Can you guess what I’m making with this? If you’ve been reading Dot’s Fibre to Fabric blog, you probably can.


Last year Granny was cleaning out her sewing drawers and found yet another stash of sewing/knitting notions that had belonged to her mother. Great Granny was such a pack rat, it took Granny about a year to clean out her small house after she died, and she’s still finding pockets of Great Granny’s stuff that she hasn’t had time to sort and disperse–things that weren’t valuable, but were somehow so infused with Great Granny that she couldn’t bring herself to throw them out. I have happily taken some of them, like the collection of bobby pins and various kinds of toothed 1920’s-1940’s metal clips that Great Granny used to set her hair for pin-curls and marcel waves every morning. It was amazing to watch how nimbly she did this; it was her signature hairstyle most of her life. The way it fell in place when she combed it out was sheer magic. Now I use the clips to hold back the layers when I cut Der Mann’s hair. For a long time they smelled of her.

This particular stash had some knitting markers and gauges, a celluloid tracing wheel that belonged to my Granny’s granny, Nanny, and this handmade copper letter opener. Granny didn’t know anything about it except that her mother had always kept it in her desk. It seemed the sort of thing someone might have made for her when she was a girl in rural Idaho, but Granny couldn’t say for sure that her mother had been its first owner. As Granny was telling me this I was turning it around in my hands, and found the initial at the end of the handle.


Great Granny’s name was Kathleen, so it was definitely hers. In normal light the embedded copper is nearly the same color as the wood. I’m not surprised no one spotted it. I can imagine one of the old coots who came to her father’s general store making it, or her mother sending it to her at boarding school, or picking it out for her in a souvenir shop someplace like Yellowstone in the 1910’s. I’ll never know.

I love this tool. Aside from loving the look of it and the way it’s put together, with the little copper wedges holding the blade into the handle and the braided copper wires binding it, it is almost perfectly balanced, and I like the way it fits in my hand. As soon as I held it I knew immediately what I was going to do with it.

But that’s not the only project I’ve got going. I’ve also warped up the Spear’s rigid heddle loom for another scarf out of scraps of Great Granny yarn, padded with a bit of Goodwill yarn from the same era. Perhaps you remember the three scarves I made last year for my aunts and mom? I’m not sure who this one is for. Maybe one of my sisters. The urge just came on me to use up ridiculously small scraps of yarn. Maybe because it’s autumn. Waste not, want not. The past. Family. Dissolution. Time.


When I had the warp on I the loom I remembered something about weaving on the Spear’s. It turns me into a moaning hunchback. If your rigid heddle loom doesn’t have blocks, that means you will be holding up the heddle with either your left or right hand, at arm’s length, against the tensioned threads, for every other pass of the shuttle.

I knew I would regret it if I put off making heddle blocks any longer. Milled 1x2s are the wrong size to make proper attached blocks, which need to be a true 1/2 inch thick for this loom, so I made some free-standing ones. (Again the scraps!) They don’t hold the “down” shed in place as attached blocks would, but that doesn’t really matter: the Spear’s heddle holds the down shed by itself if you just let it dangle. It is heavy enough for that because you can’t weave at very tight tension anyway on a Spears, due to the bolt-and-wingnut mechanism it uses for advancing and securing the warp.

I was going to tell you about the hellish spring-summer-fall that accounts for my blog silence, but it isn’t over and I’m not in the mood. Maybe later? I’ll leave you with a genuine out-the-window picture. Yes, that is is a Fisher Price McDonald’s playset circa 1978. It was buried four feet underground. If plastic could talk…


Season of Shreds and Patches


Clean Clothes

March 13, 2009

My adrenals say I have some explaining to do after last month.  I picture them standing in a nipped-waist floral house dress, tapping their high-heeled foot.

I am almost too tired to write a post, but not quite.  The momentum will keep me going once I start.

One weird thing about this move is that it leaves me very uneasy in a way that goes beyond the boxes and the construction-zone-ness of the space.  Uneasy and guilty.  It’s as if I am waiting for the gods to send a lightning bolt.  The hubris of living in a house three times as big as our tiny apartment!  It’s weird, but consistent with my character.

Likewise, as I was shopping for a washer I felt I was doing something wrong.  Decadent.  (Roman aristocrats, not chocolate.)  As I searched for the ideal washing machine to coddle the products of my expensive, intellectual, upper-middle-class hobby,* I thought of the women all over the world who wash their clothes in rivers, on rocks.

