My mother had a morbid way of looking at life. Basically she didn’t believe that life should be lived at all. We should all be locked up in china closets she would say to spare us the pain, hurt and humiliation that life has to offer. I guess for her the glass was always half empty. That also explains my youthful rebelliousness which thankfully continued into my adulthood. The rebelliousness, I mean, not necessarily the youth part.
I can’t admit to ever living in a china closet, but some of my earliest handwoven clothes did, and still seem to be in residence there. Because the world seems to be shifting on its axis, or maybe it’s just me reaching a certain age, I decided to open the china closet and let these clothes live. I’m past the point of being mindful of what others think of me, so I won’t mind wearing some of these handwoven creations from the 1980’s! Only thing is, I live in a different climate now than I did thirty years ago! Almost everything I wove then was created with wool yarn – practical if one is living where temperatures were routinely below the freezing mark! But here in Memphis it rarely gets that cold! So, laugh if you must, but here are a few examples of my early work in weaving.
The huipil was one of the first pieces I ever wove. A huipil (wee-peel) is a traditional Guatemalan blouse usually woven on a back strap loom. My huipil was woven on a rigid heddle loom threaded with cotton carpet warp and the weft was a nubby cotton slub yarn. The pattern was woven with a pick up stick. This is actually one of the few early handwoven pieces of clothing I can still wear in Memphis.
Oy, what a geek I must have been to actually have worn this! This was woven on my first floor loom – a Harrisville 40″ wide four harness loom that I built from a kit. The warp and weft are both wool, the warp being a Harrisville Design single ply yarn, and the pattern weft was a beautiful 2 ply wool from Borg’s of Lund in Sweden.
I remember how I loved wearing this jacket! It was woven with 2 ply Harrisville wool yarns and sett at 8 epi. I remember walking on the finished fabric in a bathtub full of lukewarm soapy water to get it to felt the slightest bit! Since then, I’ve learned a little more about lining finished handwoven items! I can probably still wear this today – it resembles the swing sweaters that seem to be coming back into style.
Another geeky sweater. Woven in a twill plaid pattern with Harrisville Designs 2 ply wool. The cuffs, collar, buttoned front and bottom of this sweater as well as the overshot sweater above were hand knit by me as well.
I wove this for the MAFA – Mid-Atlantic Fiber Association – Conference that was held in Glassboro, NJ in 1985. It was included in the fashion show which was presided over by Linda Ligon, the founder and creative director of Interweave Press.
I learned to spin in 1988, and I remember splurging on this gorgeous batt of dyed burgundy wool blended with tussah silk noils. At the time I used to visit Linda Berry Walker’s farm, Wood’s Edge Wool Farm along the Delaware River in Stockton, NJ to purchase wool and batts for spinning. After spinning the yarn, I wove the front panels, then with an imported silk yarn, I knit the back, cuffs, front and bottom edges of the vest. This was finished in 1988 and as far as I can remember, the last major start to finish project I tackled. My first child was born in 1989! But today, I can probably wear the vest even in Memphis weather! So yes, I think it’s time that these vintage handwoven clothes come out of their china closet and start living again!
As for my mother. She is 85 years old and living it up. Apparently she emerged from her own china closet about the time I left home when I was 18! I guess kids can do that to you.