Healing Blanket

At home, outside on my deck, I was fighting with tripod and wantonly moving sunlight to photograph items for the upcoming WeaveCast auction. I was trying to channel my inner Joe Coca and find the perfect way to drape Laura Fry’s linen tea towels around a glass tea cup.

The doorbell rang. Thinking it must be the UPS guy, I leaned the tripod against a table and opened the door to find: Laura Fry.

It was a surreal moment.

Like listening to a Jimmy Hendrix CD and then having him knock on your door (okay, without the creepy guitarist-risen-from-the-dead thing.)

To put this in context. Laura was down from Canada, and we had talked about the possibility of her staying with me for a day or two while she was in town. Those plans had changed, and I had put it out of my mind. But here she was, as if summoned by my need for her to tell me how best to photograph her work. I explained what I was doing and asked for her advice. With a few practiced crumples she turned my flat and uninspiring tableau into something Handwoven-worthy.

Then she said, “How about I show you how I warp a loom?”

Make that: listening to a Jimmy Hendrix CD and then he shows up at your door (minus creepy dead guy stuff) and says, “how about we jam for a while, and I’ll show you how to do my favorite riffs?”

I was gob-smacked. There were at least three occasions during the day when I found myself literally slack-jawed and had to remember to close my mouth. (Apologizes to Laura, I must have seemed rather witless that day.)

This was four days before my surgery, and I had pulled out a few pre-wound warps to consider. I’d had this dream of putting a beautiful warp on the loom to weave off during my convalescence. But with all the “things that must get done before surgery” it was one of those things there wasn’t going to be time for.

And then fate sent me a Laura Fry.

She looked at the warps I’d pulled out: painted rayon chenille, soysilk, and a random-striped wool. She advised me to do the wool. It would be easiest on my body, with pressing instead of beating the weft into place.

Turns out Laura Fry was the perfect person to help me set up my loom. The thing about being a production weaver, and supporting your family at the loom, is: you don’t get sick days. If you’re in a traffic accident or throw out your back, you need to find ways to keep weaving.

She showed me how to warp my loom back-to-front, using a rough-sleyed reed as a raddle. This was something I’d never done before, and solved the question “how can I find a raddle fine enough to BTF-warp find threads.) Aside from that, there was nothing revolutionary—except—all the little tweaks and refinements that she’d learned over 30+ years of weaving. It’s hard to describe how turning your hand from this way to that way makes a huge difference in how easily and fast something goes on. But when you experience it, it’s like a revelation.

This is why weaving teachers are so important. Weaving books don’t give you the essential minutia of weaving. Videos can’t look at you and provide feedback: “try doing it this way.”

Important things I took away from this lesson:

  • Rough-sleying a reed makes a great raddle.
  • How to hold the shuttle while beating to minimize draw-in
  • Tie-up the treadles so you use two feet to raise the shafts (half on one foot, half on the other) to make it easier on your body
  • My chair was waaay too short. I needed a higher seat for good ergonomics and comfort at the loom.
  • Weavers are an amazingly generous bunch, and sometimes give you so much support and care that it leaves you speechless.

Most of these lessons are demonstrated in Laura Fry’s CD weaver. The last, you’ll have to meet her in person to know.

It took me a week after surgery to feel up to the loom. But when I was ready, there it was, waiting for me. A warp of beautiful blues and greens. The sett was 8 epi, and my beat varied from 6-8 ppi, depending on how I was feeling. It took three days to weave off, and acted as a barometer of how I was feeling: six inches the first day, a yard the second, seven-and-a-half yards the third.

I cut it off the loom, seamed it up the middle, fulled it in the washing machine with some jeans, then brushed it with an old back scrub brush. It is the most soft, lovely, cozy throw ever. (It was supposed to be a Queen-sized blanket. It ended up as a lap blanket and lots of extra cloth. Measure twice, cut once. That’s all I’m gonna say…)

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If you’ve ever looked at Harrisville Highland or Shetland wool on the cone and thought: “Ew, that’s so prickly. Yuck!” Let me just tell you that it weaves up cushy-soft. What you’re feeling on the cone is processed so it’ll be strong on the loom. When you wash it it blooms and is delightful. I have delicate Irish skin (baby alpaca makes me itch) and I luurv this blanket.

Now here’s the question. See the oh-so-refined yellow serged edge? I want to cover that with a binding. After reveling in the handcrafted glory of this blanket, I don’t want to slap a machine-made binding on there. I want to weave my own.

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My current thoughts (after a quick stash consultation) are: either 6/2 cotton in a blue that matches exactly one of the threads in the blanket or a 140/2 silk in a mint green that I thought I’d never have a use for.

Weave structures I’m considering: plain weave (simple, strong, goodness), 2/2 twill (for a flexible, bias-like binding) or a diamond-twill (because I love diamonds in weaving.)

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