Actually, my parents made us a gift of the washer, which was lovely.  But then I felt guilty for parents who could afford to make a present of a washing machine.  Isn’t it dumb of me to have combined the over-sensitive perceptions of an aesthete with Evangelical guilt?  It’s a recipe for discontent; the trappings of Pietism are too ugly to bear, but Epicureanism has no moral rigor.  Ah lack-a-day.

Nice things about the house:

  • small town
  • central heat (We had individually controlled electric wall heaters in the duplex, some of which didn’t work properly.)
  • the space (lots of it)
  • happier husband (eventually)
  • the yard (large enough to plant big plants and even select a tree or two–my most favorite game!)
  • no always-at-home creepy landlord stealing my shovel ‘n stuff

Not so nice things about the house:

  • small town (Der Mann’s very apt comment when we were walking around it after first seeing the house was, “R___  looks like it has a Hell Mouth.”
  • central heat (improperly installed, it sends all the heat upstairs to make the bedrooms sweltering, while the downstairs is cold)
  • the space (ugly and inconvenient new placement of walls and fixtures from a no-permits, down-to-the-studs remodel, ruined/lost woodwork)
  • the yard, which I’m trying not to think about.  Literal tons of mostly-gravel fill dirt which discourages plant life and causes drainage toward the scary basement, topped with egg-sized river rocks.
  • radon (not uncommon around here, but I sort of wish I hadn’t got the test since there is no way to reduce it when it is just barely within “acceptable” limits.)
  • costs more to live here
  • all the work we will have to do
  • long bus commute for Der Mann

Best things about the house:

  • troupe of half-grown wild kittens which provide constant entertainment when we look outside
  • my new washing machine

The washer guilt faded as I had my first gigantic laundry day.  Thank you, thank you, and thank you again for your comments!  They gave me good things to think about.  After we returned the first washer, I realized that I am a clothes-washing anomaly.  You could call me an “active launderer.”  Or maybe a laundry witch?  I own a laundry stick*, for heaven’s sake!  I like access and control at every stage of the process.  This is because learned my textile-care habits from my grandmother, who learned them in wringer-washer days from her grandmother.

Granny loves clothes and fabrics, and she taught me to wash them in a case-by-case intuitive way, like cooking.  She grew up in the depression, and has never had much money since, so she is very attuned to making things last. . .  Pre-treating with Fels Naptha and other strange preparations, checking the water temperature to see if it feels right and adjusting the taps, stopping the machine mid-cycle to check on things.  Repeating cycles.  Manual extra rinses.  Always machine drying on low heat and hovering over the dryer to snatch things out at just the right moment.  Drip drying.  Flat drying.  Blocking.  In fact, she still has her grandmother’s copper wash boiler, and I have seen her use it!  So, I ended up with a top loader.

Older, more primitive machines are better match for “active launderers.”  Their faults are just the same as modern washers–some of them are too harsh or too wimpy with everyday loads–but you can get more customized results with fewer settings.  It’s pretty clear what your machine is doing at any one time, and you can step in to alter the process without much trouble.

That’s what I wanted: a durable machine that would allow me to make my own combinations of temperature, agitation speed, spin speed, and cycle length; though I also liked the idea of useful pre-sets, like the alternating agitate-and-soak of a handwash cycle.

I would have liked a water and energy efficient machine, but it appears (unless you have a front loader) that these things are in direct conflict with having brilliantly clean clothes.  I took the Epicure’s route.

It turns out one U.S. company still makes old-style washers.  My Sad Washer with the “automatic temperature control” was a top-loading Maytag Centennial.  My Happy Washer is a Speed Queen.  It’s dreamy.  My only objection is that the higher of the two spin speeds, though it is more RPMs than a standard washer, seems to leave the clothes damper than I’m used to.  Unless that is in illusion propagated by the fact that they aren’t twisted around each other and plastered to the outside of the tub.  Perhaps the spin cycle is shorter?  Anyway, they dry quickly in the dryer I bought off Thistledown-who-was-kicked-out-of-the-duplex, and the fact that they come out less wrinkled means that when I get a clothes line I can line-dry a lot of things without having to iron.

I washed a handwoven gauze shawl (not my own weaving) in the handwash cycle, and it came out fine.


*Sorry for the stereotyping.  Most of us don’t totally fit, but I was thinking how weaving looks from the outside, and to my guilty conscience.

*Dyers probably already know this, but a laundry stick is a roughly 1″ x 1″ by 20″ piece of milled hardwood with the sharp edges sanded down.  In wash-boiler days you’d use it to lift the wash from the boiler.  Now it is useful when you want to open up the washer after agitation starts to stir in laundry spells I mean soap preparations and prod down things like wool shirts that have just enough water resistance to balloon or float partly out of the water instead of immersing.  Last time Grandpa made her a new one, Granny asked me if I wanted one too, and I said, “Yes!”  I’m afraid I lost it in the move though.  Maybe to the landlord’s lumber pile.

There’s a Cat In My House!

December 19, 2008


Earlier this week I quickly warped up my rigid heddle loom for one last scarf.  The days have been dark, so I wasn’t able to get good pictures before I put it in the mail; it is a Christmas present for my father’s mother, the grandma who compulsively throws valuable things away.

It gave me a little lurch to send it to her because I don’t like to think of it in the trash.


However, the real gift is the experience of opening it up, stroking it, and most importantly wearing it to lunch a few times and getting to brag on it.



Scarf: Gelassenheit

Plainweave on rigid heddle loom

Warp: partial (3/4?) skein of Manos del Uruguay handspun 70% merino wool/ 30% silk singles

Weft: quite old Oregon Worsted wool yarn, Maypole “Nehalem” a fine 3 ply in olive–nice stuff, I wish it were still being made!

Heddle: 9-and-a-bit epi

Picks per inch: 5 3/4

Ends: 52

Woven length (excluding fringe): 49 3/4″

Woven width: 5 1/4″

Finished length (excluding fringe): 41″

Finished width: 4 1/4″

Finishing: Warm hand wash, plenty of agitation, 7 minute soak, dry flat, light iron with press cloths.

Fringe: Hemstitched then plied.

Conclusions:  Manos del Uruguay wool/silk is an ideal warp yarn for this heddle size.  The strong silk keeps it from overstretching during weaving.  At this ppi it has room to get soft, a little curly, and to bury scratchier warp yarn when fulled, without making the cloth inflexible.

For kicks, I was able to calculate my rigid heddle scarf-making hourly wage.  If this scarf sold for the maximum (too much really) it could command in the crafts marketplace? $2.91 an hour.  Then I realized I had forgotten to include the cost of materials.  Or self-employment tax.  Let’s just call it good at 50 cents.

Did I say something about a cat?  Oh, yes…

Yesterday my half-sister stopped by our house after 13 hours en route to my parents’.  She and her grad student husband had been in the car with their 2-month-old baby, their two-year-old daughter, and their adolescent cat since 3 o’ clock in the morning!

“You’ll get to meet Robert!” (the cat), my sister said on the phone, and I had pictured meeting a miserable creature through the bars of a pet carrier.  If they let him out he would only make a bee-line for some inaccessible cranny or streak out the front door and never be seen again.  This is exactly how the cats we grew up with would have behaved.

There was no pet carrier!  Robert rides loose in the car.  “Is it all right if the he comes inside?”  Everyone piled out of the mini-van and into the house without bothering about the open doors.  I asked my brother-in-law whether the cat wouldn’t run away and he said, “Oh, he’s easy to catch.”  Robert and little E started roaming the house.  Robert’s litter box and food and water dishes came in with the diaper bag.

Distracted by the miniature human, at first I didn’t pay much attention to the toddler and the cat.  I guessed they would calm down when they had seen everything.  The toddler did, but not the cat.  Imagine a cross between a grey Maine coon cat and a ferret, with ENORMOUS green headlamp eyes.  Robert dusted the whole house for me, which is to say he covered every patch of floor under every piece of furniture in the first 10 minutes.

Der Mann’s cat allergy is only the hay-fever-like kind, so I wasn’t too worried.  I didn’t think a cat could leave much of himself around our apartment on such a short visit.  Cats just look around and lie down, right?  When I realized my mistake and decided to shut the bedroom door, Robert decided that he needed to explore the bedroom for the twelfth time.  I blocked him with my foot and a big, scary “no.”

He jumped over my foot.  At least our neighbor’s cat Dobo had the grace to look guilty when she was caught, and to argue about her sentence; Robert has the temperament of a commando rather than a petty criminal.  “Verbal commands, feet–pfft!  Shoot first, ask questions later.”  My sister had to haul him out by the scruff of his neck.  The naughtiness only escalated after that.  Robert tried to get back into the bedroom the moment his scolding was over and his neck was released.  Failing that, he stretched himself out in front of the bedroom door like a guardian lion, tail flicking, waiting for it to open again.  He was similarly attracted to the cupboard under the kitchen sink, which does not latch.

Robert scratched the chair, jumped up on the side table, paced and eyed the countertops with feverish intensity; each time it looked like he was finally going to settle down, he switched mischiefs.  It was almost as if he were “acting out,” because he has been trained never to do these things at home.  Can cats act out?  His constant snaky, sneaky monitoring of his surroundings made him look like he was always on the verge of doing something bad. “Scratch?  No, no, not here.  Keep it cool.  Keep them guessing.  Eat a little.  Sit down for a minute.  Play with the string.  Yeah that looks good.”

I jumped up when I spotted him in a pre-scratching crouch inside my loom.  By then my sister and her husband wanted to put him back in the car.  I told them it was okay because really, our place is so small that there was nothing he could do without us catching him at it immediately, and he was mesmerizing, in a way.  I love watching cats.  Even naughty ones.

While we were discussing the question whether Robert could stay inside he started clawing the curtains, so out he went.  My toddler niece cried a little in sympathy.

She was good as gold.  The toy box with the My Little Pony Pretty Parlor is always a hit.  The baby, while much less entertaining than the cat, was much easier to hold and much sweeter-tempered.  The baby has headlamp eyes too, but no fur–you can’t have everything.

We fed them all Mexican take-out.  When they were back on the road der Mann laughed and said, “They’re such a unit!  And they’re all so cool!  E is even a cool toddler!”  He was trying to express something we both found really funny, which is they just sort of function together.  After 13 hours in the car!  Nobody was crabby, nobody was tyrannical or placatory.  Things got done without a fuss.  Diapers got changed, E got to tie a jump rope around her dad’s neck and pretend he was a sheep, the baby got fed, cat litter got swept up . . . and then back into the gypsy wagon; cat, kids, and all.


Three Sisters

December 13, 2008

Here are the rigid heddle scarves I have been working on over the past few months while I give my treadles a rest.  They are made (mostly) from the odds and ends of  knitting wool in my departed Great Granny’s stash.  It was interesting to work with so many strictures: limited quantities of yarn (well, that’s normal; I’m an eeker-outer), two shafts, only one possible sett, peculiar colors.

You may remember my mission.  These scarves are for my mom and my aunts, so the fact that the yarn was my Great Granny’s is pretty much the whole point.  Posthumous granny-gifts.


Auntie Perfectionist, the Master Gardener


My granny thought this yarn had some wool in it.  I’m not so sure after a burn test.  However, Auntie Perfectionist isn’t particularly attached to natural fibers and I know she likes the colors.  I think the yarn was probably left over from something Great Granny knitted for her.  Taking into consideration the fact that Auntie P doesn’t like to wear anything around her neck, a skinny wear-loose-under-the-lapel-of-her-coat scarf seemed like a plan.  The weft is a non-shrinking green sock wool.


To prepare the warp I pulled each individual warp yarn out of the skein and cut it off after one complete color cycle.  This makes the ikat-like striping effect.


Auntie Aesthete, the graphic designer


You know how you can pick out a Frenchwoman or a stylish Japanese just from the not-from-around-here aura of their clothes?  Auntie Aesthete looks like that, and she dresses from yard sales and consignment stores.  She has An Eye.  All kinds of interesting mustards and rusts look fabulous on her.  She wears colors I would enjoy wearing if they didn’t make me look like a radish.


So, it was fun working with the rust and blue, but the check pattern was extremely fiddly to weave without a floating selvedge.  I twined the shuttles and carried the cream and rust threads along the edge, but I didn’t think it would look right to have the blue traveling too, so I cut it off after each blue stripe.  Not an ideal project for a rigid heddle loom without blocks.  The colors are clearer in person.


Mom, the ingenue


My photo does not convey the violent color scheme of this 1950’s self-striping wool.  There was a lot of it, so I think it was even too loud for Great Granny!

I don’t have a handle on my mom’s taste except that it is inclusive.  I remember trying to explain to her as a kid “what was wrong” with things like: a giant impressionistic foral print in khaki, banana yellow, black, kelly green and lipstick red; electric op-art Madras plaids; chinz slipcover lookalikes–in fact most any of the splotchy fabrics she brought home from the 99 cent table at Hancocks.  There was a conversation that went something like, “But don’t you like flowers?”  “I like flowers, just not if they’re too big.”  “This is too big?” “Yes, the blossoms have to be smaller than a quarter.”  Mom recently said that she is glad we are finally on the verge of getting back to the pretty colors and “nice comfy” oversized styles of the eighties.

