Do you remember that game? You take it in turns to tell a story round a group of people, and each contributor has to begin (alternately) with ‘Fortunately…’ or ‘Unfortunately…’ The story rapidly becomes quite surreal as our hero lurches from catastrophe to rescue to disaster to triumph to failure to intervention and on and on.
These days, whenever someone asks me how I’m doing, I struggle to frame an answer that doesn’t sound like a round of Fortunately Unfortunately. On the one hand, I am acutely aware of all the good fortune I enjoy: a safe and comfortable home; my favourite human and feline companions as my lockdown buddies; a loom and a project to work on; ability to connect with friends and family around the world. But hot on the heels of the fortunately, comes the unfortunately: all the things that are unravelling, both for me personally and in the bigger picture.
Lately, for instance – as if they are feeling the pressure too – random household appliances have started breaking down, just as repairing them has become a wild game of chance. Even in easier times, I am not a person who likes to buy a new thing (other than a new loom, of course) when I already have an old one. Indeed, I consider anything under twenty years old to be the ‘new’ whatever-it-is, and was startled to realise that my Kenwood mixer (RIP) did not in fact fall into that category. The jury is still out on what will happen re the mixer. In the meantime we have established a way of holding the oven door shut with a stick, but we did draw a deep breath and order a new printer to replace the inert lump of plastic that was sitting next to the computer, because neither of us could get our work done without it. My hope is that we can get the older ‘new printer’ repaired later for use in the studio – if I still have a studio, in the post-covid world.
Under the ‘Fortunately’ heading, I can at least file my current weaving project. When I last posted about it, I was still working out the details of the design. It took me a long while to pin down exactly how to proceed, so finally getting started at the loom was a big relief. I don’t know about you, but I find I think much more clearly about weaving when I am weaving.
The knotted pile makes this a slow weave: I’m giving myself the routine of weaving about 18 cm a day. The pile doesn’t cover the whole piece, but tracks across the fabric in long lines. It looks a bit mad, but it’s madness with method in’t. You can trust me on that or not as you choose!
Things have changed dramatically even in the short time since I warped up the Eeva, ready to start working on the Shift Canada project. Lockdown has thrown everyone into a world we don’t quite know how to navigate, and it has taken a few days for life to fall into new patterns.
I’ve learned that, although I am accustomed to the shapelessness of working from home, I depend on the regular to-ing and fro-ing of S to give my week its rhythm. Now that we are in shared confinement, I mostly have no idea what day it is.
As for socialising, though, my life has lurched in the opposite direction. My usual solitary state has been overturned as my diary has filled up with scheduled coffee break chats with friends and colleagues. Online meetings have also been in greater abundance as projects need to be reconsidered and deadlines renegotiated. This has inevitably involved more grieving for plans that cannot be realised as intended, but also a strong sense of solidarity and shared gratitude that (i) we are safe and well and (ii) we have opportunities to do things we weren’t expecting.
It’s all kept me pretty busy and I haven’t been at the loom as much as I expected. However, there’s obviously no need to rush…. I mentioned that the Shift Canada deadline was approaching, and it still is, but from a much greater distance. This has given me more time to develop my ideas in detail using Photoshop, a process which is still quite new to me.
I’ve already completed a sample warp and know a lot about how I want to continue. The final piece will involve rya knotted fabric scraps (which are themselves the product of a recycling process) and I have determined how dense I want the knots to be, and hence where they will need to be worked into the structure. The ground cloth itself will be woven in a broken twill, which I like for its integrity and the contrast between warp- and weft-faced variants. So that the piece will be suitable for the next stage of the project, I am planning to use warp- and weft-faced broken twill to create a background ‘grid’ in the cloth.
The grid will be completely independent of the pattern made by the knotted fabric, and this is where I have been using Photoshop. As I am not used to working at these two different scales simultaneously, I am doing quite a bit more planning than usual, and in more detail. I need to develop the liftplan for the ground cloth, but also to visualise the layer of pile over it. I was drawn to using a honeycomb structure, so I made an attempt at a few different versions of this, from strictly geometric to more organic hexagonal shapes.
