Why Do I Practice the Crafts I Do?

Marcy Petrini


Did you think about why you practice the crafts you do (as I discussed the last two weeks)? In preparation of the program for the Chimneyville Weavers and Spinners Guild that we have been discussing, I went down memory lane and thought – again – about my reasons. I know that they have changed over the years.

I knit on the road, short or long trips as a passenger in the car, or on plane trips away from home. Knitting was the very first craft I learned, before I even went to school; eventually, though I abandoned it because I couldn’t find anyone to help me progress; my Mom had shown me how to cast on, knit and cast off and that was the extent of her knowledge. So I took up embroidery and sewing at which many of my family members excelled, and later crocheting, mostly self-thought. No idle hands here. In college I found knitters who could help me; I learned various patterns, how to design garments, and later the characteristics of the various yarns. Eventually I realized how time consuming knitting could be and given that I had limited amount of free time after work and family, I preferred to spend that time at home weaving. Still, I enjoy the color interplay of the knitting and designing with squares (see below); it is work that I can do mostly on “autopilot” once I plan it. I don’t leave home without my knitting.  

I watched spinning for many years and promised myself that I wouldn’t add one more craft – I was weaving, I continued to knit, I had learned to dye, I was still embroidering and crocheting and I even wove a basket occasionally. But in the late 1980s, a Guild member offered us the chance to learn to spin; she was a terrific spinner, but she had no extra spinning wheels; taking the class meant making the commitment of buying the equipment.

I vacillated, but eventually I caved in, mostly on the encouragement of my husband Terry Dwyer who offered to finish a wheel kit to keep costs down; he figured I could always sell it if I didn’t like it. Spindling never took, but once I started on the wheel – despite the frustrations of a beginner – I loved it. For the next 10 years or so, I took classes at conferences and learned to do all the things that good spinning requires: spinning to a standard, measuring twists per inch, different plies, working with various fibers. With spinning, too, I realized that I couldn’t relax with my husband at the end of the day, carry on a conversation and count treadles; that had to be done at another time, again time when I would rather be weaving. So, now I settle for serviceable yarn – if it doesn’t fall apart, it’s yarn! And I like nothing better to do than spin and sip wine while relaxing with my husband and cats near me at the end of the day. And it’s fiber that I love, I need to try them all (milk protein shown below.)

Weaving, I am convinced, is in my genes. After her death, I found out that my grandmother spun and wove household textiles mostly out of necessity, in pre-World War II Lithuania. As a child in Italy I loved the gorgeous tapestries, but I didn’t even realized that they were woven, I thought they were embroidered. Similarly, visiting the Lithuanian embassy in Rome for special events, I admired the beautiful textiles of the national costumes and thought they, too, were embroidered (Tied-Lithuanian is a tied weave in the same class as summer and winter; floats are formed by the pattern weft).

In graduate school weaving was my sanity. Over the years I took classes whenever I could and tried things on my own. I joked that I didn’t sample, because everything I did was a sample. Once I started teaching in 1981, my weaving was spurred on by my students who kept on asking questions for which I had no answer – but I could find out. The teaching led to writing, and now they feed on each other. Currently I weave samples – true samples – for classes and monographs and one-of-a-kind pieces, shawls and scarves, to apply a technique that I sampled and liked, or to use yarns that I want to try. Below is shawl that was in the leaders’ exhibit at Convergence® in 2012 in Long Beach, using the silk dyed for HGA in the conference colors.

Right now, I am knitting squares in mostly red for a Chimneyville Weavers and Spinners Guild show; spinning a cable yarn from buffalo fiber; weaving silk scarves on the 4-shaft loom, looking at scale when the size of the weft changes; and an 8-shaft pointed twill sampler on the multi-shaft loom, getting ready for Convergence® 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The fun continues.

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