I wasn’t worried about the Granny yarn being too bright for her, but I did wonder how I was going to put those disparate colors side by side without turning them to mud.

This threading works well for 9-and-a-bit dpi of my heddle:  The multicolored fat knitting yarn goes in the slots, pink baby yarn goes in holes–except when it goes in a slot to replace an end of fat yarn.  Breaking the fat yarn up with the baby yarn makes the fat yarn stripes stand out more crisply, since the ends of fat yarn always rise to the surface of the cloth at the same time.  The extra-fine springy wool weft is beaten at roughly 8 picks per inch.  This picture will probably make more sense than the explanation:


The pale pink stripes in the warp and the interaction with the hot pink weft really transformed the gaudy old knitting wool.  The finished scarf has all the same colors as Great Granny’s favorite pantsuits: mint, fushia, reddish purple, lavender.  I can almost smell the Coty face powder.


My great granny, born in “ought-three,” was a skilled knitter who kept the whole (large) family in Granny Gloves, mittens, and hats–she liked to use the same few patterns over and over; the gloves were particularly nice.  Everyone loved getting them for birthdays.  The familiar squishy bundle always came tied up in beautiful (not re-used!) wrapping paper by yards of curly ribbon, with a greeting card and a roll of lifesavers taped on top.  She didn’t have the patience for sweaters and things when I knew her, though she did once; I remember being sent out to play in the red wool snow suit she’d made for my mom as a tot, circa 1957.  It takes a lot of knitting to make wool soakers (quiz: does anyone else know what these were?) and snow suits for all your grandchildren.

Unfortunately Great Granny thought acrylic yarn was the greatest invention since whipped topping, whipped topping was the greatest invention since instant coffee, and instant coffee was the greatest invention since sliced bread.  (Actually, she often baked her own bread.  She had a miniature loaf pan, and an early memory is the wonder of visiting her house when she had just been baking and being given my OWN loaf of bread to take home, wrapped up in a bread bag.  Her bread tasted like nothing else.  It’s purpose in life was buttered toast, to be eaten by visitors with ancient green tea in her cozy aqua kitchen.  Great Gran made dense white loaves with a “good crumb” that slightly resembled what they used to sell at grocery store bakeries as English Muffin Bread, before they started adding more dough conditioners and sugar to it.  Sigh.)

You get the picture: all that skill went into mittens that pilled horribly, were cold when wet, and could not survive washing without returning to the piles of matted plastic filament from whence they sprang.  My great granny died while I was in my last year of college, so I was spared seeing her decline.  Also, since I’m six years older than my half-siblings, I have more memories of her when she was energetic enough to bake bread.  She knitted to the end.  She started a new pair of Granny Gloves just before she died.

Her stash had a lot of acrylic yarn but only a few odds and ends of wool, mostly from the first half of the 20th century.  Granny separated out the wool when she cleared Great Granny’s house: there was a little tapestry yarn, a couple of full skeins of sport weight, and maybe a dozen partial skeins of other stuff.  She gave it to me when I got my loom.  Most of it is not very pretty, and not enough to dress my countermarche, but I’d really like to use it.  It’s one of the things I had in mind when I bought the Spear’s.

So, here is my first finished rigid heddle project.  I’m not a fan of pink.  On the loom, I kept noticing that it looked like tire tracks with skid marks:

That is why I call this scarf. . .


Road Rage in the Barbie SUV

Road Rage in the Barbie SUV


Warp:  98 ends combined of a) anonymous eraser pink wool baby yarn and b) subtly variegated periwinkle synthetic-and-mohair blend I picked out and asked Great Granny to knit into an a ice-cream-cone hat (it’s the cowlick hat seen in the first section of Stitchy McYarnpants’ book; a Gr. Granny standard) when I was about 11.  This is a slippery, INCREDIBLY hairy yarn that I now realize must have tortured her.  The hat was too big because she wasn’t used to knitting anything but acrylic, and wasn’t able adjust the pattern properly for the yarn.  I don’t have the hat anymore.  It itched my ears.  I didn’t realize how much sacrificial love went into it.

