Musings on weaving….

IMG_1925

Been putting ribbons and ‘stuff’ in some of my weavings, here there are two rows of seed beads, which unfortunately are already coming out! It’s all a learning process!

This post is truly a ramble, the ‘wandering’ part of “Huckleberry Wanderings”. Or perhaps a weaving of thoughts and reflections…

I’ve been weaving a lot lately. I do not anticipate becoming a great weaver, though I know several talented weavers and have been inspired by the emergence of a new generation of creative, inspiring weavers. Their web sites and blogs are “eye candy” for those craving the aesthetic side of life.

My goal has simply been to infuse my life with bright colors while focusing the mind on something creative and challenging that doesn’t use the computer. And to channel my obsessive nature somewhere other than worrying and playing Scrabble against “Norm”, who lives somewhere in my iTouch.

Weaving has always been part of my life. I loved weaving on the small, ‘child size’ loom I had growing up. In my late 20s I purchased a table loom and learned to weave in Eugene, Oregon before moving to the Olympic Peninsula. Life got busy, complicated and messy with health ‘issues’, challenging jobs, going to grad school, etc. Even after inheriting a full size loom that sat, crated, in the barn for years, I never wove again. Almost never. I sometimes weave like I doodle….paper scraps, grass, especially beach grass, pieces of anything that might be sitting around that’s “weaveable”. The three looms in my life have all been given away, the child size one only a few years ago. Yes, I now regret parting with it.

IMG_0919So in my thirst for color, and to put a little pleasure a in life that seems to keep throwing me and many whom I love one hard ball after another, I dug out some old funky yarn, found a discarded frame that once held my hammer dulcimer (also parted with a few years ago), and asked Mike to cut it down to a sturdy framed structure. I started weaving with a simple wrap warp. It felt delightfully primitive, basic, and as I wove I thought about the history of weaving, how primal, innate, yet elegant it is. And I thought about the weavers in Nature.

The creature most associated with weaving and weavers has always been the spider, though many spiders do not make webs. Those who do use a sticky adhesive they produce to “glue” the connection points of their web together. I question their weaving practices. The magic of weaving is creating, or ‘building’, something using only the materials used in the weave. No ‘supportive’ aides. The weave itself gives form, strength, and birth to a new item. The few times I’ve woven baskets, or watched them being made, it is not unlike watching a chicken egg hatch….suddenly there is something completely new that didn’t exist before, but came from this other item that did exist and is now transformed…egg to chicken, reeds (or bark) to basket.

Photo from University of Washington Conservation Magazine article about beavers helping out frogs.

Besides spider ‘weavers’, several bird species make remarkable woven nests, but the only mammal, besides us humans, I’ve heard the word ‘weaver’ associated with is the beaver. After one of those magical Nature encounters with a beaver on the Klickitat River here in Washington several years ago, beavers have become more intriguing to me and I’ve been feeling akin to and thinking of them as I weave. Beavers take sticks and make sturdy, complex, large homes. No nails, no screws, no adhesives. They drag, poke, push and prod into place the sticks and create something new. (Not unlike my weaving style.)  Shortly into my weaving blitz, I gathered some sticks on a beach walk and when I got home and chose one to hold one of my little samples, I discovered it had the markings of a beaver on it.

In her interesting article, The Art and History of Weaving, Susan C. Wylly Professor of Art at Georgia College & State University defines weaving, as “the systematic interlacing of two or more sets of elements usually, but not necessarily, at right angles, to form a coherent structure.” I think the labors of beavers meet those criteria. Perhaps their efforts are not beautiful in an artistic sense, but they are amazing in their intricacies. And to house clean, now and then, they un-weave, tidy up, and re-weave, replacing lost or rotten materials with fresh sticks.

(A lovely story of the beaver is James A. Michener’s The Beaver from Centennial, also found in a collection of his animal stories entitled “Creatures of the Kingdom, Stories of Animals and Nature”.)

For us two-legged ones, weaving, functional in our every day lives as fabric and other items, has long been an art form.  The two of course are not separate. Living here in the Pacific Northwest examples of both functional and beautiful weaving abound. Indigenous people of the region wove baskets to carry their children in, gather the harvest, cook food (yes, using hot rocks placed in a basket, water would heat to cook the food). They also wove bark hats and garments as well as garments made of dog and goat wool. (If you are not familiar with the weaving designs of NW Native basketry and blankets, The Maryhill Museum on the Columbia River has one of the best exhibits of native basketry, from many regions. Here on the Olympic Peninsula, the Sheldon Museum has both basketry and blankets on display.)

IMG_1936

My one attempt at a rag rug, using a larger frame and a wrap warp. After 10″ and several hours, my back and arms hurt too much from hand ‘beating’ the flannel into place so I cut it off. It is a mini rug, Abby fits on it, but I was disappointed in my body’s limitations, as rag rugs are functional, ‘recycle’ fabric, (of which I have a lot) and can be fun and colorful to make.

