Monday, July 6, 2009

Many Hands Make Light Work

Warping a Loom Doesn't Have to Be a Lonely Job!

This past week, we started warping our big walking loom. Anyone who has warped a loom can tell you that it is the longest, most tedious, boring and yet delicately meticulous part of weaving. They can also tell you that somehow, magically, the loom triples in size during the warping process. It is almost impossible to warp a walking loom this size by oneself. Well… I suppose it could be done; in fact I am sure that it has been done, but I don’t have that much endurance and discipline.

It starts with measuring the warp yarn. Patti spent two days measuring the warp, which she attached to our big horizontal warping mill. Along with our Strauch skein-winder, the mill is probably the most important piece of equipment we have. It is 6’ wide, and allows you to spool out yards and yards of yarn as you attach it to the loom.

That was the easy part. Next you have to pull the yarn through the heddles, one strand at a time. After that you have to pull the yarn through the beater – again, one strand at a time. At that point, you can tie it onto the apron rod. It is an exhausting job, involving climbing in and out of the loom as well as stretching across the front and back beams to reach the heddles. Unless you have the spinal column of a feline (I wish!), you end up with a backache at the very least.

Amazingly enough, even though it was a major holiday weekend, we were so lucky in that we were able to call on an extra pair of hands! Donna came and helped and it was just wonderful. Three of us were able to switch places, catch mistakes before they happened, and most important of all, root each other on as we tired.

There is a marvelous synergy when several people are working on a task. Somehow the jokes are funnier and the work goes more smoothly and quickly. There is a rhythm that sets in and three almost become one. Way back in the days when I was a singer in a rock band, we called it “the extra note.” There was almost a hum in the air during the silences as we slipped the individual threads of warp through the heddles.

After we were done, we checked the time and to our surprise, warping the heddles with three of us had taken less than half as long as the last time, when Donna and I warped it alone. No one was over-tired and we were still joking and laughing when we got done. The task we had all dreaded had actually become fun.

That got me thinking about a book that I read some years ago during a seminar on natural dyeing at Hillcreek Fiber Studio in Columbia, Missouri. The book was Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. As we worked during the seminar to achieve a common goal, there was no sense of competition among the 20 or so women, only that extra note humming all day long. According to Dr. Barber, this is the way that women have always worked together.

Later today we’ll be warping the beater and starting the tie-on process. There is still much to do, and some of it can be done by two people. We are still going to invite Donna along for the ride, though. Even if she works on her own weaving while Patti and I warp, I expect we’ll hear that extra note along with the conversation and the laughter.

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