I really like the textured weave this creates, but it is not right for this project. I’ve gone back to an earlier and simpler idea, which worked well in the sample warp, and have been putting in the Photoshop-hours to really nail it down. Eventually I’ll get back to the loom…
* This hexagonal grid was created in Adobe Capture, which is one of my favourite apps for messing around. The base image is literally a photo of the back of my phone’s case, folded back and pressed over the camera so that the light just seeps in at one corner.
Several people have asked me why I chose the Toika Eeva rather than any other loom. This post is for you, and for anyone else who hasn’t yet asked but would still like to know – which is probably most of you weavers, isn’t it?
Firstly, once you are thinking about 32 shafts, there are not very many options to choose from. If there were a local option, that would be the obvious choice, but there isn’t. However, I could narrow it down to Europe at least, so – somewhat regretfully – I ruled out AVL. This left me essentially weighing up the Louët Megado against the Toika Eeva or Liisa.
In the UK the default option for a while has certainly been the Megado, and I know many people who weave on one. Including, as it happens, myself. I don’t have a 32S computer-driven Megado, but I continue to work very happily on the 16S mechanical dobby Megado which I bought from Ans ten years ago. I really enjoy weaving on this loom, and know it well. By contrast, I had only had one shot at weaving on an Eeva and none at all at weaving on a Liisa. For both makes, I know weavers who have them and love them.
Questions of size
The Megado comes in several weaving widths up to 130 cm, the Eeva and Liisa in a completely different range of options up to 150 cm. Irrespective of weaving width, though, the Toika looms are physically bigger. They are deeper and taller and occupy a great big chunk of space. Now my home is in a building that was built in the 1860s and the rooms are large. We don’t have so many rooms that we can do anything and everything we might like to, but we do have the volume to accommodate a large loom if that’s how we choose to live*. Hey, we may never see our friends again anyway, so who needs a big living room? Seriously, though, this would not be a viable option in many newer houses. Have we finally discovered the one advantage of living in a drafty old conversion? It is, in other words, a genuine choice.
Features and functions
There are many different things I want to do on this loom, and they will involve (not necessarily all at once)
weaving wide pieces
complex multi-shaft threadings
warps made sectionally
These are things I already do, but couldn’t do all at once because I didn’t have one loom that could handle them all. Both Toika and Louët have made provision for them. Both looms have a single-box fly shuttle (only the AVL offers a double-box, alas, in spite of much pleading by European weavers), and both offer sectional warp beams, for instance.
However, I have increasingly been working with supplementary warps, and this is something that Louët doesn’t do so well. I added a second warp beam to the Delta many years ago, and to the Megado more recently, but it frustrates me that it is not connected to any braking mechanism at the front of the loom. It could be converted to live tensioning, I guess, but why not supply it so that it is integrated like the main warp beam?
The second warp beam on the Toika is fully integrated so that the weaver can manage the tensioning and the warp advance from the front of the loom, and this was a big selling point for me. I have one sectional and one non-sectional beam. So far I have only made single warps, but I have a genuine choice about which beam to use since both are equally operable from the front. The cog wheel tensioning system has actually surpassed my expectations, because it allows very subtle adjustments. I had no idea I would get so much pleasure from advancing the warp! You might not think that warp beam mechanisms were something to get excited about, but for me, this was the clinching argument in favour of the Toika.
However, I was also swayed by a couple of other points. Possibly small points, but in the greater scheme of things aren’t they all?
One is the openness of the structure and access to the shafts. I have had to add and to move heddles on the Megado several times, and not even the coronavirus could make me do it again. It is a nightmare to get in there and release the shaft, never mind fixing it back in place. For a few years now I have had the heddles distributed in a way which works pretty much optimally for the sorts of weaves I do, but I have to be continually alert to this issue when designing. I would rather change the design than ever add another heddle, and that’s what I do. It works, but it’s a relief that it won’t be challenging-to-the-point-of-deterrence on the Eeva.
Another is the option to have a hanging beater. I am accustomed to weaving with a standing beater, but I’m keen to broaden my horizons and am already enjoying the ease of the swing. Although working with the fly shuttle is that bit more terrifying than it was on the Delta, I reckon I can get to grips with it. And I’m vaguely aware at the corners of my vision, that having a high castle with a hanging beater means I can rig the fly shuttle to work with a floating selvedge, in a way that proved infeasible on the Delta. I have yet to attempt this, though, so don’t hold me to it.
