2020 brought many things. I actually achieved a sort of calm that I haven’t had in years – something about being forced to be home and having no social distractions made it oddly pleasant. But creatively? It was not great. I had some sort of covid-ennui, not just lack of energy but a lack of focus and desire. It just…wasn’t there. My craft suffered, but other things blossomed. It wasn’t all bad, as awful as it was.
2021 will be, I think, a better year. I’m not sure about it all in the larger sense, but on a personal level I have high hopes. 2020 made me weird: tentative, apathetic, non-productive. It wasn’t a way I like to live my life and thank goodness I’m getting out of my funk.
The past several months have been a time of transition, for Berwick Weaving Co. In mid-2019 I built the studio and got everything set up and I wove in it, but not necessarily with a lot of joy. The building was a fine thing, the fibre was lovely, and the view from my loom was stunning. The actual loom, though, was starting to get to me. When you work at a machine for hours on end, it has to fit. It has to invite efficient and ergonomic movement and processes. Mine did not do this for me. I’d end the day with an aching back, with a lingering irritation over tasks I’d had to do, with growing frustration because getting my tool ready to work on was not a pleasant experience.
Weaving can look – to the outsider – like a tragically tedious affair. Setting up a loom can take a long while, measuring the warp to put on the loom is exacting work. There are hundreds of heddles to thread, tension issues to contend with, the sometimes unwelcome task of a reed to sley… all before you actually start to weave. I’ve always enjoyed the entire process – it’s part of the entire range of activities that make up the art/craft. But I’d started to avoid it. I was feeling almost guilty when I bypassed my Mira ll loom and went to the rigid heddle, or to my Leclerc Compact. I told myself it was just because I wanted to have the relatively calm experience of the rigid heddle, or I needed 8 shafts to do something. But really, it was because I was avoiding what I started to call the “Big Loom”.
A loom is an inanimate object, but as one spends more time with it – with every part of it, checking, adjusting, cleaning, sitting at, crawling under – it takes on a personality. And this particular Big Loom, it seems, was just not my friend. Everything I made on it was starting to feel forced, or not-as-good as I wanted. I was starting to weave my frustration with my Big Loom into my work, and it was starting to show. The joy with which I embarked each day of weaving just wasn’t there. Weird timing, really, because I’d just spent a not inconsiderable sum on a studio to put all my gear in! I thought at first it was the studio – maybe I’d gotten too big for my britches, or I’d built a folly that would become a loom graveyard. Maybe, I thought, I should never weave again.
It was, I tell you, a bit of a crisis. What I finally realized, though, was that it wasn’t me, it wasn’t the studio, it was that my tool did not suit me. Sometimes, you can blame the tool. My loom was too tall for me (I’m approximately 5-foot-nothing). Every single thing I had to do on it and with it took some sort of accommodation for my (lack of) height. The bench was too tall; I had to stretch uncomfortably to treadle, or stand up while weaving (not a graceful position for me). I started to get cramps in my hands when threading heddles. I would sigh with surprised contentment when I sat at another loom. I visited a friend and saw his loom and was surprised at just how…right it looked, at how low and perfect the bench was.
It got me thinking.
I spent hours of my covid-gifted time online, figuring out what kind, how many shafts, etc. It was heady days, really. I talked to people online in facebook weaving groups, I read articles and pored over photos and technical details. I wanted to buy the One Loom To Rule Them All. I wanted something I could sit at happily for hours, something that will accommodate my needs for the next couple of decades, something that would not make me think quietly somewhere down the road that I’d made a mistake. I settled on a Leclerc Nilus (not Nilus ll, which is taller and made for people who don’t need step stools on a regular basis). I got 8 shafts so I have many options for design, and I got a jack loom because I have found that I prefer them. It’s 60 inches wide, and has a fly shuttle, because I like fly shuttles and want the width (coverlets anyone?). I have to thank Nina at Camilla Valley Farm for her insightful and cheerful service. She took care of it all, and Leclerc did a bang up job making this beautiful thing for me. It even came earlier than expected!
It was delivered by a quizzical (and thankfully, strong) delivery guy in 14 heavy boxes, each carefully (over-enthusiastically?) packed and sealed, shrink wrapped and stapled. It took 2 full van loads to the dump to get rid of that packing material, and many days to assemble. Leclerc thoughtfully included a USB stick with instructions – um, I can’t remember the last time I used a usb stick. I don’t even know if I own tech that could read it. There were also written instructions, with charmingly and sometimes unclear hand-drawn pictures. Most of the instructions were in English, but some sentences were in French. But I learned that if you go slowly, and trust the process, it will get done.
In the middle of this I got a new puppy. New puppies are not good to have around when one is emptying 14 large boxes and assembling a loom, just let me say that. Cute though, I’ll give him that.
And you know what? It was terrific. Like, really really terrific. And while I do love new things, it wasn’t terrific because of some consumerist impulse. It was terrific because it made me fall in love with what I do, again. The sometimes arduous task of building that thing was fun. It made me learn things. I know every inch of that loom, screwed in every fastener, took some of it apart and put it back the right way, and my hands touched every single last part of it. I dropped 500 inserted eye heddles on the floor and picked every single one up, oriented it correctly, and placed them on the harness.
Terrific, I tell ya.
Perhaps it’s necessary, this process. My old loom, “Big Loom”, I bought from a very nice woman in Cape Breton. It was disassembled when I picked it up, and the size came as a shock when I finally got it put together. Novelty kept me going with it for a while, and then pig-headedness kept me with it for longer. Guilt followed that, then literally months of avoidance. Then I sold it to a very happy woman who got a great deal, and I cleared out the studio for a fresh start.
Why was putting this new loom together different than Big Loom’s birth after I got it? I think it’s because this time I was aware of what I was getting, had thought about why I was getting it, and I took the time and energy to picture what I needed in a tool and wanted in an…instrument. Big Loom was acquired with much rejoicing, but it was uninformed and I was just so darn happy to have a loom that I didn’t think about the niceties.
New Loom, now, she is quite literally made for me. There’ll be a steep-ish learning curve with some of it (sectional warping is not what I learned when I started weaving, so I’m in the process of unlearning a lot of processes and replacing them with new ones), but it feels SO good. My brain is engaged, my hands are itchy to weave on it, and the studio smells of new wood, wool, and expectation.
It has me back in the studio on a daily basis. I’m excited again about making things. I’m excited about colour and fibre and texture. I’m thinking with my hands again. So, yeah, I got a new loom and it’s very cool, but the BIG news is that thinking long and hard about what I needed; planning and executing that plan; and making friends with New Loom kick-started something in my brain that I needed. Something that was long dormant because I was using the wrong tools and let the tool define my work, somehow.
A classic tail wagging the dog, I guess? Whatever it is, I urge you to take something time to think about how you do things. What tools you use, and why. This has been transformative for me, really.