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Monday, June 18, 2018

Broadcast to the wind



This is a collection of my thoughts on being an artisan. For all that I smiled and said “Thank you!” when customers raved about our ‘art,’ I’ve never lost track of Thoreau’s definition. Remember him, the fellow who wore his whiskers under his chin?

The Artist is he who detects and applies the law from observation of the works of Genius, whether of man or nature. The Artisan is he who merely applies the rules which others have detected. There has been no man of pure Genius; as there has been none wholly destitute of Genius.

I added the italics. I didn’t invent looms, thread or weaving, but I can make all three, and use them. I appreciate a great American genius has left me not wholly destitute of talent!

Several years ago I had the burning desire, to quote my grandson, to put a weaving studio back together, and I did. How satisfying to run the threads through my hands another time, thread up my trusty, utilitarian, towels, check tension, then sit and mindlessly weave, my ears tuned to music, books, lectures de jour.

How easily it all came together, how easily it all flew apart, as you may recall. But in the middle, stacks of towels. The kitchen towel drawer was topped off, as were children and friends.  And still the stack grew. What to do, what to do.

In a bit of genius, I sent them on the wind, into the universe.

One hallmark of the clothing we wove was folks’ reactions. They first would touch. That’s easy. Then wrap their arms around jackets. I really was selling “soft”. 

Towels would have stood the same test, but didn’t get it. They’re towels, for crying out loud. They live in a drawer, and are snatched out to dry dishes, wipe up counter messes, wipe the baby’s face, wipe the floor, dragged around by a foot. Towels are not sexy. They’re utilitarian.

Utility! Aha. My towels are the epitome of utility because they actually absorb moisture. I use ring spun cotton. That stuff I had to find all over again; sweater mills are gone, and the thread spun overseas is softened mechanically. Ring spun is stretched and compacted over and over. It is denser, and its ends are softened. It’s heavier than other spinning methods. It makes your best tee shirts. And the best towel.

Years ago I wove towels to experiment with weaving structure. Lots of open threads in the weave make towels super absorbent. But, they wear out too fast, or meet untimely ends in the washer or dryer. I came across and tried “draughts to increase journeyman ability” in old Dover reprints of fabric structure we barely know the names of these days. Plain, matt, rib, basket, twill.

Then I found the most clever structure, put together by the utilitarian genius of Shakers. It’s a plain, twill, grouped combination. I call it the Shaker Towel. All the action is in the railroad tracks that run the length. It’s a cord group, held together enough by the plain weave and twill sections. Then the plain weave, twill checks take over, and absorb more moisture. Or baby spit or kool aid. It’s just a damn fine towel.

But, no weaver would make towels to earn a living. Like everyone else, we set out to earn a fair return for our labor and material. Who would pay market value of a handwoven towel. They’re a loss leader, or a give away.


Those days are way behind me. I again can weave for the pure pleasure of watching the work unfold, the colors drift down the warp beam, the sunshine outlining the cat in the window. I cannot weave as fast, and I don’t care. I still can make piles of towels, then send them to the universe. It makes me happy. May we all live long enough.

Today I hemmed orange and garnet towels. I took the fabric from the loom, fulled it, cut it, hemmed it. I also gave some garnet towels to my card playing friends. Denim towels are on the loom now. See the difference between the woven fabric and the finished towel that has been fulled? Part of the magic. I think I’ll do purple next.





28 comments:

  1. Sheer contentment came over me while reading this post.

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  2. Ah, yes, ring spun cotton.......my very favorite. I get mine from Maurice Brassard. I'm actually a dealer for them, if you should ever want to order some. I love the softness of it.....it is so lovely. I loved your post about being an artisan. Even though my weaving life has slowed down considerably since my head injury 7 years ago, it still sustains me. It is my happy, happy place. Towels..........they may not make a lot of money, but the satisfaction is real.

