthem started up during the final scene.  These things were all so truncated and tacked-on, they were no more disfiguring to the overall movie than a mustache scribbled on a magazine model.  I tried not to laugh often or loudly enough to bother the people around me, though I think it would have been a fair return for all the noisy popcorn chomping and pop swilling.

Okay, so the Kiggins Theater puts me in a good mood.  But the movie really was a lot of fun.  The production had gone for the feel of the Pauline Baynes illustrations.  Or am I misremembering again?  Anyway, most of the outdoor scenes in particular were just like I remembered them from the book.  And I noticed all the costumes looked very good on the actors (except for the armor and the Pevensie’s traveling clothes, which I know are supposed to be too big for them, but all the same I think they could have provided something both outsized and becoming).  I loved the details–smocking and embroidery–and the designer chose one of my favorite palettes.  Bruise and wound colors.  Raw salmon reds, solid greens on the yellow side, umbery accents, all kinds of silvery and muted blues, dirty butter, old linen.  Everything greyed or browned but fleshy, not cold.  I would happily have worn any of Caspian’s shirts.  Doublets are coming back!  Definitely!  They made a bad decision putting him in a skirt for the last scene, but that was almost like a final hurdle for his acting ability.  Will he make it?  Can he keep his princely dignity . . . in a dress!  Kissing a 16-year-old?  He can!

I didn’t even mind the storming of the castle.  Nothing to do with the book, but a nice set-piece, nicely executed.  I liked the business with the flashlight.

And the giddy finish to this fabulous cinematic experience?  I got up and discovered my wallet wasn’t in my pocket.  Der Man had gone on out of the theater, not noticing I wasn’t behind him.  The house lights were extremely dim, my wallet is black, I wasn’t sure which row we’d been sitting in.  After feeling around the sticky floors I found it trapped out of sight between the upended seat and the arm.  Der Mann wasn’t waiting in the lobby.  I couldn’t see him outside under the marquee.  I decided to wait a little by the concession stand in case he’d gone upstairs to the bathrooms.

And then I heard the teenaged Kiggins employee (it’s run by a family) say in the most patient, world-weary voice:  “Aw, don’t worry about it.  I’ll clean it up.”

I never saw the parent he was talking to, because they had already scuttled their child off in shame.  But, right past the only doorway, damming a stream of exiting moviegoers, splattered on the tile floor under the marquee:

Fully formed disks of sliced hot-dog in a cream sauce with what I believe to have been cubed potatoes.

No wonder the parent scuttled!  For heaven’s sake–teach your children to chew!

(On second thought maybe I might have been wrong about the potatoes.  They might have been pieces of popcorn.)

There was another young Kiggins employee upstairs when I went to look for der Mann by the bathrooms.  I heard the concession-stand one reporting the incident to him over a walkie-talkie.  They were both so resigned.  And if you think about it; yup, that’s the movie business: kids plus quantities of bad popcorn plus excitement equals vomit pretty darn consistently.

And so my love for the Kiggins Theater and all the good movies and all the vomiting children that have graced it’s hallowed tiles sent me skipping out the door, leaping over the vomit, and laughing all the way home!

The End

Swedish Serendipity

July 17, 2008

I was a slow taker when it came to the internet.  I can boast that I was able to get clear through college (in 1999) without ever having had to do an internet citation, the same way my aunt can boast she graduated without ever having typed a paper on anything but a typewriter in the early 80’s.

For some things though, it’s perfect.  Like weaving.  You would think with my love of the obscure I would have got a lot more excited about the possibilities of a worldwide public forum a lot sooner.

I’m excited because Margaret Bergman’s great-niece in Sweden found my blog last week!  She sent me a link to an exhibit called Snilleriket that is open this summer.  The exhibit celebrates the local geniuses of a particular lake district in Northwestern Sweden.  On the website you can click on one of the faces in the bar at the top of the page to see a summary of the person’s achievements.  The only woman in the bunch?  Margaret Bergman.

I do think Bergman looms are on the cusp of a little renaissance.  I’m willing to take this Swedish serendipity as proof–although the looms and the wonderful history attached to them are enough by themselves to spark it.

