I was enjoying teaching, writing, and directing plays for children, but I felt as if the world owned every piece of me. I needed to do something creative that I could do for and by myself, that didn’t depend on anyone else’s schedule, needs, wants, or wishes. I thought about painting, which would fit into my tightly scheduled life, but when I painted, what came out of my fingers can only be described as ferschtunkenah, a word I made up, that sounded like my paintings looked—awful. But, the urge to make something was too strong to ignore. Ceramics was out. Too messy in a small house, with no place to store or use clay. I had no money to invest in jewelry-making, even if I had the talent, which was doubtful.
A friend told me about a weaver with a great sense of humor who was going to teach at the Delaware Arts Center. “She could even teach you,” grinned my friend. I was so desperate to find a creative outlet, something just for me. I signed up. I had never thought about weaving but the course wasn’t expensive and it fit my schedule.
The weaving teacher focused on process. Eleven of the twelve of us who signed up wanted to weave placemats. They were unhappy. I reveled in the freedom of process and looked forward to learning more. Toward the end of the course, only four sessions of which focused on weaving techniques, the eleven placemat weavers quit and the remaining sessions were cancelled. As important as the few weaving techniques I learned, was the realization I couldn’t weave on a traditional loom with moving parts that clanged as the shuttles and heddles and treadles went up and down, in and out—the feet doing one thing, hands doing another, and who knows about the mind.
Coincidently, a man who lived in my community asked if I’d befriend his wife, a professional weaver from Norway. I found her difficult and wasn’t surprised when he told me his wife had left him. He said he’d had a loom made for her that she’d never used, a tapestry loom, essentially a big picture frame with no moving parts. I asked to borrow it. Even warping (the vertical threads on a loom) was different. Unlike a conventional loom, where warping is a continual process, with equal tension until you have the length of warp needed to make the finished product, I had to put each piece of yarn on separately and tie it off. My warp was sometimes four and a half feet long and about five feet high. By the time I finished warping, the threads I put on first had loosened so I had to tighten them, but I was never able to make the tension on the warp threads consistent. I learned to accept and use the varying tension in the warp. When a weaver takes off a piece from a conventional loom the weaving is flat unless the weaver has added texture. When I take a weaving off, the uneven warp tension creates texture and is never flat. I had to learn to enjoy my imperfections as a weaver working on a less than perfect loom.
After I put my first warp on the loom and began weaving, I realized I didn’t want to give the loom back, despite its funky design. It had been made by a carpenter who’d never seen a weaver weave. The loom had no lateral stability, no vertical strength, and the roller had no stops. No wonder my friend’s wife never used it, yet it was perfect for me. No moving parts. No clanging noise. No stress. I asked if I could buy it.
“You have no money,” he said, which was true. We settled on a can of cookies, a loaf of bread, and a weaving. It took some years before he got his weaving; we became friends.
I turned the loom around, stored my yarns on the roller, and figured out how to stabilize the loom laterally, and strengthen it vertically. Using the four techniques I learned in 1968, I continue to weave quietly, slowly, with fingers and a fork, choosing handspun yarn with texture, creating patterns as I work. If I don’t like what I’ve woven I unweave. If I like what I’m weaving I keep going. If I run out of one kind of yarn, I find ways to incorporate other yarn. I weave without a plan, without expectation or schedule. The process is slow. There is no way to weave fast on my loom. If I feel speeded up inside myself, as soon as I begin to weave, my inner world slows down. I’m focused on color and design and texture. For the moment weaving is my world—a respite from problems and pressures.
Before I even made my first weaving I decided I would weave to please myself. If people liked what I wove, fine. If they didn’t, fine. I refused to take commissions or sell what I made. Instead, I give weavings to friends and family. Although I couldn’t paint with paint, I ended up learning to paint with yarn.
What is it that you do for yourself? For your satisfaction? Free from others’ comments?
Nancy King is a widely published author and a professor emerita at the University of Delaware, where she has taught theater, drama, playwriting, creative writing, and multidisciplinary studies with an emphasis on world literature. She has published seven previous works of nonfiction and five novels. Her new memoir, Breaking the Silence, explores the power of stories in healing from trauma and abuse. Her career has emphasized the use of her own experience in being silenced to encourage students to find their voices and to express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with authenticity, as a way to add meaning to their lives.