A Weaver’s Story: Threads Between My Fingers
I had no interest in learning to weave. In fact, I had never given weaving much thought, which is perhaps a little odd given my textile-infused upbringing. I had been sewing and knitting since I was a child, and my grandmother, mother and aunts were skilled in a range of textile crafts, including dressmaking, embroidery, knitting, crochet, dyeing – and weaving.
One day, though, when I was well into my 30s, I found myself in front of a small table loom learning to thread the individual strands of warp yarn through loops of polyester string, called heddles. I had to pick them out in sequence, matching each thread of the warp to the right heddle, and I needed to concentrate in order not to make mistakes. It was slow and fiddly to my clumsy unaccustomed fingers. And it was utterly absorbing.
It was also a revelation. Somewhere in my mind must have been the unasked question, because suddenly I had the answer: so that’s how they do it! What a simple, elegant method for organising threads so that you can manipulate them with a minimum of fuss. I bought a secondhand table loom the same day and took it home with me. A few months later I was assembling a floor loom and the following year I went back to college: all because of the pleasure of handling a few warp threads.
That was more than ten years ago, but handling the warp remains one of my favourite aspects of the weaving process.
To begin with the obvious, there is all the pleasure of starting something new. A fresh project, a new beginning – sweep away the thrums of the old warp, blow the lint from the crevices of the loom, brush the snipped off knots out from under the treadles, we’re going to make a Brand New Thing!
I put a lot of my creative energy into designing my warps, whether I am planning in detail or improvising on the day. For me a beautiful warp is a worthwhile work in itself, even if I am the only person who will ever see it on the loom.
I make warps in a variety of ways, using different tools, but I am always handling the yarn. It’s a gentle touch, not a grabbing one: the threads pass lightly through my fingers as I measure out the lengths and I love the sense of controlling the yarn with the least amount of effort. We are partners, the thread and I.
So creativity, potential, and a close relationship with the materials of my craft are important ingredients in the pleasure of these processes. There is also something deeper. A loom without a warp is a funny old thing. It seems to consist of a lot of sticks and a lot of cords holding the sticks together – you can press some parts of it and other parts will move, but the movement serves no purpose. By dressing a loom with a warp, the weaver makes it whole.
New weavers are often intimidated by the number of different processes they need to go through, but I am dismayed when people say that they ‘love to weave but hate warping’. I am determined that my students should be able to find pleasure in all that they do, so I emphasise the positive in every stage. Here it may be the creative choices, here the rhythmic movements, here the total absorption in the task: sure we all have our favourite moments, but there is potential for enjoyment at every step.
Enjoyment also increases with mastery, and mastery takes time. Mastery here consists not so much in being able to replicate the precise steps you were taught, but in absorbing the principles and adapting them to your own tools and – the most important tool of all – your own body.
Take handedness, for example. Many weaving tasks are two-handed, and it isn’t necessarily obvious which part of the task is best carried out by one’s dominant hand. Finding the allocation which suits you may well turn out to be a matter of trial and error. It took me over a year of warping to settle on threading the loom from right to left and not from left to right.
On the other hand it took me no time at all to settle on using my fingers rather than a hook to thread the warp through those heddles. A tremor in my hand is magnified when I use a hook: lightly folding the yarn between my fingers gives me much better control. My slow, clumsy hands have learned to do this efficiently and accurately and the skill itself is a source of pleasure.
There are many different aspects to my creative practice as a weaver. I design, I teach, I write, I exhibit. But the wellspring of it all is the work of making which I do with my hands, holding threads between my fingers.
Cally Booker teaches weaving at her studio in Dundee, on the East Coast of Scotland. She also sells her work online.
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About Cally Booker
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