I was curious what the Swedish take on Margaret Bergman would be, so I translated her profile on the Snilleriket website into English.  I haven’t taken it too far from a transliteration, because that’s what I always prefer when a translator isn’t sure of her idioms–and I’m not sure of much in Swedish.  Please forgive any translation mistakes.  I’ll be glad if you can offer corrections.


The Lady from Rörön Becomes a Genius in the Art of Weaving, Honored and the Recipient of Awards in America


Margareta Olofson was born in 1872 in Rörön south of Sventavik.  Her mother was clever at weaving, and Margareta divided timely modern interest with powerful talent.  Yet when she applied for a weaving course in Östersund she wasn’t accepted.  You see, the extensive admissions examination showed that she was more skillful than the teacher!

In 1901 she emigrated to the Seattle area in the USA to be reunited with her betrothed, John Bergman.  There she became Margaret Bergman and mother to six children, but little by little she worked on John, who was a carpenter, to build a loom.  In this way she entered into a successful career.

The rumors of her skill spread.  She gained standing.  She developed her own patterns.  She invited people over to tell them about and show them her weaving.  She was asked to hold courses around the western USA and Canada.  The culmination, perhaps, was that at 67 years of age she was asked to hold a course for teachers at the United States’ foremost craft school, Penland in North Carolina on the east coast.

In the course of her travels, the need arose for a loom that could be disassembled without the need to take off the warp. So she designed the Bergman Suitcase Loom.  It was little, it could fold when it was set up to weave, and it adapted well for demonstrations.  Her husband John made a little model that was sent with Margaret Bergman’s 1932 patent application.  The larger loom in the picture is her personal loom, and at the same time an example of her other invention, the Double-Folding Bergman Floor Loom.  It was patented in 1936 and manufactured by her son Arthur.  These looms were even manufactured and sold in Sweden by Margaret’s Brother Johan C. Iwald.

Margaret Bergamn passed away in 1948.  The year before, she was honored for her outstanding contribution to the circulation and development of the weaving arts in the United States by the National Weaver’s Congress in Salem, Oregon.  The special quotation of her philosophy that expresses Margaret Bergman’s gladness in life and at the same time a message to all weavers (and others):

”Öppna din hand och dela med dig av vad kan. Av en knuten näve kommer inget gott.”


“Open your hand and share what you can.  From a clenched fist comes nothing good.”


In the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, Margaret Bergman has her own exhibit. In the plexiglass case to the left stands the model that accompanied the patent application in 1932.

Folded up, Margaret Bergman’s loom doesn’t take up any more space than a piano.


*translator’s note:  The Bergmans cleared and settled a farm in what was then a very remote location on the Western Kitsap Peninsula.  Many of her early students came to her by boat.


There is one other little biographical article about Mrs. Bergman on the web that I know about, with some different but equally interesting information.  You can find it by visiting the profile of the Kitsap Weaver’s Guild on the the Association of Northwest Weavers Guilds website:


The link for the History of the Kitsap Weaver’s Guild will lead you to the Bergman article.


Before this, my last project was the “mock Welsh tapestry” I designed in doubleweave for a class.  When I cut it off the loom I swore the next thing I wove would be huge and obscenely simple.  I didn’t quite achieve huge, but I think I’ve got obscenely simple in the bag.

I got bored!  I didn’t think I could get bored weaving!

You’re looking at an 80” x 14 1/2” runner in 4/4 twill.  It isn’t intended for the table shown here, but for a much bigger rectangular table that has been living in the car port since we moved.

The threading switches directions in the center with a herringbone skip.  I also reversed the treadling at the half-way mark, so you get this sort of thing going on with the twill lines in the middle: ><

I planned the project around the weft yarn.  When I first discovered eBay yarn I trawled for bargains by fiber.  This is a cotton/rayon knitting yarn.  My reasoning at the time:  It’s probably got That Blue I Like That You Never See (somewhere between cyan and cadet blue), it’s cheap, there’s a lot of it, and cool!, it’s Italian.

Unfortunately the seller’s pictures didn’t show me that this is a chained (more like knitted?) yarn–the kind that wants to unchain really badly.  I decided I to go ahead and use it because I liked the colors.  Every three quills, I cut my loose ends down to the web and applied a tiny drip of fray check to keep them from unraveling.  Dried fray check has a nasty texture, but is fairly easy to control.  Which is to say, I can feel where the ends are if I run my hands over the thing, but it’s not as if there are stiff places in the cloth.

