One of the coolest things about weaving is that it is generally understood to have emerged at similar times in many different geographical locations around the world. People weave in different ways, for different purposes, and in different conditions. Learning from other weavers has been one of the most valuable experiences to my weaving practice. Since I expect most of us won't be traveling much in the near future, I figured it was a good time to share some of my most meaningful travel experiences.
I've had the opportunity to go to to Mexico, India, Morocco, Europe, and many places in the US and Canada to learn from weaving experts. I’m going to share what I’ve learned along the way.
When you don't speak the language, it's really tempting to just stare at all the amazing weavers. The problem is, there is a certain amount of time that feels reasonable to watch, and after that is over (I start feeling a bit awkward after about 5 minutes) it seems the only reasonable thing to do is move along.
I found one of the best ways to extend a visit and learn more was to jump in as an assistant. In Morocco, there was a group of weavers that were working on fly shuttle looms at an alarming pace. I didn’t feel right interupting them to ask questions, but I wanted to watch and see how they did things. In terrible french I offered to help wind pirns (their version of bobbins) using their huge (but amazingly efficient) bike wheel mock up. Turns out I wind a pretty decent pirn and they let me stay and try out their looms too. Unfortunately I don’t throw a great fly shuttle so I was kept on the pirns!
At first I was hesitant to take up the time of busy weavers. I felt like just another tourist distracting them from their work. Turns out, most of the weavers were really excited to meet a Canadian weaver! After a few interactions, I realized that it wasn't all take, I had something to GIVE too. It can be tricky trying to communicate with a language barrier, but it isn't impossible. In many situations in Morocco, I had no Arabic, and most of the weavers had little-no English, so we were both trying to communicate in French which was not great for either of us. The good thing about weaving is that so much of it can be communicated without any language at all. In the above image, I am learning a special weaving knot from Youseph that he learned as a child. After he taught me, I shared with him how I tie on the loom with a surgeons knot. I also helped him to lower his bench so it was more ergonomic. Even though Youseph is a lifelong weaver who drills holes in cards himself to make the patterns on his handmade Jacquard-like loom, I still had a little something to contribute.
Many weavers in North America are fortunate enough to have access to the weaving tools that they need. This isn't always the case in many of the places I visited. Most of the looms I saw in India, and all of the looms I saw in Morocco were handmade, often by the weaver themselves. Popular scrap materials include toothpicks, bike parts, string, and sticks of all kinds.
In the image below you can see a smooth and efficient bobbin winder made from an old bench turned upside down, a bike wheel, and some leather scraps tied together. The bobbin winder was made by the weaver Mustapha. Since the bobbin winder needed his loom bench, he moved him loom back and now weaves perched on the window sill.
I remember once for a project making about 30 string heddles because I had not planned well. I got very grumpy. My perspective is different now for sure. Have you ever been in a weaving situation where necessity was the mother of invention?
I was lucky enough to have a translator in the small town of Sefrou, where I had the opportunity to speak with Mustapha (see above image). He was excited to talk to another weaver and we shared weaving knowledge and stories. He told me that in Arabic, the warping mill is called the “heart,” because without a good warp, the weaving has no life. I think about that now when I use my mill. The translator told me that Mustapha was difficult to translate because he speaks in so many metaphors. Weaving is full of metaphors! How could he not?
I'll share a couple of my favourite quotes from that conversation:
"We are all from the same warp, we all breath the same air."
"Visiting with another weaver is like a small piece of delicious cheese"
"You have to eat sheep to operate this loom!" (referring to how heavy the beater was)
Have you seen weaving at all in your travels? If money/time/coronavirus were no object, where would you go? Angela and I would love to hear about your weaving-travel adventures!