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THREAD HANDED – 2022 – report back.

The beginning of this month, saw me, once again heading South, from my beloved Bushveld, towards Van Reenen for another Thread Handed event. Believe it or not, this was our sixth, and our fifth visit to the Green Lantern.

Our previous visit was at the beginning of March 2020. I remember that while we all talked about this virus that was taking over the world, none of us really believed that it would affect us here on the Southern Tip of Africa – how wrong we were! Last year we had to cancel, and so, arriving back at the Green Lantern was more than a little nostalgic.

We were a small group this time around, having decided not to offer a spinning class. I was on my own as Linda, also couldn’t join us, so, good as it was to be back, it was also a little strange.

My first day in Van Reenen was spent unpacking and setting up. As usual, we pretty much took over the hotel lounge, and the staff was ever tolerant and helpful with the moving of furniture and supplying of trestle tables and chairs. By the time people started arriving just after lunch, we were pretty much sorted and were able to relax and catch up before classes started in earnest the following morning. Classes on offer included beginners Rigid Heddle and Harness weaving, as well as a more advanced Rigid Heddle class. Anette Matthews came down from Pretoria to teach a two day, four shaft class on Overshot, and Sue Stevenson from Natal offered a one day introduction to Kumihimo.

Everybody was eager to begin and get their heads down into the work, and Thursday morning was chaotic as the first morning always is. We had people making warps on warping frames, doing direct warps for their Rigid Heddle projects, measuring, cutting, threading, and then suddenly, everything seemed to click into place and we were settling into the programme.

The ladies doing the Overshot class, moved themselves into the small lounge next to the dining room, as they had to concentrate – theirs was all about brain food, and the results spoke for themselves. Anette had devised a really nice project to make potholders from the woven samples, and they managed, all the planning and the prep, the weaving and the finishing in the course of the two days – Hats off to all of them!

Meanwhile the more advanced RH ladies were doing all sorts of manipulations with their warp so that they could weave the warp back on to itself to form the ‘V’ part of their ‘V Cowls’. There was much concentration and more than just a little bit of frustrated muttering as threads escaped and had to be found and put back into place, and threads pulled too tightly or not tightly enough, and in some cases, the last few picks were really a very tight squeeze!

Once again, the results showed the fruits of all the hard work as the pieces began to come off the loom.

Riana, and Elaine, meanwhile, had their noses buried deep in the movements of warp and weft, and Sue, even had enough time to try a little bit of Double Heddle Weaving.

We laughed – a lot…….,  and we worked – jolly hard……,  and all in all we had a really good few days together. Di Kruger stepped in to lend a hand with some of the nitty gritty stuff that needed to be done, and was the best possible PR lady we could have asked for! Ellen Janse van Rensburg, resident of Van Reenen, who brought us there in the first place, stopped by for a few visits and a chance to catch up.

The garden was glorious as usual and the best place in the whole world to relax after a challenging day at the loom!

Looking forward to the next time around!

(If anyone would like more information, or would like to be put on to the mailing list – please feel free to drop me an e mail, and I’ll make sure that you are added)!

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The view from my loom has changed a little

…. as the August winds have arrived punctually in the Lowveld and it is too dusty and windy to weave on the patio right now! Having said that, it doesn’t mean that I have been idle – in fact far from it!

The Rep weave is off the eight shaft table loom, and I have to admit to be ridiculously pleased with the result. It really wasn’t my favourite project, which is quite strange because I was really looking forward to it during the planning stages. I think the fact, that I had to change my intentions in terms of material and colour, so radically to begin with put me off somewhat, and then the thickness of the yarn I used turned it into a heavy weave, which matched my mood for most of the time that I was working on it.

The cloth roller was so full, by the time I finished up, that I don’t think I could have managed very many more cm’s, even if I’d wanted to, and when I look at the very substantial roll of weaving sitting on my table, I am a bit startled by the density of what I managed to produce!

Because the weave structure is so heavily textured, the take-up was enormous, and I squeaked to the end of the 4m warp with four placemats of approx 40cm each and one piece slightly longer than the rest, which was my experiment standard. There were 2.5cm of hem for each side of each mat, but even so, the take-up was huge.

Seen from a distance, it is easy to see the patterns, but it was quite difficult to get an idea of the whole while they were still on the loom. Having said that, seen from a distance I can also see quite a few glaring flaws, but since these were meant as an exploration I don’t really have a problem with that – if they had been a really special project, or a piece for an order I would be quite devastated though.

The bottom line really, is that sometimes one needs to just sit and experiment and learn as one goes. Somehow weaving is like that. We would all love our projects to all turn into masterpieces, but just as there are no omelettes without smashing eggs, sometimes we need to be less than happy with our efforts in order to reap the full benefits of the lesson.

Rep Weave, or Ripsmatta, is a technique that I will certainly revisit in the not too distant future, for, much as a struggled with this weave on so many levels, it has embedded myself in a part of my psyche which, like a terrier with a mouse, simply won’t leave it alone, and keeps on going back for another look.

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I haven’t been sitting at my loom with a view…..

This morning I woke up with that feeling that life is not quite complete….. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. We’ve seen our pets in this mood too – they move from one place to another, put their heads up, sniff the wind and move again, never quite settling long enough to relax, or indeed allow us to relax. Well, that is how I feel this morning…. poor Michael – perhaps I should warn him that it’s going to be one of those days!

It has been a really busy month – a trip to the Smelly City to do my distribution, multiple posts and little videos for Patreon, ZOOM calls with my weaving buddies, ordering some gorgeous cottons from Be Inspired for a new project and long walks in the wilderness areas of my estate, as well as the usual nitty-gritty of domestic bliss. Yet, in spite of all the activity, it feels very definitely as though something is missing. This morning I worked out what it is – I am severely lacking in loom time!

