loomer and weavers
More often than I expect, visitors to the studio will refer to me as the 'loomer' and to my looms as 'weavers'. I have days when I wish for nothing more than to loom over these maple and metal instruments while they magically come to life and do their own weaving work but most days I am happy to be the weaver who has the privilege of getting to know these quirky looms with their particular shimmy, clatter and flow.
Each loom has come to me by way of another weaver and in that exchange, much can be supposed about how the loom will perform in the company of my hands. These are living tools, made mostly of wood, and their past has everything to do with how we'll go about finding our own rhythm.
My first loom was sitting in the back corner of a galactic Goodwill in San Jose when I first laid my eyes on her, guts laid out on the floor in front of the cloth beam. Grey water stains on the left feet told me that she was likely forgotten in a basement when the rains were heavy but not prolonged. Macomber stamped into metal validated provenance. All else was in working order, despite being separate from the body, and I could also see that she'd made some cloth, this beauty, though not for many years. I imagined that her weaver had likely grown older, maybe even moved, and some family member or landlord had no idea what this strange tool could do, only that it was heavy and relegated to the same haul as unwanted furniture. I cleaned her up, waxed the wood and had my first warp dressed and under tension in less than forty-eight hours of our arrival home. It took a few days to really get to clean weaving, inches free of hiccups from rusty joints and unpracticed rhythm. Looms want to be used, looms want to be weavers, and when they're of daily use you can literally feel their pride.
I bought my second loom from a woman who lived on a majestic ranch in the hills East of San Diego. Her husband had been a lifelong Hewlett-Packard developer and they had found their ground and peace in a retreat of dirt roads, scrub sage and horses- many, many horses. We met for the first time as I climbed into her car at the airport. Marcie Westby. I liked her name and I thought it very unlikely that I would be kidnapped or maimed by a fellow weaver so I'd agreed to this Craigslist hook-up. We ate chicken salad heaped on fluffy croissants while sitting on her patio watching hawks touch down by a shallow pond as her six dogs tried to win table scraps, each in their own begging way.
As we waited for her husband to help us load the loom into the truck, we swapped favorite weaving drafts, toured her new spinning wheel and talked about their move up North. They'd finally sold the land that week and were ready for smaller quarters, less upkeep, less loom. They'd raised their family on this land and I could see the mix of grief and relief as she described their new retirement community with new friends to make and new hobbies to hone. She followed me down their mile-long drive and waved for me to stop before pulling the truck onto the highway. I'd forgotten to show her the cloth samples I'd brought along as promise of a well-intentioned future for her loom. We unwrapped the brown paper package on the hood of the truck and spent another half hour looking through the twills and tabby as I told her the story of Sally Fox. She gave me her blessing and a hug and I drove the eleven hours home.
In the weeks that followed, and with careful assembly guided by Marcie's masking tape and numbered map, I was weaving on this sturdy machine, working through the kinks of loom error versus weaver error; left selvedge looks like hell, harness 15 is skipping, the shed is too small, the shed is too steep. Yes, I was coming to know the loom but I was also coming to know Marcie from a trove of detail she'd left behind: a digital counter fixed to the right side beam and no longer counting, a missing harness stay replaced by purple twine and tied into a perfect bow, worn finish above the reed where her hands took turns beating the cloth, patterns left static on old dobby chains. These details show use. These clues add up to a weaver who took the time to know her loom and imbue it with ingenuity and preference and who'd now chosen me to do the same, building on her story of who the loom wanted to be and slowly making it my own.
My most recent acquisition followed a very similar courtship with a web alert, a promising phone call and a booked flight to Phoenix, Arizona. Kathy Foster. I liked her name, too, and she was a more challenging sell as there were others in line alongside me. With a 'wingspan' of twelve feet, this loom asks much in the way of accommodation and she needed to know that it would be dutifully appointed and employed as a real weaver, day in and day out. We talked for an hour, narrating our weaving journeys and feeling out the fit. Four days later, she picked me up at the airport and took me to her winter house in Mesa where she served me roasted chicken on gluten free buns with homegrown cherry juice from her orchard in Washington and mixed with Fresca for fizz.
I had just enough time to take these photos of Kathy removing her last warp before we were joined by her best friend in disassembling the loom. The rest of our time together was filled with storytelling and laughing and hauling but this brief moment, this final act, was quiet and routine. She untied the cloth from the apron, cut the remaining warp threads and set the work aside.