Trying Something New
Do you remember the awkward feeling when you started to weave? Having to look up how to do the next step, not been able to figure out why something didn’t look right, or thinking, as one of my student once told me, “I don’t even know what I don’t know.” But there was also the satisfaction of having accomplished something pretty special. “It’s magic”, I tell my students, “we have a bunch of threads and we turn them into cloth.”
The feeling of satisfaction has stayed with me, but I must admit that my awkwardness with weaving has gone, and that’s true for many people who weave regularly once they have woven for a while. “How hard can it be?” seems to be the replacement feeling. And that may be fueled by the general public. When we demonstrate spinning – and we just had our sheep to shawl demonstration earlier this month – people come up to us, see us seamlessly draft our fiber which turns into thread and is wrapped into the bobbin, and ask: “so, all you do is just hold that fiber in your hand, right?” (Here I am spinning while my friend Guild President Gio Chinchar is knitting).
But in teaching, especially beginning weaving, I found that it’s not good not to remember that awkward feeling. I don’t want to think “How hard can it be?” I want to remember what it was like starting out with cones of yarn, a loom, various tools – and a wonderfully patient teacher.
A while back, I realized that I could recapture that awkward feeling by starting something new. I stumbled on the thought when I decided to take a white oak basket weaving class. How hard can it be? I thought, I already know how to weave. Wrong! White oak weavers, as they call them, don’t bend like yarn! I still love baskets, but instead of making them, I support my fellow basket weavers. But the idea was born: every couple of years, I should learn something new – or, rather, I should say, I would attempt to learn something new, just to have that awkward feeling. Most of the activities stop at a class, like the basketry, others lingered a bit longer, like crocheting, until I decided that I would rather knit after all. The topics are not always fiber related, since at work one of my tasks was teaching, so I had the same issue. Sometimes the topics are self-taught, as in the early 1980s when I learned a new-to-me computer language called Pascal for work, and then I used it to write a computer program to do a drawdown.
And then there are the few new skills that stick. In the mid-80s, one of our members was going to teach a spinning class for our Chimneyville Weavers Guild – was I interested? This was going to be a big commitment since she had no extra wheels, so each participant would have to buy one. My husband convinced me that a wheel could be sold if I decided I didn’t like spinning, and anyway I may need it to ply yarns for my weaving. First we tried spindling, not my favorite; then she taught us to card; I saw it as a necessary step to the final goal. But once I started spinning on a wheel, I was hooked. I wasn’t the only one; our guild was eventually renamed the Chimneyville Weavers and Spinners Guild (CWSG).
Now it happened again – this time with kumihimo braids. In January, CWSG member (and HGA 1st Vice President) Kathy Perito presented a mini workshop on braiding. I decided I should participate, although I had seen people at Convergence and Kathy braid, and it seemed impenetrable. How do you know where to move all of those strands of yarn? But soon I found that the step-by-step rhythmic movement of the strands is mesmerizing and addictive.
I prefer a disk, as I love to sit at the end of the day braiding curled up on the coach with a glass of bubbly and a cat. I am slow, and I have only made eight-strand round braids so far – 6 of them – but every time I do one, I learn a little bit more. And isn’t this how we become proficient at our crafts? Here are a few of my braids: