When I weave, my immediate attention is on repeating actions I have done thousands of times. After lengthy preparation — dyeing, measuring, threading, tensioning — I sit on a smooth wooden bench almost inside my large floor loom. The taut warp is in front of me. Yarn for the weft is spread about on shuttles, on the table, on the floor. I have an idea in mind. I want to use the wool I’ve dyed with cochineal. I want to play with the broken twill motif I liked so much in the last rug. I want to make a rug with a light background.
The design evolves as I work. I start in a direction, which then changes and grows. What are my choices, my limits? What degree of symmetry or asymmetry will be pleasing? When do I want one portion of a rug to mirror another? How will I achieve balance this time? Will that bright flash be too much or add sparkle?
Each project starts at the warping board, where strands of linen are measured to the length required. Knots are tied around the warp bundle to keep the strands from getting tangled. The warp is taken to the loom and left lying across the front bench. It is spread to the width of the project and secured to the back beam before winding on under tension.
After the warp is wound onto the beam, individual threads are selected and threaded through the heddle eyes. When the threading is completed, all threads are sleyed (pulled) through the reed. Small groups are secured by knots to keep the threads from slipping out of the reed.
The warp ends are tied in groups to the apron bar. Now is the most critical step: both time and attention are required to detect slight differences in tension and establish a uniformly taut warp. A heading of thicker weight yarn is used to spread the warp evenly. I then put in a row of double twining to provide a strong edge for the finished rug.
I wind wooden shuttles with wool yarn I have previously dyed, and begin.
Unwind enough yarn from the shuttle. Step down on the treadles. Throw and catch the shuttle. Check the edge tension. Create slack in the weft to go evenly over and under the rigid warp. Lift weight from the treadles. Grasp the center of the beater and lean backwards, pulling the beater forward against the fell of the weaving. Release the beater. Step down. Repeat. Repeat again. Let my body absorb all the details and create that motion again. Pay attention. Stop paying so much attention. Repeat.
The design keeps evolving. The idea in my mind changes again. Periodically I unwind the woven cloth from the front beam so I can see the entire work.
After ending with another row of double twining, I cut off this rug and secure the warp ends at the loom. More finishing work is completed off the loom to make a secure binding on each end.
A very special thank you to Ron Hammond, who has given me permission to use these photographs from his show, “The Work of the Weavers.” Please visit his site, Green Man Photography, to see more of his wonderful images.