STORY AND PHOTOS by Sara Jewell

Loom and yarn.
Warp and weft.
Heddle and shuttle.
Reed and shed.
Claire and Dawn. The two instructors of this day-long weaving workshop were friendly and enthusiastic as six women gathered inside the Barrachois Community Centre near Tatamagouche to be introduced to the pleasure, possibly the addiction, of weaving.

The terms were strange, and until we were actually working with the yarn, they made little sense. But by early afternoon, when Claire beamed and declared, “You are weaving!” We didn’t really need to know the terms of the process and the equipment; we were simply following the back-and-forth rhythm of our simple designs, letting the yarn and fabric guide our hands and our imaginations.

Faith Drinnan, owner of Sisterhood Fibres of Sand Point Road in Brule, offered this workshop as part of her summertime “Woolstock” Fibre Festival and as she welcomed us, she warned, “This is addictive. And lots of fun.”

Instructor Dawn Miller’s laughter attested to that. Dawn told us the story of how she got hooked on weaving. At a Sisterhood Fibres open house at Masstown just last year, she was waiting to talk to Faith when she sat down at a loom.

“I absolutely fell in love with weaving,” she said. “That experience convinced me I wanted to make the investment and I bought the loom I used that day.” After taking a workshop with Claire, she purchased a larger loom and now weaves tea towels and scarves, and is constantly trying new weaves and new fibres.

Apparently, Faith’s warning was not hyperbole.

A table loom holds a completed warp, pulled tight and ready for the weft to be woven in.

Our other instructor (and Faith’s niece), Claire Drinnan, has been weaving since she was five years old. Born and raised on Cape Breton Island, she spent her summers studying weaving at The Gaelic College.

Weaving workshop instructors Claire Drinnan and Dawn Miller with Sisterhood Fibres wool shop owner Faith Drinnan.

“I’m sure what attracted me from such a young age was the loom’s ability host your voice. You get to choose every thread, its colours, textures, the design of finished cloth into garment, so at every step you are able to express your sense of self and self reliance,” she explained later in an email.’

Like knitters and rug hookers, weavers are passionate about yarn and wool, and Claire currently is experimenting with locally grown fibres (including dog hair spun into yarn!).
According to the website, historyofclothing.com, flax weavings found in Egypt suggest humans have been weaving since around five thousand B.C. The first fibre was flax but wool came into use around two thousand B.C. Looms were in use by 700 A.D, and the industrial revolution in the 18th century saw weaving move from hands to machines and on a larger scale in factories.

For learning, however, our looms fit on the table in front of us and our balls of yarn rolled across the old wood floor as we concentrated on moving the shed forward and up or back and down in order to keep our warp threads going in the right direction.
“As relaxing as weaving is, everything is under a lot of tension,” Dawn pointed out to us. “Maintaining tension as we weave (but not too tight on the sides) allows us to create a fabric with the weave structure we are looking for, whether that is a firm, tightly woven fabric or one with more drape.”

Other than taking an introductory workshop, Faith Drinnan suggests watching “how to weave” and “how to make a loom out of a picture frame” videos online. Or, you can rent a tabletop loom for a month to try it out.

“There are a couple of reasons to rent,” she says. “One, you take a workshop and you’re all excited. Rather than spending hundreds of dollars on a loom, you’ve rented it for a month to see if it’s for you. The other thing is there are lots of different types of looms, so if you love to weave and want to continue, you might decide you need a wider loom or a floor loom.”

Even though the words were strange and the actions unfamiliar, as our looms revealed our first creations, there was a sense that we were simply half a dozen more weavers threading ourselves into the ancient fabric woven with time and tradition.

A selection of yarns to use for the weft, which is the under-and-over weaving between the warp threads.

 

WEAVING WORDS
Loom:
the frame, often wooden, onto which the warp threads are stretched and attached at opposite sides
Threads:
any kind of fibre (like yarn) used for weaving a fabric
Warp:
strong, tight threads stretched vertically onto the loom
Weft:
the threads that are woven from side to side through the warp
Reed:
resembles a comb and is part of a weaving loom used to separate and space the warp threads, guide the shuttle’s motion across the loom, and push the weft threads into place
Heddle:
one of a set of looped wires or cords in a loom, with an eye in the center through which a warp yarn is passed before going through the reed to control its movement and divide the threads
Shuttle:
a tool designed to carry the thread of the weft yarn while weaving
Shed:
an opening created by raising some warp threads so that a weft thread can pass over some warp threads and under others

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Sara Jewell
Sara Jewell admits that she related to this story of the quilt blocks in a weird way when she wrote about the topic of her Field Notes column. “If my friends sent me a pile of quilt blocks, I’d have no idea what to do with them!” All joking aside, since she has no skills with needles or textiles, Sara truly appreciates the tradition and the creativity of fibre arts, and was delighted to explore them as works of art.