Weaving for pleasure

Last Thursday, I learnt to weave.  Not a splendid rug with intricate and richly coloured motifs.  Not a cosy scarf in soft heathery colours in subtle, muted stripes.  Not even a simple table mat, plain but serviceable.

No, I wove a ….. er, thing.  A ‘thing’ I have yet to find a use for (Mobile phone mat? Drugget for a pet mouse?). But I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  I rather resented the fact that because I was on a course, I was time-limited, and had to finish and tidy up just as I was getting into my stride.


This course, you might guess, was at Fountains Abbey, where I’ve volunteered to be part of a new project.  The idea is to open up Swanley Grange, once an abbey farm (since 1358 in fact) but in more recent years the Education building.

The aim is to create the ‘feel’ of a monastic farm space as visitors enter the sheep-field/grange area and to help them make connections between the grange network and the abbey. Until now, there’s been little to highlight the importance of the wool trade to the expansion of the abbey.

Over winter, the building has been redeveloped inside, and outside there have been very exciting happenings.  There’s a ‘mediaeval style’ vegetable garden, just waiting to be planted up with mediaeval-style vegetables (kale, beans, leeks, that sort of thing.  Potatoes, courgettes and tomatoes need not apply).  Traditional cleft fencing will enclose a flock of sheep, just like the old days, and there’ll be chickens, and bees in mediaeval-style skeps.

Beekeeping, tacuinum sanitatis casanatensis (14th century) (Wikimedia commons)
Beekeeping, tacuinum sanitatis casanatensis (14th century) (Wikimedia Commons)

The volunteers will be keeping an eye on the animals, and with the help of the gardeners, maintaining the vegetable plots.  Most of us who’ve volunteered feel quite comfortable with that.  But most of us who’ve volunteered are less comfortable with mediaeval crafts.

Spinning with a distaff....
Spinning with a distaff….

So the other day we learnt to spin wool, first of all using a distaff, then a spinning wheel.  I don’t think I’ve found a new hobby.  Teasing out the raw, though washed wool, keeping the distaff turning, turning, to twist the wool into a useable fine thread seemed frustrating and, frankly, dull.  It was work that women did constantly, even when minding the children, walking, talking, working.  But you can find blogs written by those who enjoy it, even now it’s no longer an economic necessity.  The greater mechanisation of spinning seemed less tedious, but quite tricky, all the same.

... and with a spinning wheel.
… and with a spinning wheel.
A spot of carding.
A spot of carding.

We did a spot of carding, combing out wool into parallel, useable fibres ready for that all important spinning.  Even that was hard going, and we were glad to break for lunch.

And after lunch, there they were.  A collection of small table looms, the warp already prepared so we could get busy with the weft.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look here.

And we got busy. We learnt to like the rhythmic back-and-forth as we pushed our wool-laden shuttles through the warp threads.  I felt the need to get above myself, and try something just a little more complex.  Here it is.

A mini-masterpiece? Or an adequate first attempt ?
A mini-masterpiece? Or an adequate first attempt ?

But if I could produce that in not much more than half an hour, who knows what weaving genius is within me, trying to get out?

This post is dedicated to blogging friend Kerry, writer of Love those ‘Hands at Home’, who inspires me with her love of textiles, of learning new things, and of life.


32 thoughts on “Weaving for pleasure”

  1. Gosh, I’m really impressed, from what I’ve seen weaving is way harder than the experts make it look. I’m sure any attempt I made would look more like a cat’s cradle than a mouse mat. I look forward to your future efforts. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Goodness – I remember trying to use those carding paddles at school! There’s a lot more skill in producing a yard of cloth than most people realise. Looks like the ‘Fountains’ project is going to make the ruins so much more interesting for youngsters to visit. Go volunteers!!!! 😁


    1. No, not as such. The idea is just to allow visitors a chance to taste these pursuits. None of us is an expert. Especially at spinning….. Do come to Fountains again soon. Lots going on!


  3. Margaret!! I am so thrilled by this! Your weaving looks perfect–I think they should’ve let you take the loom home–who knows what you might’ve done?! And how great that Fountains Abbey is adding real life to their displays–yes, I think textile-making must’ve been hugely tedious much of the time. I used to spin, had a wheel and all, and it just never grabbed me. Will you be doing more of all this? I think visitors to the Abbey will be fascinated when they see you weaving kitchen towels. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha! Our only looms are the size of A4 paper. But I really AM interested. It seems though to be one
      of those pursuits it’s hard just to try out. I can hardly invest in a suite of looms at this point. How did it work for you?


      1. We bought a big loom, without any idea how to use it, at a garage sale. It turns out it was a very difficult to use, handmade loom and it has since been retired, but it got us to take a class at the local art center. The class started on small tapestry loom (like the one you tried) and then progressed to harness or shaft looms. One option, as I understand it, between the very basic tapestry loom and the more complicated 4 (or more) shaft looms, is called a rigid heddle loom. I haven’t used one but they seem to be a “gateway drug” that get a lot of people hooked enough that they know they want to invest in the bigger loom. A more detailed workshop or class is what you need!


      2. Locally based and run classes are a dying breed in our current political climate, sadly. And when I googled ‘Weaving classes in North Yorkshire’, the first entry was a course in Mexico! However, there is more available than that, and I really am going to follow it up over the next few weeks. Thanks for the encouragement.


      3. Well, I hear Mexico is nice this time of year . . . If you have trouble finding a course I have read in several places that the website Craftsy offers a very good on-line course in weaving on a floor loom. I’ve never taken this sort of course but people have raved about it!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. A friend of mine used to have a loom in their attic/office and wove their stair carpet at least 30 years ago. It’s still in situ and looking good! That was meant to inspire not put you off for life.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. All my grandchildren learned to card wool and weave at school, now the oldest is doing a 4 yr textile course specialising in weaving. She’s just done 4 mths in Peru swapping skills with a rural community of women weavers. I learned to weave a kettle holder in string at primary school! Good luck with your volunteering!


  6. Interesting – you seem to find the most interesting ways to keep yourself learning and moving and doing all sorts of new things. I am inspired. Take care and enjoy your week.


    1. That’s a real compliment, coming from you who spends your life looking and learning! Enjoy the rest of your Easter holiday … if you have one over your way. Schools here have another week off.


      1. Thank you! We are in south Florida on the keys – schools are out for a week and we left on a jet plane Thursday evening. Time flies so much more quickly here. This is the tonic we needed.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. The more you write about the Fountains Abbey project, the more envious I become. What a wonderful opportunity to learn so much about such a variety of topics surrounded by all that glorious history.


  8. The drudgery and hard work of everyday life in those long ago times wore women out so quickly! What a creative project to try and recreate, even in part, those times. Even the garden plot is a fascinating reminder of how much narrower their world was. You are up to such interesting things!


  9. I tried weaving and loved it – but decided I didn’t need another hobby. And will there be bees housed in skeps at the Abbey? That would be fun, if not a little tricky extracting honey.


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