Sunday, January 31, 2010

Warped Warps

I'm a self-taught weaver, so I probably perform many tasks incorrectly. Somehow, however, I manage to produce satisfactory cloth.

The way I deal with popped warp threads may present an example of my ignorance. I'm not sure how others handle the problem short of tearing the warp off the loom in a mad frenzy, but after a few years of unsuccessfully tying pieces of yarn into the warp which forces bumps and lumps into the finished product, I now merely thread a new warp thread through the heddle and reed, needle-weave it a few picks into the cloth and secure it with the needle or pin. Then I place the full cone of yarn on the floor behind the loom and hang a weight on the thread that mimics the loom's tension mechanism. As I weave, I merely move the weight clip down the thread as it feeds off the cone.

The little weight I own is an amazing tool that I don't believe I've ever seen in a weaving catalog. A few years ago, I bought a used LeClerc loom that had been in storage for many years, and the weight (a pyramid-shaped piece of lead hanging from a roach-style clip) came with it. The gadget stayed in the tray of the loom for more than a year before I put its possible use together in my head one day while wrestling with a nasty warp. It's also possible to weight as many as 4-5 warp threads with the single clip.

While perusing a book about clothing in the Middle Ages, I read about warp-weighted looms excavated at such interesting archaeological sites as Greenland. Each warp thread on the verticle looms was weighted with what look like stones with holes drilled in them, rather than drawn tightly around bars to create the necessary tension.

I sometimes wonder what future archaeologists will dig up from our era and how they will interpret each item. Will our uncovered looms and spinning wheels indicate failure of the mythical Industrial Revolution to clothe certain human outposts; will handweavers be interpreted as quasi-Luddites skeptical of the demons at work in new-fangled factories; or will we merely be interpreted as humans who needed the satisfaction of working with our hands, of creating unique pieces of cloth like no other in the world, passing on to our children the freedom and independence this magical knowledge gives us, magic bred into us through our oral and written tales.

Think about it: If Sleeping Beauty's father outlawed spindles throughout the kingdom after she pricked her finger and fell into that deep sleep, how did the people acquire their clothing? How long did their towels last? Rugs? Blankets? It must have been a pretty shabby kingdom by the time the prince kissed the princess awake.

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