Thursday, 17 October 2013

Weaving beats wheels in my book

You know how a lot of people will tell you the wheel was the greatest invention (though some will agree it was not much use without the invention of the axis)? Well, I think one of the greatest inventions of mankind was weaving. With weaving (and braiding/knotting, which is related), we could suddenly make all sorts of things: baskets, chair seats, fabrics, nets, sails, latticework for fences and walls, sieves, ribbons, rugs, bags etc etc. Even birch bark shoes. First perhaps things of function, of great importance in daily life, but humans being humans we also started to create things of beauty -- not just beauty in function or functional design but in pure aesthetics. With the technology and art of weaving, people could make everything from woven jewellery and hair braids for personal adornment to essential everyday items to cool artwork.

In a way, I'm in love with weaving, adore it and am fascinated with how it can be so, so simple and so, so complex -- despite once having to solva, string the warp threads into the heddles on a large  loom, in school (it's perhaps the most boring part of weaving) as a kid and then never getting to test it. In the syslöjd (approx. needlecraft class) room at school, the loom mostly, well, loomed in a dark corner, rarely being used by the pupils. Perhaps partially because it's time-consuming to set up and usually you let kids weave a bit, creating e.g. a placemat, one after the other so kids couldn't take their piece home until all the pupils have done their bit and the warps could be cut off. Or maybe the grown ups were tired of the, at that time, subsiding weaving fad.

I'm too young to remember the weaving craze of the 60's and 70's when weaving suddenly became cool again with the new "hippie" ideologies of counter urbanisation, anti-corporate ideals, eco-friendliness and an a renewed interest in traditional handicrafts. At that time, many so called vävstugor, weaving cottages, were created were people who couldn't afford or didn't have the room for large heddle looms could come and weave. Today there are more than 600 such vävstugor in Sweden with more than 6000 looms.

But despite that impressing figure, the interest in looms have declined or at least it did in the 80's and 90's when I grew up. Just a few years ago, it would be easy to find looms for free as people who inherited them just wanted to get rid of them -- for lack of interest in weaving or lack of space. "Take it or it's off to the tip with it", they'd say. We got a (professional) loom from an old woman that used to work for the Märta Måås-Fjetterström studio that my dad reclaimed for the top-quality wood. Ok, it wasn't in pristine condition, but even if it had been, she or her family would've found it hard to find anyone willing to take it and keep it as a loom.

But growing up in an age where weaving was kind of outdated as a craft, I still do have a few connections to the art and craft of loomwork that might've subconsciously affected my views of weaving. First of all, we've probably all played with little cardboard weaves in preschool, weaving with  Secondly, anyone involved in hemslöjd (traditional [domestic] handicrafts) will tell you Sweden has a long and strong weaving tradition, it's part of our cultural heritage, but most of all I live in an area where women in the old days often worked as weavers at one point or another in their lives. We still have two very different types of weavers left: the linen weaving mill in Boarp and the older and more famous studio of Märta Måås-Fjetterström. One of our neighbours, who passed away many years ago, used to be a weaver as was the weaver of another later neighour of ours. My mom used to help an elderly woman, the one mentioned above, who was a weaver and even had her own loom, a gift from the former employer upon retiring if I remember correctly. And, even closer to me, my aunt was once a weaver at the famous Märta Måås-Fjetterström studio. She still has a big (expensive) carpet from that time in her home -- and we have a small tapestry, probably meant to be a cushion, of the same make.

I don't know if it's directly affected me, but seeing not only woven objects but also the traces of the weavers and tools more or less everyday must have made me aware of the beauty and necessity of weaving, consciously or unconsciously.

The Märta Måås-Fjätterström studio in Båstad

Now, while "large scale" weaving on a proper loom (i.e. big heddle loom) is something I can admire others' work with, I'm not even tempted to try it myself. Personally, I'm more interested in working on the smaller scale, weaving ribbons (without a loom), working with small DIY looms using all sorts of mixed fibres, novelty yarn and unconventional materials (see the pinboard above for examples of that), having fun with these looms, giving the bead loom a new chance -- the latter is something that I've been especially interested in after seeing work using other beads than the traditional seed bead, spotting the Mirrix bracelets mixing fibre and beads and finding Erin Simonetti's blog.

I've got a soft spot for yarns, threads and fibres in general but try not to becomes as obsessed with that as with beads as it could end up being very expensive... Weaving, embroidery and jewellery-making are all great crafts that give me excuses for buying new fibres and lend themselves to a lot of experiments with said fibres.

While my book stash is vast, I've never really bough any books about weaving -- with one exception: a tiny  60's or 70's book on weaving on small DIY looms that I got at the library sale  (the annual "buy it before we throw it in the incinerator" drive). It was a few years ago when my interest in weaving hadn't bloomed yet and I just happened to stumble upon this thin book and thought it might be useful for future beading experiments. At the same library I once borrowed a jewellery-making book which included some less than conventional woven projects using e.g. leather cord, shards of bricks (!) and copper wire. It was called Smycka dig, out of print since ages. On of the co-authors also wrote this book with even more unconventional materials called Väv som aldrig förr.

As for books to buy, there aren't really many on my wishlist at the moment. Mostly find inspiration online and techniques either online, in my library book or through trial and error. I've thought about Time to Weave as works like this one (page 7 of the preview, sorry found no diret link) really catches my eye and is about the modern, non-traditional but still simple weaving I could see myself doing. As for beading on a loom, I've looked at Alexandra Kidd's book a few times because it includes weaving with not just seeds (love the texture in the bag on the cover), but never figured out if I'd find it worth the money or not.

But for me, experimenting with weaving is not about either doing a woven piece or do bead looming, it's also about adding it to the things I want to try in order to create fun and original surfaces for my bead (and thread) embroidery. Having a limited fabric stash, I've though about painting, dyeing (scratched that out and went back to painting), adding texture like this or this, making tissue paper fabrics or napkin decoupage on fabric, doing something cool like this -- or weave ribbon/fabric strips like this.

But, all urges to weave aside, I'll probably first and foremost always be an admirer of the work made by others. And I hope to always be able to see beauty and admire the invention of weaving even in the most mundane of everyday objects. Weaving as the magic that turns threads, birch bark strips, straws, rags, ribbons and everything else into everything from useful and essential objects to pure eye-candy artwork.

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