(I’ve since gotten over eBay yarn.  Yarn hunting that way is really time consuming–and cut-throat!–but it taught me a lot about what exists.  Old yarns they don’t make any more.  Scandinavian yarn.  Japanese yarn.  Fine threads.  Mill ends!  It was also a course in brands.  Sellers would proudly advertise their “Silk City” this or that–or some other distributor–I’d be puzzled, and then I would set out on the internet to discover why it was worth mentioning.)

As for the fringe . . . I don’t care for fringe on household linens, but the sett here was too wide (15 epi) for a nicely hemable header, so I tried some 4-strand flat braids instead.  Yeah, not too attractive with those wavy ends.

At least it shows off my good china.  I bought this mid-century German porcelain for myself when I was 17 and anticipating a life of refined-yet-Bohemian spinsterhood.  (My husband and I had a secret wedding, so no wedding china.)  I’m still not tired of it, possibly because it has been in a box in the closet since then, waiting patiently for the day when we are grown up, and have elegant friends, and throw formal dinner parties for them in the car port.

Um.  Still waiting.


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.

Little Big Loom

May 15, 2008

or, How it Happened, Part III


Toward the end of my class, it struck me: I would soon be loomless!  Just when I had discovered weaving yarn on eBay!

I did a lot of research and checked around the internet, where I found a nice page of advice for new weavers that offered several good reasons for starting out with a floor loom rather than a table loom.  When I started checking prices, it seemed that a decent 8-shaft table loom was so expensive, I might as well look for a floor loom: they were both so far out of my price range.  And as long as I was looking for a mythical loom, why not look for the kind I wanted?

I wanted a countermarche.

The decision-making process went something like this:  Van Gogh.  Andrew Carnegie.  Wood.  Sweden.  My perversity.  Tension.

First, I had somehow got these images in my head, and others like them:


I didn’t have any rosy ideas about 19th century textile production.  These particular weavers were miserable folk!  But I did like the way they looked at their looms.  I liked to think of a time when handweaving was still a viable form of industry, as when . . .


. . . Andrew Carnegie was a boy.  Barely.  He was born at the end of that era.  My favorite 19th century philanthropist emigrated when he was 13; his father was an agitator against the mills that were already destroying his livelihood as a handweaver.  I saw their narrow house in Dunfermline, Scotland.  Next door is a “Carnegie Museum” chock full of the awards he was so fond of receiving for his generosity–the man was a monumental egotist!–and not much else.  It was fascinating: I could see the course of his life in the contrast between the cramped little room where his father worked, and the praise-hungry steel magnate’s museum.  The huge drive that propelled him from one to the other.  It was like the story of the transition to the modern era in miniature.

What really got me, though, was the hole in the ceiling.  Mrs. Carnegie would sit in the upstairs room winding bobbins, which she tossed to her husband through a hole in the floor.  The weaving room was empty, no loom or anything else, but the hole in the ceiling was still there.  It was so easy to imagine the rest.

Neither Van Gogh’s miserable dagloners nor William Carnegie probably used countermarch looms.  Counterbalance and draw looms?  But this brings me to the third facet of my decision-making process.  Their looms were huge.  I was greedy for wood.

Wood!  I wanted a loom with as much wood as possible, preferably a tree’s worth or two.  Big.  Stable, unlike our living situation and finances.  Too big for our rental!  Too big for any house we were ever likely to own!  In fact, what I really wanted was a loom I could convert into a house if necessary.  This was impossible, so I decided to go for the same kind of loom as the biggest looms currently available, which are countermarches.

Incidentally, I’m a Svenskaphile.  I love the cohesive aesthetic I found in Sweden.  A Swedish-style loom sounded just dandy, and when I started understanding the countermarche system a little better, I thought it might suit me in other ways as well.  It is more time-consuming to tie up countermarche treadles (perversity), and it produces a cloth that is more uniform on both faces (tension).

The tension thing–with the shafts pulling the warp both up and down, so that none of the threads get stretched out any more than the others–said “better cloth” to me.  Now, I doubt it.  But I am a  sucker for the idea of consistency and quality, and of having to go to more trouble to produce better results.  Plus I really liked the way the words “wider sheds” kept coming up.  “Yeah, those big sheds!  Bring ’em on!”  (Please take note for purposes of future irony.) 

