It always seems to happen at the Christmas tree farm that January is experienced in retrospect. After a successful and busy Christmas season, we hardly pay attention to which day of the week is going by outside; after all, Mondays are as bleak as Fridays lately. This is very different from the rest of the year, when each day of the week feels like a relative dropping by. But when it looks like this outside, we just put on a second pair of socks and stoke up the fire.
For several decades now, Jim has practiced a craft that fits the tempo of these winter periods perfectly. He took to weaving on looms for the problem solving and rhythmic activity they provide, not to mention the utility and beauty of the finished product. Over time, the hobby became a craft, taking firm root in the spaces of the year where bad weather prevents outdoor work. Jim is accompanied in his stints at the loom (more complex pieces can take 8 or more hours over several sessions) by classical composers, orchestras and virtuosos, along with the occasional pause for loom debugging. With January behind us, it is a good time for a pictorial tour of the busiest machine of the year so far: Jim’s loom.
Let’s start at the finish line: a complex twill runner nears completion.
Much earlier in the process, and a different piece: warping guided and tensioned over the backbeam. The warp is the set of longitudinal yarns that guides and binds the weft yarn into a pattern.
Warping partially threaded through the heddles. This is the beginning of the “programming” of the loom to create the desired pattern. Careful set up at this stage is important.
From the heddles, the warp is threaded through the reeds and tensioned. At this point the loom is set and the weft yarn begins to form a pattern with each pass of the shuttle.
Being a former paleontologist, Jim can’t help but connect the modern contrivance of the loom to its ancestors:
“I have often thought about how weaving must have evolved from the plaiting of grasses to make carrying vessels, or the interweaving of saplings to keep animals away from gardens or homesites. Once the idea of interweaving took root it is not hard to imagine it being applied to many other materials, and this must have stimulated the search for new fibers, hence spinning for wool, retting and scutching for flax to make linen, and unwinding silkworm pods. To start with string and finish with something that can be worn or used in other ways is fascinating to me.”
These days most weaving is automated and robotically efficient. Although the household loom was a casualty of progress, Jim’s example shows that weaving remains a rich experience. In weaving there is artistic expression, useful product, engaging pastime and a connection to a cultural past to be discovered.
Each year Jim has a productive hibernation, completing many pieces of different patterns. These he offers for sale at the farm and at the River District Art Gallery in Sperryville.