Yesterday evening I took a piece off my rigid heddle loom I’d started weeks ago. September 1st, I think.
I used a yummy mohair yarn and what I’m fairly certain is a kind of thick cotton thread. I love autumn-esque colors. I was going for a shawl that both looks warm and delicate, airy and solid. I also wanted to practice a weaving technique called Leno as described in the book, Inventive Weaving on a Little Loom, by Syne Mitchell.
The cotton thread behaved so much differently than the wool yarn. It is much less forgiving and had almost no elasticity. Sometimes the selveges were a catastrophe. I thought about bailing on the project about halfway through because I was worried it was just a hot mess and I should start over. Then I got stubborn and opted to carry on ~ best case scenario, I reasoned, was that I’d love the shawl and want to show it to the world, imperfections and all. Worst case? That once off the loom I’d lament wasting hours of my life weaving cloth not fit for mouse bedding.
I tried out some things in an effort to minimize loose ends. Oh loose ends! They are part of things, aren’t they?
When I had to switch colors (according to my own pattern; I’d arrange the color changes much differently if I were to make this again) I tried securing the loose threads in the loop of the weft as it was going back through the warp. That worked out pretty well. Wish I’d have figured that out sooner!
Taking the shawl off the loom was nerve wracking! Not sure why. It feels both sturdy and fragile at the same time, and all of the loose ends made me wonder how the hell I’d get them all sewn in without ruining the fabric.
There it is all laid out.
I stayed up until the wee hours last night sewing all the strands in, those that couldn’t be trimmed as they were. It was so worth it.
The shawl isn’t blocked yet but here it is. I’m so happy I kept at it. I learned so much about how different threads behave, selveges, the utter importance of a proper tension in all warp threads (obvious I know, but I thought I’d done that and still there were problems throughout. I think I need to make smaller groups of weft threads in the beginning stages).
Here’s an up-close view of the general pattern.
Here’s some unfortunate selvege proof.
And there’s me, still proud as hell of this piece!
I am so very lucky to have standing dates on Fridays when I teach kids how to do things with wool and with yarn. These Fridays are now known as “Fiber Fridays”, and have become a part of my life I am extremely grateful for and proud of. I think about it a lot, why I want to do this stuff with kids. First of all, I have two kids of my own and I relish any chance I get to participate in things in their classrooms. I get to meet their friends, know their teachers and just be part of their school world for a small time, which is amazing. I never leave without internally bowing to teachers, para-professionals, one-on-one specialists, reading specialists, special educators. They make the world go round, in my book. Their love and dedication to the field, and the skills they have, just blows me away.
Okay, so yes, I love being in my kids’ classes. I also love going into other classes and meeting even more kids and answering questions and getting excited about new stuff. It’s just fun and a beautiful complement to my work as a psychologist. I’m not being a psychologist in any formal sense of the word when I am in with children on Fiber Fridays. However, I am sharing something that I truly believe is deeply healing to the human spirit, and is a restorative practice. Handwork/fiber craft tie humans together in a most fundamentally ancient and organic way, and exposing kids to as many ways as I know how to work with fiber has become a prized part of my career.
In one of my first grade classes (the one my daughter is in), we’ve been exploring wool. We started with real free flowing exploration. I brought in big wool batts, smaller mounds of wool in a variety of colors, some fabric, some yarn, and a needle felting tool for just me to use, just in case some quick stick-togetherness was needed. I showed the class first different ways we can play with wool. I pulled it apart, I twisted it, I formed it into shapes and wrapped them in fabric and tied yarn around it. I encouraged them to just play and sculpt and imagine, and I let them know that there were no specific things they had to make at the end. Each table got its own basket of a big assortment of wool and then, it was off to the races! I was actually amazed, and I learned so much that day of free wool play. Children made babies, cradles, nests, birds, balls, clouds, old ladies, and animals. They played and laughed and shared. For some reason I was really worried that they’d be confused or adrift without a specific goal in mind, but I was wrong! They were happy to just go for it! I was lucky to have plenty of help from the teachers and a parent volunteer with cutting fabric, wrapping, needle felting and tying. It was peaceful and joyful. I do believe working with wool is magical.
Two weeks later in the same class, I referred back to our previous experience, and said, “this time, we are going to experiment with wool mixed with soap and water!”. Our project was to make felted balls. Before we began, I first showed them balls I made at home. I also showed them my “oops” items… a disc that was supposed to be a ball… a nest that was supposed to be a ball… a weird creasy ball that was supposed to be smooth. You know, it’s kind of hard, at least for me, to get a wad of wool to felt into a perfectly smooth felted ball with just warm, soapy water and your hands. I don’t know how Martha Stewart does it!
And we talked about having one idea in your head when you go to make something and how sometimes it doesn’t turn out like that. I told the kids that we are learning, experimenting, having fun and seeing what comes out of our efforts.
On the floor I had set up a drop cloth with towels covering it. On that were six plastic mixing bowls, two with soapy water and four with clear water that had to keep being replaced as kids dipped their creations into them to rinse the soap.
Water + Wool + Soap + Being Okay with Oops = Felting
Balls were made. Some were smooth. Some were crinkly and seamy. We got a mushroom, some discs and some wild looking blobby alien life form planets, or maybe coral? I saw a bunch of children totally okay with experimenting and just seeing what happened and I think that right there is a major piece of wisdom gleaned from mindful handwork.
Freedom to experiment and see what happens, within one’s own heart and spirit, is such a beautiful thing, and it’s something that I think we all should tend to as often as we can. I am often guilty of hanging on so tightly to what my plan is that I forget to see what’s actually happening right in front of me. I forget to loosen my belly and breathe and just let things be as they are. It’s so easy to forget that.
You know what else blows kids’ minds about wool and felting? With some simple ingredients and some agitation, soft and fluffy wool is transformed into felt and it is impossible to return it to its original form. I can’t explain why something so obvious is so mystical and amazing to kids, but it is, and I need to meditate on the symbol.
Stay tuned. I’ll be sharing more projects and ideas and insights from this cool gig I have.