There isn’t a culture or region on this planet that does not have a rich history of the use of woven materials.  Weaving could be carried out long before the discovery and invention of other materials and tools, enabling people to create the ‘comforts’ and necessities of living.

In her article, Wylly writes, “Archeologists believe that basket making and weaving were probably the first “crafts” developed by humans”.  It was carried out for survival…for shelter, clothing, hunting and gathering food. The design and beautiful nature of weaving can be traced back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. As Wylly states, “No one knows when or where the weaving process actually began, but as far back as there are relics of civilized life, it is thought that weaving was a part of developing civilizations.” 

IMG_1941My weavings, small, technically and artistic quite ‘primitive’, will not be providing any shelter or clothing for myself or others, or hanging on anyones walls except ours (Mike has become quite a fan, enamored by the whole process), but they help me ‘survive’ in a different manner, breathing into life the joy and pleasure of color and design. Mike made me a few larger frames and I’ve added some brass brads to guide the warp threads.  I’ve joined the ranks of ‘yarn junkies’, and though my body complains a bit, I sit mesmerized and focused on the process as I watch a pattern emerge from the threads I weave……under, over, under, over…….

(My little weaving samples are a learning process, if I ever get brave and do something large, I’ll share again………)

weavings

Animal Love

LoveLove is the word for the week. Ignoring the commercialism, Valentine’s Day offers a time to pause and think about love. I’ve always enjoyed this holiday, coming when winter’s bleakness is wearing, just before spring, when our souls are hungry for something to brighten our lives and distract us a bit, if only for a day. Love is famously distracting!

For me Valentine’s Day has never been just about couples and romantic love, perhaps because we celebrated it as a family growing up, or perhaps because the first decades of my adult life were spent mostly ‘single’…..yet I enthusiastically celebrated Valentine’s Day as a time for hearts and flowers, a time to send Valentines to friends and family we often fall short on expressing our love to.

Thinking about my post two years ago on finding heart shapes in Nature, I wondered….what else does Nature have to offer us for Valentine’s Day? Do animals express and feel love? The hotly debated discussion as to whether animals express and feel emotions I leave to others.  Animals clearly exhibit loyalty and nurturing, are these not characteristics of love?

My favorite love story from the animal kingdom comes from James Michener in the book Creatures of the Kingdom.  Many stories in this book tell of the lives and complexities of animal relationships, but the most romantic, the most touching to me, is a story simply titled “The Beaver”, originally from his novel Centennial.  There is no way I can tell you what it is about that would come close to the beautiful way Michener (who after all, is Michener!) tells the story of two beavers.  The main character, a young female, at two years of age, finally has to leave her parent’s home. After losing her first potential mate to another female, she finds an older, wiser, though slower with age, male with whom to build her home, her life, and raise a family.  Beavers mate for life.  They live in extended family groups. Their children stay with them for several years, older siblings help raise young kits. When a mate dies, the remaining mate does not look for another mate, but stays within the extended family and helps raise new generations.  Michener tells the story of this female, her mate and their extended family, in a tender, touching way……..how they work together, play together, care for one another, resolve disagreements, mutually nurture their young……how she cares for her elderly mate when he can no longer help, and grieves his death.  Michener wrote novels, but he was known for his careful research into his subject matter. No doubt his description of this beaver couple is based on beaver life observations.  And it is as moving a love saga as any human romance. (I highly recommend the book based on this beaver love story alone, yet the rest of the book is full of equally good animal stories.)

This picture of the Klickitat River has nothing to do with this post, other than it is the scene of my own little love affair with a beaver who followed me as I walked the river bank early one morning.

This picture of the Klickitat River has nothing to do with this post, other than it is the scene of my own up close and magical encounter with a beaver who followed me as I walked the river bank early one morning. It’s spring green lushness is a ‘sight for sore’, winter weary eyes!

Some would argue these behaviors are instinctual and based only on survival needs, certainly instinct and survival play a major part of animal (and human!) interactions. Yet the internet and bookstores are flooded with stories, both famous and ordinary, of animals, often of different species, befriending, caring for, and exhibiting nurturing behavior toward one another, often counter to the understood “instincts” of their species. A popular book on this matter is Unlikely Friendships.  Author Jennifer Holland “documents one heartwarming tale after another of animals who, with nothing else in common, bond in the most unexpected ways. A cat and a bird. A mare and a fawn. An elephant and a sheep. A snake and a hamster…….predators befriending prey.” (from Amazon’s book description)   What would we call these attachments if not a form of love?

Poets and philosophers, song writers and academics have offered for millennium definitions of love.  Maternal love, brotherly love, true love, Divine love, all phrases to differentiate different forms of love. Love is universal, yet how it is expressed can be culturally and personally unique.  Most agree, we humans do not fully understand what love is about……perhaps the complex, but uncomplicated behaviors of animals caring for, nurturing, snuggling, playing, and even grieving for one another, is closer to the elusive definition of love, unconditional love, than we imagine. Perhaps there are lessons to learn this Valentine’s Day from animal love.

ValentineHappy Valentine’s Day to you and your animal sweethearts, both wild and domestic!