“How can this be?” I hear you ask – ” that’s all she does – in fact it’s what she does. How can she not be doing what she does?”….. Well the answer is simple, and I know that it has happened to all of us. The chores and the routine and the mundane take over, and before you know it they RULE your life!

There is more than one reason for this paradigm shift in our lives. In my life I can most definitely think of two without even blinking an eye. The first is that someone has to do it…… this, as every woman who is reading this post will know, is because it is inbred in women that the home must come first. After all if I don’t make the bed who’s going to make the bed? I’ve tried to make it a rule in our house that the last person out of the bed makes the bed – HA! What the person who shares the bed hasn’t worked out yet is that if that were the case and we stuck to the rule, I would be up with the lark every morning of my life and accomplish that much more…….

The second is that what I do – in terms of weaving that is, has to be classified as pleasure, not work, and I was taught from a very young age that you are only allowed to play when the chores are done.

So, with the lockdown and the extended time I’ve had at home one would think that the weaving productivity must have sky-rocketed. Well, “One” thinks wrong, but the bed is made and the house is more or less in order and even some basic maintenance is being attended to, and slowly, insidiously the chores and the desk have taken over my life and my Loom with the View is very neglected.

The on-line aspect of my life has also impacted on my weaving time. I love teaching weaving, and am even enjoying the challenge of doing it this way, but I have to say, that the stimulation of teaching face to face is severely lacking. So is the spontaneity – the questions, which open up a whole new train of thought, and those ‘Eureka’ moments when somebody discovers a different ( and often better) way to do something, and most importantly, the laughs and the banter, are all missing in in the on-line world where things are altogether more ordered and serious, to the point where I feel that what I really need is a jolly good belly laugh. I’m beginning to take myself far too seriously!

This is why I am soooo looking forward to the arrival of a couple of weaving buddies – whoop whoop! Now that the provincial borders are open people are moving around again and over the next couple of weeks, not one, but two weaving buddies are coming to visit and I can’t wait! Before they arrive though, there has to also be some loom time. I have three looms with half woven projects on them and another project in the planning stage, so over the next couple of days, my time at my desk ( and the kitchen sink) is going to be limited and I am going to love my looms. After that I’m going to enjoy some social time and love my looms some more in the company of people who understand the difference between ‘warp’ and ‘weft’ .

What a lot to look forward to – Happy Friday!

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From where I sit at my loom with a view – yes there is actually a view to enjoy……

Winter in the Lowveld

For those of you who have wondered about the ” view” from my loom – well here is the view from the end of my driveway. Granted my loom doesn’t actually sit at the end of my driveway, but when my bum gets numb from sitting on the weaving bench, I can at least take a short stroll and admire ” my” mountain.

I know that it seems a little strange that we actually have quite such spectacular mountains in an area which is usually associated with flat roads, dust, dirt and thorn trees, but our little town sits in the shadow of the mighty Northern Drakensburg, pictured here on a particularly splendid Winter’s day – incredible sky, absolutely clear, not a breath of wind and a window to the world.

Everytime I take to the road en route to a workshop or a market on the Highveld, I drive through the Abel Erasmus Pass, which cuts through the mountains, and is truly, to my mind at least, one of the great mountain passes of this incredible country. The sides of the road through the pass are dotted here and there with vendors selling local fruit and avocados, or wooden curios and baskets – most of which come from Zimbabwe I’m sad to say, but I won’t go down that road right now, because about half way up ( or down as the case may be), there is an elderley Venda lady who weaves grass mats – indeed there is – believe it or not…

She isn’t always there, but when I see her, I take my life in my hands and pull off the winding road into a tiny lay-by and go and say hello, admire her work and give her a little money. Her loom is what we know as a “Donkey” loom and consists of two planks of wood laid parrallel (never figured out the spelling of that word), to each other with a small space in between, and supported on a pair of crossed sticks at either end to raise it off the ground.

Crossing the warp threads over each other – the mat in progress can be seen below the wooden plank

The threads she uses for the warp – in this case usually cheap string, or even bailing twine which has been scavenged from the nearby farmlands, are each wound around a small stone, or an old battery, and one would immediately think of a warp weighted loom but in fact, this arrangement works differently. Her “weft” comes from the reeds which grow in the Olifants River bed in the valley below. The reeds are split lengthways and the resulting pieces are painstakingly wrapped in pieces of plastic – usually what looks like the plastic that is used to package beer or cool-drink ‘ 6 packs’ .

The plastic is scavenged from the surrounding area and cut into strips before being wound around the sections of reed in a colourful cladding which is probably the principle appeal of the mats. The warp threads are laid across the space between the two planks, with the weights hanging over on either side. A piece of the brightly clad reed is placed over these weighted warp threads and the warp threads are crossed over the reed so that the weights now hang on the other side of the two planks. Another section of reed is laid in place, and the warp is crossed over that, and so the process continues…..

The reeds, I must just add, have leaves which are razor sharp and inflict paper-cuts on any unwary fingers, and the split sections are a minefield of splinters. The weaver sits cross legged on the ground (on one of her own mats actually) and manipulates the weighted warp threads in what must be a backbreaking process. It is the job of her daughter to split and cover the reeds, and her young grandchild sleeps in the shade nearby.

I am in awe of their industry. Their life must be beyond hard, and I am sure that she would probably earn far more working as a domestic worker, but she tells me that she learnt her craft from her mother, and her daughter will learn from her, and that is what they do.

I never fail to leave them with a new appreciation for my beautiful looms and the wonderful yarn I am privileged to use. The view from her loom far surpasses the view from mine, but I’m ok with that, because I know just how very lucky I am!

The beautiful bright blue mat lying next to the ‘loom’ now lives in my kitchen!