Rediscovering the Traditional Skill of Weaving


Christine Byrne head shotFebruary around here is more or less the calm before and after the storm; the hubbub of the holidays is over, the animals require minimal care, and the garden quietly sits while I tick off the days on the calendar. It is the perfect time of year for indoor pursuits.

I am a habitual learner; I really cannot just sit around. I need to constantly be learning something new. I am most drawn to rediscovering traditional skills. I still have my father’s dog-eared 1970’s copies of the Firefox series, which I like to thumb through occasionally to find something I’ve never tried before. Some are fairly easy to learn, but others take a major commitment. This month I have been working on learning the art of weaving.

Making cloth is a very complicated process. There was a reason it would take an apprentice years to master the craft. They must learn to design a draft or, in other words, decide what pattern the fabric will have and how to do it. Then they must calculate how much material the project will require, down to the exact number of threads. They also must measure out each warp thread to the exact length before they move the threads to the loom.  Once at the loom, they have to sley each thread through the reed and through the heddles. And if that weren’t enough, they also need to understand how to tie up the treadles in a way to get the shafts to lift at the appropriate time to create the pattern. All of that must be done before you even begin. Then, of course, there is the actual act of weaving, and learning to keep even tension and an even beat.

Learning traditional skills gives me a whole new appreciation for the everyday things in my life. When you consider that it was only fairly recently, in the grand scheme of things, that producing fabric became automated, it makes you look at your blue jeans in a new light. And really, when you think about it, it is a wonder they ever developed such a process. Frankly, I would have thought it would have been easier to move somewhere near the equator and then sit around wearing fig leaves.


Fortunately though, someone did figure out how to do it and they taught someone else and that person taught another. Now, thousands of years later, I am doing my part to keep the tradition alive. I am a long way from becoming a master, but I’m making one of the most beautiful alpaca shawls you have ever seen and I couldn’t be more pleased with myself.

2/23/2012 5:24:45 PM

Christine, I see the weavers at work when I go to the Iowa State fair. I have always wondered at how they can make a pattern in those fabrics that they weave. My Mom crocheted and it amazed me watch the patterns slowly emerge from the spool of thread. I don't think those skills were ever passed on to anyone in the family. My sister was just not interested in doing such things. Of course those kinds of things were not in fashion for boys to learn. I'm not sure I would have wanted to learn those skills anyway. I too have a high learning curve. With the advent of the Internet, it's difficult to tear myself away at times to live real life, but then again how would I put to use what I've learned. That, to me, is the best part. So I guess I have a balance in a good way. Learn it - do it. Have a great weaving day.

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