The magnificent Blyde Dam in full flood

……And if that sounds like a complaint, it most certainly isn’t! After one of our driest Januaries on record since we moved here eighteen years ago, this month has been nothing short of miraculous, and we will be going into Winter with dams full to overflowing which is always very reassuring.

The first couple of months of any new year always seem to be slightly unsettling for me, and this year has been no exception. The looms are quiet at the moment, apart from some silk on the 16 shaft, and a continuation of the ‘Spots and Squares’ on my eight shaft loom, but that doesn’t mean that the brain isn’t buzzing with possibility and ideas.

16 shafts, natural silk – it’s all about the texture

I’ve been following a series on Britbox over the past couple of months entitled ‘Make it at Market’. The principle of the programme is that people who are already skilled in one or other craft and would like to turn it into a business are advised, by experts in their field, about how to go about doing just that. It is a dreadful series – but having said that there has been much to be learnt from it too – if you can bear to sit through lots of boring, repetitious waffle.

I persevered through a lot of glass blowing – (very popular in the UK it seems, even though the outlay on equipment must be truly enormous), the usual pottery and wood turning, some rather nice jewellery making – but then I’m a sucker for a pair of statement ear-rings, and one poor lonely little weaver – the reason I persevered through everything else.

This poor girl was given such bad advice from a ‘textile Designer and Entrepeneur’ who clearly didn’t actually know the first thing about weaving – my heart went out to her, but she seemed to go away happy. Perhaps it was just my cynical inner weaver who was appalled?

What this brought home to me though, was the fact that there are not many people out there who actually understand our craft, or what makes us tick as weavers, or indeed how much work goes into creating a single handwoven item, from beginning to make the warp right through to the final flick of the fringe twister.

My own approach to weaving is deeply conventional – from choice – and, dare I say, even academic – also from choice. That is just the way I am. The subject in the programme produced, as one of her example pieces a beautiful pure wool, twill blanket with a very attractive plaid design. Her mentor told her that it was boring – not in so many words you understand, but the inference was clear.

Her second piece was a scarf, also twill, in a collection of pastel colours – he said that her palette was too broad and she should limit the number of colours. There was no mention of practical advice like if she put up a warp long enough for three scarves and changed the weft colour and the treadling she would get three different pieces from the same warp.

She was working on a sixteen shaft table loom – using only four of the shafts. A sixteen shaft loom is an expensive piece of equipment and shows her commitment to her craft, but it is not the quickest weave on the planet. There was no suggestion that if she could afford a good second hand floor loom that it would make a better production option.

The whole thing was a total farce, and it made me so mad because it didn’t give the viewer any insight at all into our craft. Let’s face it, weaving has been around for thousands of years, and we are all exposed to it in every aspect of our daily lives. If the textiles that we use were woven at the pace of a single scarf at a time we would still be wearing grass skirts and sleeping on animal skins. What made me the most angry though, was that it gave the viewer no insight into weaving at all. Apart from the fact that the weaver in question was given no guidance of any value, the people watching the programme were given a very skewed view of the craft of handweaving.

How terribly sad that the makers of the series simply didn’t do enough homework on the subject, to promote what is such a special, accessible and fascinating craft.

From my side though, it is encouraging to see what I believe is a growth in interest in weaving. As I start out tomorrow for my first workshop of the year, at the Alpaca Visitor’s Centre in Drumblade South of JHB, I find myself once again getting excited at the prospect of meeting potential new weavers.

This small weaving experience will be followed by another workshop at the Yarn Tree in Johannesburg, courtesy of Adrienne and Irene, and four days at Colourspun Studios in April, courtesy of Dana.

I love what I do. I find weaving relaxing, challenging, creative, stimulating, productive and fabulous in every respect. I find so much satisfaction in sharing my knowledge and my skill with other people who will, hopefully in turn share it with more people still. We don’t all do things the same way, and where I tend to examine the rules and foundations, other weavers will bend the rules and push the boundaries, and that is great too. There is room for both approaches and many more besides.

What I find incredibly difficult to deal with though, is when people who should know better (Shame on you Britbox!), relegate my craft to the back burner with a stifled yawn because they couldn’t be bothered to make even a minimum of effort to do enough research to begin to understand the complexities involved!

…… and that my weaving friends, is me on my soapbox in support of weaving!

Until next time – keep those shuttles flying!

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