Does anyone remember checking the housecleaning pages and guild ads during their own loom search?  All those beautiful, well-kept (too big) looms on the other side of the country?  Or in some cases, in another country?  I found an old Cranbrook used by nuns in the midwest, and a gorgeous hand-made Glimåkra look-alike (“pick-up only!”) on an island.  The fact that everything cost three times as much as I could afford did a lot to temper my disappointment.

The nearest I came was a Louet, but I just couldn’t do it.  Somebody else bought it before I could change my mind and beggar us.

I set my sights back on a table loom.  No luck.  Weavers don’t get rid of their 8-shaft table looms!  Again, I adjusted my expectations.  I was about to bid on a 4-shaft Woolhouse Tools table loom in Canada, when my husband said, “Hey, come look at this.”  He’d come across a strange ad on Craig’s list for a make of loom I had never heard of.

The more I looked at the blurry pictures the more I knew I WANTED THIS LOOM.  It was just so bizarre.  It folded, back and front, and when it was folded, it looked like nothing so much as an old parlour organ.  Wood a-plenty, but not a big loom.  Not like anything I had ever seen.


To be continued. . .

Garden Weekend

May 13, 2008

For starters:

Current project.  I’ve been meaning take a picture while this is still on the loom because I wanted to show the way the weft glints in the light.  Our living room is dark because it faces east and there are big conifers.  When I open the curtains in the morning there is nice diffuse daylight on the loom for just a couple of hours, which was when I took this picture, but the glints don’t show.  The light will be gone as soon as the Tree of Hell across the fence comes back into leaf.

When civilization ends, the world will be a forest of Tree-of-Heaven populated by rats.

You can tell I’ve got plants on the brain.  We went to two gardens this weekend: the Hulda Klager Lilac Garden and the Portland Japanese Garden.  I knew Mother’s Day was not a good time for these outings, but I thought we could beat the crowds at the Lilac Garden by going a day early.  It was teeming and trampled!  I would not have made the trip just to see those abused lilacs, so it’s a good thing I got to go inside the house.

Hulda Klager’s house wasn’t a typical Pacific Northwest Victorian or a typical farmhouse, but a kind of German-farmer marriage of the two.  Every room is attractively and generously proportioned–none of the Victorian habit of sticking an assortment of bump-your-head crannies next to great drafty parlours.  I noticed how well it makes use of passive heating and cooling: the transoms, window placement, open stairway, ceiling height, and a wonderful big “potting porch” transitioning to a side entrance!

The potting room was my favorite.  Hulda’s garden hat and grafting knife were there.  Her “grafting knife” was a hefty, much-sharpened pocket knife.  Her hat was a faded red Chinese-farmer hat made of cornhusks (bamboo leaves?) over a venting rattan base.

And I said, “Hulda has my hat!”  I’ve been looking for a rice-paddy hat for a long time.  A regular straw hat with a fitted brim gets sweaty and itchy.  I picked one up at a church yard sale, but it’s not nearly so nice as Hulda’s.

I didn’t bring my camera to the Lilac Garden, but I brought it to the Japanese Garden the next day.

Can you tell I hate taking pictures?  No?  Good.  It was so crowded, photography was not going to make much difference to my enjoyment.  Oddly, the fact that I left all the F.A.s and H.A.s* out of the frame means that I recorded a completely different experience from the one we actually had there.  If we lived in Portland we would buy a membership, then we could go often enough to figure out when it’s least crowded, and make it a regular place to walk.  I thought the azaleas would be peak this weekend, but they weren’t.  The garden is up a hill and in a bit of a frost pocket.  Maybe we’ll go back for the color.


*This is the code I devised so I could complain softly about them in public: F.A.= Fat Asses and H.A.= Hyper Asses.  Our asses are as fat as the next (and fatter).  By fat I refer not to size, but to the “shoving in front of you then standing still for no reason,” the “no physical or mental awareness of other bodies in the vicinity,” and the “group portrait photo-shoot while you wait” attributes of the asses in question.  Hyper Asses wrestle their stunned babies over steep gravel paths in strollers while talking loudly to their spouses in French.

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. . .