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.
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.
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.
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.
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.