The main trade-off that I am aware of is that the Toika’s computer brain is a bit less subtle than that of other computer looms. That might seem like quite a major concern, but it does also have the reputation of being a very reliable computer brain, which could be seen as a major issue too. And as all computer loom brains are equally new to me, I can learn to work with this one.
I’ve also had several comments about the TC2, which seems to be the loom people expect to arrive in a crate from Scandinavia, so I will just add that it was never under consideration. Even if I had the budget, to date I have no interest in jacquard weaving as something that I would do myself. I love that other people are doing it, and I love seeing the diverse work of other weavers, but no thank you. Shafts for me.
I consider myself an exceptionally fortunate weaver to have access to a loom like this and a place to work on it. The Eeva was my choice because it addresses some very specific points that I prioritised, but I just want to add that I would be delighted with any of the above. They are all fantastic looms and I’m anticipating years of happy weaving on mine.
* I’m using the royal ‘we’ here, of course. S knows the score.
People who see my weaving at events and Open Studios often react with “You must be so patient to do that.” I find this puzzling. I mean, I know they aren’t really commenting on my temperament. It is a way of saying “That looks awfully slow and fiddly and I don’t think I could do it” which is fair enough. But it still doesn’t seem to relate to my weaving practice, because I think of patience as something you need when you aren’t doing what you want to do. When I am enjoying what I do, the patience mode is not activated.
On the whole, though, I am not a particularly patient person. I like to be actively doing things and making stuff happen, rather than waiting for things to happen by themselves. This is my main reason for preferring weaving to dyeing! And now here we are in this strange in-between-world of waiting for the sky to fall, and wondering what life will look like after the sky has hit the ground. We are being called on to be patient indeed, in a state of anxiety and uncertainty which is the very opposite of the relaxed state of enjoyment I think of when I think of threading up a loom. But so it is.
At the moment my working time is divided three ways.
There is the normal content. This week my main task is marking a set of assignments. The usual deadline applies and I am plodding along towards it.
There is the unravelling content. Events are being cancelled and postponed, and my diary is emptying out. I am working through the slow, sad business of cancelling workshops and sending out refunds. It’s frightening and depressing, but it must be done.
And there is the restorative content. The work of the loom. I haven’t shared much work-in-progress on this blog for a while. I find it very difficult to write in real time about my thoughts and challenges, because I have learned that I need to conserve that energy for the work itself. Then, once the work is done, the thoughts and challenges are wrapped up and I find it just as difficult to unwrap them again. But I am going to try and post a little more while we’re in this suspended place, though I hope you’ll excuse me for withholding details I am not ready to share.
My priority for the next few weeks is the Shift Canada project, which has continued to develop out of our trip to Nova Scotia. My partner and I have been meeting regularly online, sharing ideas and experiments, and my first samples on the Toika have been woven with this project in mind. But our deadline is approaching, so it is time to get serious and get a weave on.
For my ground cloth I am using some of this lovely wool singles from Uist Wool. It’s a beautifully subtle blend of natural creams and greys. Quite a chunky yarn, as you can see from the photo. You’ll have noticed that I am calling this a ground cloth. Yes, I will be adding things to it! It’s going to be a slow, steady weave. Quite appropriate for the time we are in.
It took us a couple of weeks of snatched hours and half-hours, but the Toika Eeva is now assembled. On Thursday I put on a test warp, but other than as ‘proof of concept’ have hardly had time to weave it.
As I needed S to help with all the heavy lifting, we mainly worked in the evenings. The light in the room is legendarily bad at night (something we have had on our list to sort out for the last twenty years, so don’t hold your breath), my WIP photos are unintelligible. However, I can clearly demonstrate our progress:
Eeva occupies the spot vacated by the Delta (plus quite a bit) so I still have a loom-with-a-view, but also a loom-with-cables, which is an entirely new experience for me. I’m re-learning my relationship to Fiberworks, as well as to the loom. I’ll let you know how it goes…