make/do

It’s been a summer of making do. No one needs a rehash of the Quarantimes, so I’ll skip the reflections on Zoom and so on, except to say that despite the digital/screen fatigue, the ability to participate in seminars and “attend” readings & author talks in far-flung places is pretty great. The world is very bleak, but the books released this summer are really good, and there are so many smart and interesting people saying smart and interesting things about them. For example, tonight at 7 p.m. EST, you can hear Alexander Chee in conversation with Lauren Francis-Sharma about her new novel, The Book of the Little Axe, and an hour later, Diane Zinna will be in conversation with Natalie Jenner about Diane’s novel, The All-Night Sun.

It’s also been a summer of making, and I may have irrevocably ramped up my making in a fit of enthusiasm that coincided with some rare good luck.

Meet Wealhþēow.

Photo of a 4-harness counterbalance loom made of cherry wood.
Beauty, eh?

A month ago, I was not thinking about purchasing a floor loom at all. To call my space challenging for a floor loom is something of an understatement. (My not-very-large “room of one’s own” was already somewhat overflowing with books, desk, a spinning wheel, rigid heddle loom & stand, and very important Kitten Napping Real Estate.) I was, however, eyeing up larger and more flexible rigid heddle options and taking the occasional longing wander through the world of table looms. In this wandering, I started checking in on various classifieds for used items, since fiber arts equipment is, broadly speaking, built to last. Also, most of the making-inclined have a finite amount of space, shifting tastes for tools and accoutrements, etc., and this is all to say: sometimes people sell things, and sometimes the deals are more than fair.

And sometimes the deals are so good it’s kind of frightening and you maybe black out and discover you’ve made a phone call and arranged to borrow Dad’s pick-up and Dad’s help in lifting things because a solid cherry, 4-harness, 42″ counterbalance loom isn’t going to get into the back of the truck with just two people?

Wealhþēow came with a bunch of decidedly lovely extras: some classic weaving books, a wealth of bobbins, several boat and ski shuttles, a bobbin-winder, a ball-winder, a swift, a beautiful bench built to match this beauty of a loom, a pair of seemingly brand-new Schacht inkle looms, a pair of reeds in useful sizes, tie-up bars, lease sticks, and a rich history I am only just discovering.

The loom is a Gallinger, designed by the late Milo Gallinger and his wife Osma Gallinger (more prominently known as Osma Gallinger Tod, the author of The Joy of Handweaving, and a powerful force in 20th century handicrafts and the assertion that weaving, basketry, and other “domestic” crafts are, in fact, art, to which I say, hell yes). The Gallingers had a studio in south-central PA, where Osma taught weaving and basketry and Milo built looms. When Milo passed, she sold the studio to two of her students, who renamed it The Mannings Creative Crafts. The Mannings, as it was known, was an absolute institution in weaving housed in south-central PA. Another local craftsman, R.S. Starner, continued to build looms from the Gallinger design for The Mannings, looms such as this one. The previous owner purchased it from The Mannings. I’m so sad that The Mannings closed not long after I moved back to Pennsylvania; the other weavers I have met here speak of the place with great reverence and delight. However, Tom Knisley, who wrote the article linked above, teaches somewhat locally, so I’m hoping to find an opportunity to take a class with him when we’re on the other side of the pandemic.

I have a feeling I’m going to come back to the subject of these looms and their history later, so I’ll step away from those things now.

One thing the pandemic has done is accelerate my crafting inclinations. Part of that has to do with time (we’re not going anywhere, so…), and part of that has to do with the fact that if I am spinning or weaving or knitting something other than plain stockinette, I need both hands and at least the majority of my visual attention on the work. There’s no space for my phone and no space for doom-scrolling, and a break from the doom is really, really nice. Also, having some kind of repetitive motion helps to ease the constant hum of anxiety.

But this is not to forget the other work to be done. I’ll close by pointing you toward Black Makers Matter and the very cool, very important work they’re doing. [The link is to an article on Seamwork, and you can find them on Instagram.] Crafting and making spaces are so often predominantly white and assumed to be exclusively so (and often with a particularly cisgender, heteronormative, conservative bent that excludes still more makers, especially trans and nonbinary BIPOC), but it doesn’t have to be that way. The revolution is everywhere: in the streets, at the polls, at the desk, at the grill, at the spinning wheel, at the loom, at the sewing machine, at the park, at the diamond, at the piano, at the barre. Let’s show up for it, every place we can.


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