This past summer Mr. 761 and I went to Ireland for two weeks. It was everything you would imagine a two-week trek in a beautiful country with the person you love can be – relaxing and gorgeous and interesting and memorable. We both can trace family back to Ireland, and while I cannot claim an eerie feeling of “I’ve-been-here-before” because of this familial link, I can say that I felt very comfortable there, and could go back in a moment and stay for a long number of moments quite happily.
There was something about the west that I loved very much; the south-and-west too. Counties Cork and Kerry. Clare and Donegal… oh, Donegal. I loved it there.
I took too many pictures to count – enough to tire even the fondest family members and facebook friends. I kept trying to capture moments in time, because I was so moved.
Everything about that trip was gentle, somehow, even the wild Aran Islands and the lonely heartbreakingly beautiful Donegal coast.
If I think back, years from now, only a few of those pictures will be clear and like-yesterday in my mind. And they aren’t what you’d think, either…. they are not pictures of monuments or castles (which we certainly saw and enjoyed), but are instead of simple homely moments: like the sheep in the road near Malinbeg, or the sight and sound of the looms in that tiny studio in Annyalla, and the big studio at Avoca, or laughing in the pub in Limerick. It was driving through moody fog-covered mountains and marvelling at hedgerows and holding hands whilst walking together through lonely graveyards, lush rose-filled parks and villages. It was a two-week montage of quiet unhurried Full Irish breakfasts, wandering aimlessly, and surprise landings. We are very fortunate people.
We tried not to buy trinkets and souvenirs. We tried to travel lightly and keep our one-backpack-each unstuffed with stuff. This was made easier when we learned Aran sweaters aren’t made in Aran, and Waterford Crystal isn’t made in Waterford. But there were a few points where I could not deny my urge for things, and those times were almost always weaving-related. We ended up shipping a blanket home (and saved VAT – it was a deal!), and I carried my new Liz Christy stole home on the plane, marvelling at the colours and textures (it is seen here, with my cat Flowerpot who also has wonderful taste).
Near the end of our trip we wandered over to Swallow Studios, in Annyalla, near Castleblayney Co. Monaghan. We petted the dog, and watched the weavers, and bought the above-mentioned stole by Liz Christy (and a tiny batik by Louise Loughman). I realized that what I kept coming back to was the textiles. The weaving and looms, and the textures and colours and craft. I started off by joking that we would need to get some sheep for our backyard (still kind of want some btw) but ended up looking to see if there was a way to learn this sort of craft back at home.
I feel a bit sheepish really. I live in Nova Scotia, after all. I don’t know why it surprised me that a quick google search while standing in the hotel in Castleblayney showed me a multitude of weaving/textile artisans and workshops right near my house back in NS. But it did, and I’m glad. When we got home, I started off with a day-long workshop on weaving with a rigid heddle table loom called a “cricket loom”. I looooved it right away.
But I need to back up a bit first. The workshop was at a beautiful farm wool shop called Gaspereau Valley Fibres, a short drive from my house. A shop that I’d never heard of, because yarn at that point kinda scared me. You should go there, or to it’s “townie” sibling The Wool N Tart (try the lemon tarts, they are delicious). It has a great selection of natural fibres and equipment for spinners and weavers as well as knitters. (They also have a resident cat, “kitty purl”, whose picture I put here for the sake of symmetry with the cat pic above.) It’s like a candy store, but with yarn.
Why did it “scare” me? I seem to lack the requisite coordination and concentration for knitting and crocheting – they seem mysterious and… knotty. It feels like a secret society that I needed to be inducted into at an early age, or never. My time for that seemed to have passed me by, and I cannot think in three dimensions with knitting. Perhaps someday, but those crafts just don’t speak to me.
So, I took the workshop and gave myself a week before I went and bought the cricket loom. I’m so glad I did. I spent the next few weeks in a frenzy of learning to use it, to be comfortable with the set up, and reading about weaving. I made some nice things, if I do say so myself.
It seemed at first as if it might be the loom for me. But then…
Then, one day I went online and saw a used floor loom, and it was pretty much no time at all between seeing it online, and having it set up and… looming in my sun room. It is of uncertain provenance and I’m finding all sorts of lovely quirks about it. When I walk in that room, it smells of birds eye maple, canvas and… loom.
I own a loom, y’all.
This loom and I are still getting acquainted… it’s a much more complicated animal than my little cricket, but very much worth it. I took three days of study with the wondrous Pia Skaarer Neilsen of Wonderous Woolerie, a weaver/teacher/fibre artisan and it was the best thing I could have done. Thanks to her, I am armed with at least enough knowledge to if not fix a mistake, to recognize one. Perhaps more importantly, she showed me how joyous it can be to do what you love.
I have found that I love the methodical, contemplative nature of weaving. I love the textures and colours and feel of it all. I like the alchemy of making fabric out of yarn. I love the calm deep concentration necessary to warp the loom (put the strings on it), and the creativity that flows out of playing on those strings with other colors and textures.
I love the process, and the mechanics of it; the tension and pulleys and gears and levers. I love (but don’t yet really understand except in a very rudimentary fashion) the notation – the musical score, if you will – of weaving diagrams. I love the arcane and somehow Dickensian vocabulary: heddles and harnesses and beaters and castles and lamms.
I love the way it’s making me learn something new, at every turn. Think about it – when was the last time you really learned? It’s wonderful, really. My brain is firing in so many different ways all of a sudden. I’m happy to return to using my hands and my brain, after so many years of pretty much ignoring my need to make and do. It feels really good.
I sometimes dream of it; I problem solve loom issues in my sleep, or at least try to.
I’ve met so many great people in the course of this new adventure: weavers and spinners and yarn people. Artists and craftspeople and funny previous-owners of looms. They have been, to a person, joyful and thoughtful and generous. This was, I think, a very lucky direction to have taken, here in Nova Scotia by way of Ireland.
That lovely gentle trip to Ireland brought me all of these gifts; I didn’t even know that I needed this, and now I wonder how I could not have known.
I am curious about other people – what have you discovered, like this?