The right way…

I teach handcrafts fairly often and I suppose the question I get asked the most is “Am I doing this right?”  Implicit in that statement is that there is a “right” way.  Is that true?  This could become a huge existential discussion real fast:) but I’m interested in the more modest arena of handcrafts specifically.

I’ve been working with tiny backstrap weaving this week, a type of weaving that is controlled mostly by using your body as the “loom” that tensions the threads you are working with.  I had the most fantastic teacher (go find everything you can on Laverne Waddington, you want to) who has travelled the world learning and passing on what she’s learned about this ancient style of weaving.  And do you know what she never said once in the whole time I was with her, “this is the right way to do it”.

Love this.  I try to avoid similar language when I teach.  My answer to questions about how a student should do a specific task is usually “it depends…” on so many things – the weaver themselves, what they want to accomplish, how they would like the final weaving to look!  I’ve taken great liberties with the backstrap weaving this week, starting with never once using a backstrap!!  I’ve tied the weaving onto amazingly varied parts of my body and contraptions in my house to get the tension.  In trying to find what I like and what I want, I’ve rivaled the greatest contortionists of history.  I love crafts, especially very intimate, person crafts like weaving because they leave room for exploration, expression and invention.

However, I’ve found, once again, that it would be nice to just have a backstrap!

Meaning, while there isn’t a “right” way, possibly there is an expedient way?  One of the amazing joys of the handcrafts being a folk tradition that is passed down informally from generation to generation is that so many people before me have learned that using my toe instead of trying to tie it to my knee is going to make me happy, that it’s called backstrap for a reason and that no, the cat is not a good anchor point even if my daughter does call him “Cat of Knowledge”.  Not that my toe is the only place to tie it and not that trying it another way is wrong or couldn’t work, but in learning and practicing it the way they have is honoring the inherent knowledge that has been hard won over the centuries.  That isn’t confining or repressing, that is beautiful and lovely, connecting me to a past that deserves respect. Laverne knows that and passed it on to us wonderfully.

So, while I will continue to answer my student’s question “am I doing this right?” with the question “I don’t know, how does it feel to you?”, I will also still humbly offer them the wisdom of tying it to their toe.




The whole month of March?!  Really? Seriously? It’s just gone?…whoa.

So, I’m learning a new weaving style called “back strap”, (the loom is literally a strap you put around your back, of course, hence the name!).  I’ll admit I took the class to be social (peer pressure! if all your weaving friends were jumping off a cliff…?).  I didn’t think I really wanted a new way to weave; I love the weaving I do so incredibly much. However, I thought it would be an interesting intellectual exercise (which it was), I’d learn something about how another culture has traditionally done weaving (which I did) and then I’d move on (which I have NOT).  HA! So much for that theory.  I have found that I really like it just for itself and can actually see myself doing it in the future.  How fun!


(Don’t look too close, it’s pretty wonky and I was taking the picture myself so everything except the band is actually in focus!)

I promise, though, tomorrow there will be huge coverlet weaving.  So, be warned, totally adorable cute little band.  No matter how much you taunt me from the other side of my fiber studio, I will not succumb to your sweet seductiveness, you wonderfully compact, instantly gratifying tiny weaving process.  I want to manhandle a 56 inch, 8 harness loom…

of warping and platitudes

“Life is a journey not a destination.”  “Enjoy the journey.”  “Stop and smell the roses.”

Platitudes.  I’m not very good at them.  Granted, not as bad as a dear friend’s mom is at idioms which she mixes in the most delightful ways (“you made your bed, now eat it” AND “you buttered your bread, now lie in it”:).  I’m mostly not good at them because, while by definition they are supposed to be concise and witty statements of truth, they, also by definition, are pretty low on the complexity scale.  So, when I use them, I tend to, unhelpfully I admit, follow them up with a paragraph of words trying to get at what I think I’m really trying to say, eventually so bogged down that I’m not clarifying anything at all. I suppose I just need to learn to get on with it, which is rather the idea of this post.  What does it mean to “get on” with it? What is the journey?

For the last two weeks, I’ve done NO weaving. none. zilch. My crafting life was totally and completely taken over by the Winter Olympics and a follow-a-long event with my Guild.  We all picked projects to complete during the weeks of the games, trying new challenges or facing old defeats!  I could have chosen a weaving event, but decided to knit a sweater and try steeking (google that, it’s cool) for the first time because that was more portable, increasing my chances of success.

It was great fun; however, in the back of my mind, the whole time, I kept thinking, “but what about that next weaving project I’m supposed to be doing?”  Platitudes like the ones above came to my mind.  I wanted to enjoy the Olympics instead of thinking, “if I can just get this project done, then I can get to the next one”.  It’s the same advice I used to give myself back when I hated warping the loom (getting it ready for weaving).  Usually, warping a loom takes FAR longer than actually weaving the project.  I had even naively said that I would never weave because setting up the loom looked like such devious torture invented by fiber masochists.

So, I would try to enjoy the journey.  I would tell myself all the right things.  Look at that massive, beautiful warp just waiting there, so full of potential and possibilities, imagine what it will turn into once you weave it.  Think about the fantastic final cloth.  Warps are the very epitome of newness and transformation and metamorphosis – enjoy it!  And I was successful in these thoughts?…


…uh, nope.  Still just looked like work to me!  So instead of thinking about the warp as a journey I tried to think of it as the destination.  Trying to enjoy the journey is still thinking of it as a “going to”. I don’t think I would have ever learned to enjoy warping if I’d only thought of it as something that got me somewhere else. Even when you know that the getting “there” can be completely enjoyable, it still isn’t “there”.  Enjoyment finally came when I realized I would warp a loom even if I was never going to weave that warp at all.

I suppose, ultimately, that’s what people really mean when they say, “enjoy the journey.”  I’ve once again spent many paragraphs bogging it down.  Time to get on with it.  Let’s go warp that loom.

How long did that take?!

I love this question.  Anyone who does handcrafts will be familiar with non-craft people asking this. I’m always curious to know exactly why they are curious, because there seem to be implicit assumptions in the question. In a culture that seems to operate at the speed of light, are they happy to know that something actually took some time and care to be made?  Or do they find it more impressive the faster you finished? The latter seems to be the case. Given the ready abundance of instant gratification around us, we do seem to feel that sooner is better. People seem most happy when I nonchalantly mutter something like, “not long, just in my spare time.”  The follow-up comment is often, “wow, it would take me forever to do something like that!” indicating that since it didn’t take me forever, they are impressed.

However, since I adore weaving, spinning, and knitting, I often feel that taking forever would be lovely. While having the finished project is certainly a joy, the amount of time it takes doesn’t seem relevant since each and every minute is pleasurable.  I’ve even found myself a tiny bit excited when I discover a mistake simply because it will make the project take a little longer!

Is there also an inherent indication that what I’m doing looks really boring to them? Especially when they say, “you must be such a patient person!”  I always try to accept what I think they mean as a compliment but I often can’t stop myself asking in return if it takes patience to do the activity they enjoy most?  No one ever remarks that you must be a really patient person to watch hours of Netflix!

Yet, despite all of that, I often DO find myself bragging about how fast weaving is or that I finished a queen size coverlet in just ten days.  Perhaps it’s a recognition that to people in the past (AND many in the present), such crafts weren’t a “pastime” at all. They had to value speed because it was vital to give their family the warm clothes and coverlets that would see them through the winter.  I want always to remember that finding pleasure in taking it slow is a luxury, a blessing. Remembering that is honoring them.

SO…how long did this take? I wove it in just two evenings.