Toika Looming

Weaving, in observation and practice, has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. One of the few vague memories of my childhood is the visual memory of lying next to my mom’s big floor loom, watching her pass the shuttle back and forth from below.

Fast forward 31 or 32 years. I decided to start weaving and my mom gave me a Christmas-Birthday-Christmas-Birthday present (literally, it was my present for the next 2 years of gifts) of a Harrisville 8-shaft jack loom. I taught myself how to weave and one of the first projects I completed was a commissioned table-runner with 20/2 cotton. I loved every moment of the experience of weaving that piece and decided to backtrack a bit and took a weaving course at Lambspun in Ft. Collins, CO to “learn the how-to properly.”

I was just out of college and working at a credit union in Laramie, WY and had very little money at that time. Just affording the cost of the course was a big deal, so I had to be very modest in my choice of materials. I chose basic cotton in a few colors and decided to focus on weave structure rather than material to stave off the perceptual despair of financial limitation. Meanwhile, the other women in the course were buying all kinds of lovelies (Lambspun is a smorgasbord for the fiber-holic) and I was surrounded by what I perceived to be more creative, more innately talented folks.

One woman in particular was throwing her wallet at the loom in an unsuccessful effort to align materials with vision. Her frustration was abundantly evident by the end of the first day. Meanwhile, I proceeded with my pauper’s choice of cotton … purple, red, golden-yellow, and hunter’s green. When I arrived for the start of the second day of the course there was a buzz about the room. I settled my things and turned to find a gathering of women around me. The instructor, Shirley, came forward with a bag full of goodies and said that the woman who had tried so hard to come to grips with weaving had decided to leave the course – and left all of her materials for me! (She didn’t provide contact information, but I arranged with Shirley to forward a note of boundless inexpressible gratitude to her.) I was stunned. That bag represented a fortune of material and a much greater gift of belief in my potential. It was the first message of ”You go, girl!” that I received from unexpected sources.

I went home and continued to cultivate all things weaving. Yet more books on weaving techniques, spinning, tools, etc. Then, around 2006, I took the plunge and bought a 16-harness Toika from WEBS. I was in love. I still remember the day that beauty arrived on a huge pallet drop-shipped from Finland. I set it up in a dedicated room and oohed and aahed, running my hands over it, dreaming of what I could make. I bought weaving kits utilizing different weaving techniques. I purchased fibers for future projects and carefully marked them with the intended project information, I bought more books, I read voraciously. I moved to Humboldt County, California.

In CA, I had a loom room with all things weaving. Materials, gorgeous tools, books, all centralized and adored. I discovered ever more fibers and tools, and, and, and … I received another message of validation from the Universe during my travels to my second hometown of Philadelphia to assist my grandmother in closing her house. While there I met one of the neighbors who was shifting her creative energies away from weaving and had already downsized her studio. The next day she arrived on my grandmother’s porch with a bag of the most extraordinary cache of silk hanks in what I termed ”Monet’s garden” of colors. There were so many, and so much of each. I was dazed and stunned by her generosity.  My eyes glazed over and my mind churned with possibilities.

When I returned to CA, my cultivation of all things weaving continued. I joined the fiber guild in Eureka. And I loved my Toika. Then my mom offered the gift of the computer conversion for the loom and I could feel the realm of possibilities expanding. Barbara and Art Elkins of WEBS even traveled to Humboldt County to help me set up the conversion – at no cost – part of the fabulous service offered by that company. I was out on the tarmac, positioning for takeoff.

I traded spaces with the master bedroom and loom room. The master bedroom was by far a larger room and allowed for more expansive work space, to include my sewing machines and a work surface. I wanted the loom to be in contact with me, and as I passed through the room all the time on the way to the bathroom, it was more omnipresent in my visual environment. Then, I moved it into the living room where it was the first thing I saw when I came in the front door. It was fully visible from the kitchen. It was closer to the hub of the house. It was more intimate. It was always there. I was living with it.

And here’s the rub. During all of this time, I was. not. weaving. Not a thread. Not a single pass of the shuttle. I never put a single warp on that beloved Toika.

Then my life fell apart and I entered the sometimes extreme hormonal and mental murk of perimenopause tumbling into menopause (still in the tumble, in all honesty. Although, the aforementioned insanity might suggest I was already there.) For more personal reasons than I care to go into, I was careening out of control. In the middle of all of this upheaval, and precisely in reaction to it, I had the genius idea to re-marry and move to Germany. I sold everything. The Toika went, accouterments and all – by then worth many thousands – to my mother who has been gleefully and prolifically weaving on it ever since. If I’m not mistaken, it is now her favorite loom. I sold all of my other equipment, fibers, yarns, most of my library, – everything – in a studio sale. Word of the quality of the sale spread like wildfire in the Humboldt weaving community. People showed up in batches to pick through my excesses and walk away with incredible bargains. I felt lighter with every sale. I was becoming free. The shuttle of guilt was passing out of the warp of my life.

But still, weaving haunted me. I permitted myself to bring only 4 boxes of books with me to Germany. Of those, one was all weaving. I was still obsessed. Not surprisingly, my ill-advised marital relationship fell apart with me in rage at myself for the damage I had inflicted on my life. And through it all, weaving echoed.

Quite by accident, through Facebook posts about various fiber arts, I started really looking at contemporary tapestry weaving. Joan Baxter and Maximo Laura emerged as early sources of incredible inspiration, followed in short order by many others. Sarah Swett, Gabriela Cristu, Eva Ek, Susan Martin Maffei, Rebecca Mezoff, Joan Griffin, Barbara BurnsGerda van Hamond, Thoma EwenElizabeth Buckley, (the list goes on and on, but you get the idea)… Wait! Back the Fun-Bus up! Rebecca Mezoff offers online courses in tapestry weaving! Very consciously, questioning my commitment at every step, I dipped my toes in the water. And it was fine and lovely. I finished the first course. I signed up for the second. I am weaving every day. I am obsessed. Weaving was always it for me, I just hadn’t discovered my medium within the craft. Now, I have. My soul is fueled.

Not only have I taxied out on the tarmac, I have taken flight with my wheels just now lifting off. I have a long, exciting journey in front of me and I am embracing the process at every step. I am flying into the unknown of the creative landscape. At the junctures where I question “will I be any good?” or battle with the eternal “I can’t” of my life, I remind myself that I am only at the beginning. Page one. Just breathe. I have given myself permission to fail and that is a success in of itself. In so doing, I sprouted butterfly wings. (I wonder how many tapestry weavers will catch that pun?)

I am weaving on the Harrisville Jack loom, but it is not my primary focus. I also still have the silks from Nicole and will use them in my tapestry explorations.

 

 

 

 

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