WEAVING A LIFE
Faye taking a weaving class at John C. Campbell Folk School
Helen Blackshear, a wonderful woman I had the privilege of knowing for several decades, told me once that when she passed her eightieth birthday, she decided she wasn’t going to be afraid of anything anymore. “I’ve outlived my life expectancy, so from here on out, everything is a gift. I won’t let fear take away my joy.” I’m not yet eighty, but I’m trying to take on her way of thinking.
When I went to Berry College, a work/study college in 1957, I was afraid of everything. I was always afraid I wouldn’t measure up, that I wouldn’t know all the social rules that would allow me to attend parties, that I’d never be smart enough to pass college courses.
This fear even included my first work assignment—the weaving crew. The girls in that cavernous, gothic room, with stained glass windows and stone floors, actually wove fabric—towels, blankets, napkins, placemats, tablecloths—on antique contraptions called looms. It was a magic I was drawn to. But I soon learned that those looms had to be “warped,” meaning that hundreds of threads had to be measured and threaded with absolute accuracy through lease sticks, heddles, and dents, rolled onto warp beams, and then tied on to the cloth beam with proper tension in every thread. All this under the strict supervision of an impatient, perfectionist supervisor who pounced on any mistake. Mrs. “Conner” also had low tolerance for conversation among the weavers, and us girls who were doing the grunt work of hemming and pressing the finished pieces, sweeping up lint, and dusting learned that silence was the only safety. “Too much talking,” she was bound to hiss anytime we dared begin a conversation. Laughing was especially repugnant to her standards, so some days we fell asleep while hemming a single thread to the appropriate single thread of the body of the piece. Sometimes, when eagle eye Conner would inspect my work I would have to pull out twelve inches or so and start over.
A few girls were selected to conduct visitors through the showroom of finished woven items. Of course, these were attractive, poised girls who presented a good image. Needless to say, I didn’t make the cut. I’m sure I had opportunities to learn weaving—and I was interested—but never to a degree that I was willing to risk Mrs. Conner’s critical eye and tongue. So I went through two semesters doing nothing but hemming. But let me be fair and add that I learned to hem! I can put in an even, invisible hem in the most expensive garments I have ever owned.
Even though I never got the courage to brave Mrs. Conner, I found I could not shake my interest in weaving. Over the years since college, I’ve had opportunities to take classes, but I always talked myself out of it. After all, I didn’t own a loom, didn’t have a room to devote to weaving, and so what would I do with the skill after I’d mastered it?
Then six years ago, I attended “Berry Work Week,” an annual event in which alumni, their spouses, their children, and—sometimes grandchildren—go to Berry for a week of living in dorms and doing volunteer labor. Guess what— there was a weaving crew headed up by Berry alum and former weaving room girl, Joy Johnson I didn’t know Joy—she graduated years after me. So, for all I knew, she might be worse than Conner ever was. But, I told myself, I could always quit.
No, I couldn’t!
Joy turned out to be a match for her name—an absolute joy and a woman with the patience of Job. She was wise—first she drew me in with the “play” part—weaving table runners on an already-warped loom. It was wonderful! It soothed out all my worries. Joy told me that my selvedges were excellent. I was hooked.
There followed a weekend visit with Joy, during which she took me through the entire process of warping a loom. To my surprise, I found a kind of satisfaction in the step-by-step progression of tasks. My husband noticed and thought that weaving was a wonderful hobby. Soon Joy called to tell me of a small collapsible “Baby Wolf” loom that was for sale at a very good price.
Now I own that loom and I’m actually “dressing” it for different projects. Each successful project leads to yet another challenge. My courage to learn weaving came late, but better late than never.
By the way, I have become much more willing now to defy fear and risk failure in other matters. And, yes, I am willing to risk being yelled at sometimes.
Take that, Mrs. Conner!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized
. Bookmark the permalink