CNCHnet . . . The Textile Arts Webzine of the Conference of Northern California Handweavers

Room with a Loom

Four moves ago my loom had its own room. Cloud grey walls with white wainscoting, low pile dove grey carpet, a bookshelf, comfortable chair and plenty of easily accessible storage—I designed that room myself, and I loved it. The transom-like windows provided the perfect amount of light and gave a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean, but their location near the ceiling kept everything safe from fading. The loom, set right in the middle of the room begged to used.

So I wove a lot. Right?

The Loom in a room

The Loom in a room

Not really. Work and life required that I travel regularly. About every two weeks I packed a suitcase and boarded an airplane. When I found myself with a few hours to weave, I would climb the winding stairs to my loft only to find I’d neglected to mark my place in the pattern, or worse, made a note so cryptic I had no idea what it meant. I’d end up spending valuable time figuring things out again—unweaving, reweaving, and just when I found a rhythm, it would be time to leave again.

Three moves ago my loom was in the “great room”.  When we first looked at the house I stood in the middle of this room and patiently explained to my husband and the horrified realtor that having a counter top bar that seats two, three steps from a dining room table that seats six, two steps away from a table that seats four—I did the math for them—twelve places to sit down and eat for two people is a ridiculous waste of space and an affront to my highly developed design sensibilities. My husband, without missing a beat, calmly pointed to the table for four and said, “We’ll put your loom here.”

We bought the house.

I was convinced this space, 2000 miles from the Pacific Ocean, with its view of a spindly tree and the neighbors back porch, would never live up to its name, but the day I commandeered the large walk in pantry (three steps from the loom) for my yarn, books and tools my mood started to lift. It was like having my very own miniature yarn shop. I could, I thought, get used to this. One day, I gathered up a few spools of yarn and put them on them loom bench. Stepping back to see how they looked together, I found myself squinting and looking around for a light switch. Even in broad daylight the windows, designed to keep out the hot southern sun, afforded little natural light and the ubiquitous ceiling fan combination light was useless.

I ordered a lamp.

Even so, after the trauma of the move I had trouble getting started on a project. After listening to me complain for far too long, my friend and fellow weaver, Dotti Day, suggested I buy a kit—a pre-measured, hand dyed scarf warp. At first I balked, wasn’t that cheating? Dotti told me to get over myself—which was exactly what I needed. I wove the scarf and sent it to my mother who promptly called to ask for a set of placemats. “No problem,” I said, as I opened the pantry door.

Two moves ago my loom was the spare bedroom. This small room, in a high rise apartment overlooking the Missouri River, also contained my desk, computer, favorite chair and a bookshelf. When I sat down to read my knees bumped against the loom bench. If I pulled my desk chair out too far it knocked into the winding crank. My yarn stash was 25 floors below in a storage unit, the warping wheel in pieces in the bathtub.

Gradually the surfaces of the loom became piled high with stacks of bills and magazines, the front beam, close to the closet, was draped with clothes, the back beam, by the bathroom became an annex of the linen closet. My beautiful black, dual bulb, articulating work lamp drooped like a wilting flower over the littered high castle having lost a critical screw in the move. The vibration of the truck jiggled it loose the moving man told me, swept the floor, can’t find it, he said. Easy enough to get a new one at the hardware store, he assured me.

Actually, it wasn’t easy at all. Moving three times in five years had left me distracted and overwhelmed. I’d forget about the broken lamp for days only to remember it just as I was falling asleep. I’d lie there, hopelessly awake, railing against the moving man, as if it were his fault, eventually dissolving into tears. The next morning even contemplating going to the hardware store made my head want to explode. The screw was lost, and apparently, so was I.

A few months ago we moved again, this time back towards the Pacific Ocean. Standing in another crowded spare bedroom holding another box of yarn, it occurred to me If I gave up my loom and everything weaving related—all of it, the books, the yarn, the tools—I would gain the one thing I most wanted: Space.

Suddenly light headed, my heart racing, I put the box down and leaned against the wall. I looked over at my loom standing so elegantly, patiently, in the corner. I considered the thirty years I’d spent learning a craft, honing my skills with each warp wound on and woven off—the wedding shawl I made for my sister, countless scarves and placemats for family and friends. I remembered the note I received last Christmas from a parishioner appreciative of the yearly appearance of the Advent paraments I wove twenty years ago. My heart filled with gratitude for all the extraordinary, smart, kind and generous people I’ve met through workshops and guild meetings: the deep and lasting friendships I cherish to this day. I felt the simple thrill of knowing the difference between a treadle and a heddle, the pride of being a part of a tradition that dates back thousands of years. Me. I do this. I am a weaver.

Yesterday I put a couple of vintage Handwoven magazines in my stack of bedside reading. This morning I caught myself daydreaming about weft brocade. Just now I googled pre-measured warps. Small steps, I know, but it’s a start. Oh, and tomorrow, first thing, I’m off to the hardware store. I need to find that darn screw.

Jennifer Libby Fay is a contemporary textile artist. Her award-winning, atmospheric, textile paintings have been shown in select exhibitions in California, Washington State, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Arkansas. She was named a “Women to Watch” by the National Museum of Women in the Arts Arkansas State Committee. When she is not dyeing fabric in her San Rafael, California studio she can be found unpacking boxes and contemplating her next weaving project. To learn more about her work please visit www.jenniferlibbyfay.com. You can contact her at jlfay@jenniferlibbyfay.com.

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