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  3. The orange is gorgeous!! Ring spun bath towels were a spluge for me years ago...some are still going. I love that you are doing what you love just for the love of it!

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  4. Loving your return to the loom.
    And those towels you make are useful, but soft and lovely too. It was my father who first alerted me to the link between beauty and usefulness. He told me that a dribbling tea pot (for example) couldn't be beautiful. It wasn't fit for function. I am not in complete agreement yet, but...
    Your towels ARE beautiful.

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    1. I should write a post about my daughter's father-in-law, the original fit and function man. For thirty or forty years they took laundry to the laundromat because no washer/dryer met his standard of beauty and function. Think babies, diapers, sheets, clothing. Forty years. Then he was gravely ill, dying, at home. His sheets were changed daily. He said to his wife one day, he had been considering the laundry situation of if brand XYZ actually came with a gizmodo, as advertised, he'd buy it. Replied his son, "Dad, we put in a washer and dryer last month."

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  5. Beautiful. I'd like to order some blue towels :-)

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  6. I never underestimate the humble towel. I love a good towel that's a combo of beauty and usefulness. I miss them when they're worn out and gone, like old friends who have moved on.

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  7. Hari om
    They are absolute winners Joanne! Your joy in them rings through. YAM xx

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  8. The pleasure you find in weaving is wonderful, productive and the product is beautiful.

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  9. They are exquisite. Maybe a soup kitchen or group home of some kind that is near you will benefit from your towels.

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  10. Tell me please dear when you make some white towels. I can only use white because I get bleach on colored ones and have had to resort to only white. I'll gladly pay or you can donate it to the ____ Trump org. I'm loving the denim. Truly an art.

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    1. I give my friend Linda all the orange towels she wants. Eventually they all are white.

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  11. Damn. I wish you were my neighbor. You might think of yourself as an artisan but you are all artist to me.

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  12. If you will give me a towel, I'll knit you or your granddaughter something in return - whatever you want!

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  13. a veritable rainbow of towels! I love them and would be happy to pay the postage if you wanted to send me a set, one of each new colour.

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  14. Kitchen towels are one of my secret addictions. Yours are a joy to behold. Your talent is marvelous.

    I sneak into Crate & Barrel, Pier One, Ikea and Williams & Sonoma to buy pretty kitchen towels and have to hide them.

    Although I have a bag in the laundry room and another in the garage marked RAGS, the Guy will grab one of my good towels to wipe his hands on when he changes the oil in the cars or works on something real greasy. He must love the sound of my screams!

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  15. You seem to be soaking up the experience.

    Do I get at least a nod for trying?

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  16. A beautiful and functional household tool (as your towels are) is something I for one truly appreciate. I have always pursued soft thirsty dish towels for my towel drawer and it gives me great happiness just to open it and look at the stack!!

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  17. Wonderful work.
    I know how you feel about giving your work to someone who will appreciate it, and give it a good home.
    I think all of us makers and artists do that, not just selling.

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  18. When I take out the towels you sent me, I always think of you. It is not just a towel, it is about kindness and generosity. I am very appreciative of this gift.

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  19. So satisfying to make something so fit for purpose ... and beautiful. Love the colours!

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  20. The genius lies with the beholder of the towels - those of us who cannot or do not weave. I have 2 of your towels in the kitchen now - loving the way they absorb, knowing that your hands and mind methodically went through the steps of creating them. It's like the socks. The creation is now demystified for me, but since I enjoy knitting flat and not round and one not a pair, I marvel at the genius of those who do love the round and pairs.

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  21. The colors are so cheerful-looking. Silly question, but how does denim work when wiping up spills and such. Does denim function much like cotton?

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  22. I am so glad you got another loom and are doing what you love to do again however slowly you do it now. it's not about speed but about creating and enjoying and of course the towels are beautiful. function and beauty and craftsmanship. doesn't get better than that.

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  23. I truly love your towels. How about runners, place mats, and napkins....says the placemat addict. LOL

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