In addition to whatever else I may be, I am a weaver. String and me go way back. It started when my wonderful Aunt Phyllis helped me weave a green rag rug on her floor loom when I was seven years old. Which later set me up for the work study job I got while pursuing my biology degree at UO, as a teaching assistant in weaving. A position which eventually precipitated my defection from the sciences to the art department. After graduation we moved to Astoria so that I could take a job teaching weaving at Clatsop Community College. I taught there for eight years. Both boys attended classes with me as infants, securely next to my body in the sling, soothed by the rhythmic banging of the looms.
As part of homeschooling, I taught both my sons to weave, though only the younger one has caught the passion of it. That one has been a champion at the Oregon State Fair for three years running, and is now helping to teach beginning weaving classes at the Astoria Fiber Arts Studio. The older one is more interested in the string theory side of things, and that descendent of the Jacquard loom – the modern computer. He is all physics all the time. I like to think that the brain benefits of hand weaving helped shape his brain towards mathematics, and the cross-hemispheric thinking needed for physics.
Part of the gift of stopping everything in my life when I was diagnosed with breast cancer was to remember how much I love to weave. That pause allowed me to resume the fiber arts part of my life, long after my regular weaving habit was interrupted by the bakery project -which also happened to coincide with the closing of the weaving program at Clatsop college. There is nothing like a health crisis to help you get clear on what is important to you.
Last week I finished weaving off the warp of kitchen towels seen in the opening photo. I have rethreaded the loom, this time with a warp for rag rugs. Yesterday I cut apart a small rug that had become damaged, I purchased it years ago from a darling 80-something year old weaver in Eastern Oregon. I decided to salvage her carefully sewn together red rags and make a new rug from them. The thought occurred to me while cutting it apart that those rags are a lot like me.
Once the fabric of my life, put together with all kinds of effort and with all kinds of influences formed the rug that was me pre-cancer. Then along comes cancer, BLAMMO! The warp threads broke all over the place. I was a bit of a mess. Making it through to the other side required being completely taken apart and put back together, in a form quite altered from the original. Both the new rug I am making on my loom, and the new form my life is being woven into post cancer, have the potential for great beauty.
I could have attempted to recreate the warp of the original rug, to replicated it as closely as possible. I even think I could have gotten pretty close. This is what many seek with breast reconstruction surgeries of all kinds, to restore that which has been lost. Instead I am choosing to create a new rug that will be quite different from the original, which feels in alignment with my quite altered body. Both rug and life will have an end result only superficially resembling the original.
Yesterday while traveling out to Svensen to work on our house project for a few hours we stopped at the monthly flea market at the Wickiup Grange. Joe found a beautiful Leclerc boat shuttle which seemed like a reassuring sign from the universe to reinforce the attention I am giving to weaving again. This morning I started to weave those red Eastern Oregon rags into the new warp. I am using that shuttle gifted from the universe for the first time, its bobbin filled with beautiful turquoise thread.
The shuttle has the name “Maude Kerns” wood burned onto its bottom. I can’t help but wonder if it might have somehow belonged to the famous Maude Kerns, early 20th century Oregonian. That Maude Kerns was an Avant-garde artist and educator. Though she was a painter, isn’t it possible that as the daughter of pioneers she might have had a secret weaving habit? What sorts of things did the Maude Kerns of the shuttle like to weave? Did she have any children, and did they learn how to weave?
One of my favorite things about weaving is how it connects me to the ancestors, and to the greater lineage of weavers. I used to tell my students that the room was filled with the spirits of their weaving ancestors who were happily encouraging them as they learned to weave. Because no matter who you are, or where you are from, you definitely have ancestors who were weavers.
My friend Margaret, who died a few weeks ago from cancer was a beautiful weaver, and fiber arts instructor. She is the reason I got the job to teach weaving at Clatsop, and therefor responsible in a way for the whole life that we have crafted here. She was quite a fierce person, and I feel as if she is really whip cracking now from the other side. Ensuring that I reengage with our mutual passions of color and weaving. Perhaps it was her who put that Maude Kerns shuttle in my path.
Today is the Spring Equinox, a perfect balance of light and dark. It is a joy on this day to be reweaving my life together both literally and figuratively. To be recommitting to something that is important to me, and to focus on what I have to give. The world needs weaving I think. This is a good time for unraveling, reweaving, repurposing. Weaving reminds me of all of those who have gone before, whose work supports mine. It also reminds me that I need to be engaged with the future, to not only make something beautiful from that which has come undone, but to pass forward the skills needed for the next generation to do the same.
Perhaps it might seem sort of crazy to spend so much time reusing that which was already reused. All I can say is that it appeals to my innate thrift, and my farm wife training. It is so comforting to make something, especially out of something salvaged. I like how even whilst working alone in my studio I feel like I am surrounded by love and support from all of the weavers that have come before.
I like that it helps me to feel more like myself even in my new altered form. Even though I now need to be mindful of the limitations of my right arm, as my days of marathon weaving sessions are over sans lymph nodes. There is still sweetness in the rhythm of the loom. Darkness and light moving together, both worthy of love. Like I said, in addition to whatever else I may be, I am a weaver. Today I am feeling really grateful to be so.
A tiny WEAVING GLOSSARY:
Bobbin: a cylinder shaped tool used to hold weft threads inside a weaving shuttle.
Loom: a frame to hold thread under tension so that it may be woven. Looms come in a wide range of complexity- from the few sticks of the back strap loom, to modern industrial computerized looms. There is evidence that people have been weaving on looms for at least 25,000 years.
Shuttle: a devise for holding weft threads that facilitate passing them through the warp during the weaving process. They come in a variety of designs.
Warp: the threads that are held under tension on a loom.
Weaving: The interlacement of two or more sets of threads. (In contrast to knitting which is the interlacement of one continuous thread.)
Weft: the threads you weave through the warp.