Weft: eraser pink baby yarn.

Heddle: 9-10 epi

Weaving Width: 9 3/4″

Finished Width: 8 1/2″

Weaving Length (excluding fringes): 45″

Finished Length (excuding fringes): 43″

Finishing: Hot hand wash with lots of agitation and 10 minute soak.  Air dry.  Brushed the mohair stripes a little.

Fringe:  3″  Four strand round braids secured with guided half-hitches.

Mistakes:  Many, but weave is too open to bother with repairs.  They’d show more than the mistakes do.

Conclusions:  I should put tiered blocks on this loom.  Holding the heddle in the up position at arm’s length puts too much stress on my neck.  When, as here, a heddle has wires with eyelets instead of slats you can use thicker yarns for the heddle size, which is nice; but the wires easily become bent which causes visible tracking(?) in the cloth.  The weaving goes quickly (well it would; I went from weaving 23 ppi to weaving 6 ppi!), but it’s hard to notice your mistakes because you weave at pretty low tension and the widely spaced warp threads confuse your eyes.  Weaving on a floor loom is a lot easier and produces more consistent cloth.  Even so, the ease of slapping a warp on the Spear’s and being able to use up all those nasty little bits of yarn make rigid heddle weaving quite compelling to an impressionable child-of-a-child-of-a-Depression-era-child like me.  I even considered saving the 4 inch thrums of 70-year-old yarn for a minute.  Shame!  Shame!

Wisconsin Cousin

September 22, 2008


Okay, the navy merino scarf warp!   I’m going to show you a scarf per post, in the reverse of the order I wove them.  

This one was for my cousin who just moved to Wisconsin for school.  I know he likes scarves because he wrote a song with a scarf in it, and a scarf was part of his costume when he had a band.  It was such a pleasure making something I knew would be used, for someone whose taste I admire.

Scarf: Wisconsin Cousin

Warp: 28/2 Silk City merino, doubled

Ground weft: same, not doubled

Pattern Weft: Manos del Uruguay 70% merino 30% silk handspun single

Sett: 11 doubled epi in 8 dent reed

ppi: 23

Width in reed: 14 1/8″

Weaving width: 13″

Finished width: I can’t find my note!

Finished length not counting fringe: 55

Fringes: 2 1/4 on loom, tied when off loom with guided half hitches, or “gathering knots”

I call this pattern “Reinventing The Wheel.”  I wanted to weave the biggest overshot zig-zags possible on 8 shafts, with skips of no more than 6 threads (turned out to be 7), but I couldn’t find anything in a book.  So, I graphed out possible pattern picks for different point twill threadings, cut the graph paper in strips, and started rearranging the strips until I came up with something that satisfied me.  It was very slow.

Overshot was the structure that dealt best with a bunch of mutually exclusive aims I had for this project.  I’d bought some expensive Noro Kureyon at a knitting store because I loved the colorway.  (Now I know better than to walk into a knitting store thinking “I’ll just have a look around.”!) I wanted use this reproachful yarn as soon as I could, and I wanted Silk City 28/2 merino for the warp.  I also wanted the lightest, drapiest fabric possible, yet not gauzy.  And I wanted to have as much uninterrupted Noro as possible showing on both faces of the cloth, but I didn’t want a weft-dominant fabric.

Part of my solution was to double the warp in the heddles, which I’ve heard adds a bit of warp-dominant-like flexibility to a scarf or shawl.  I also sampled the tabby weft to get a balance between not too much bulky Noro, and not too much tabby breaking it up.  I tried single and doubled tabby; 1, 2, and 3 picks between each pattern pick.  I ended up using two piks of a single strand tabby between each pattern pick, for a total of about 23 ppi on this particular scarf.  The Manos del Uruguay is thinner than the Noro.

Unfinished cloth:

After cold hand wash:

The Manos del Uruguay still makes me cringe, considering the whole project was designed to expiate a yarn store sin.  When I came to start the last scarf I didn’t have anything left in my stash that would work for pattern weft, so back to the store I went!  Two skeins of Manos cost me $27.50 with tax.  Knitting stores make you crazy.  There’s 2/3 of a skein left, and it’s very nice yarn . . . but I wasn’t totally pleased with colors.  The navy really cooled all those warm blues and browns and golds I’d admired in the skein.

My cousin likes it, though.  He said–surprised–that it was just the sort of thing he would actually seek out to wear.  High praise!

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. . .