Weft and Warp and Ancestry


First project on the new loom.
When I got married and moved into my husband’s house, I found some amazing treasures that had been sitting neglected in his closets and cabinets. One of them was a beautiful, hand-woven table runner, a gift from his great Aunt Eina in Sweden, sister to his maternal grandmother. Today that runner graces the piano in our living room. I often admire that runner, and it has peaked my interest in weaving.

Since getting married, I have learned to knit, and having become part of the knitting community, I have also discovered the world of weft, warp and rigid heddle. I recently ordered a knitter’s loom whose arrival I awaited as expectantly as any child awaits an oncoming birthday, and I even signed up for a weaving course at this year’s Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival.

My family ancestry is truly Heinz 57: English, Scotch-Irish, Castilian Spanish, and Cuban with a little Italian thrown in for good measure. My husband’s is Swedish and Italian. I think it is important to understand the ghosts who make up our shared history, and one way we can do that by discovering their traditions and learning their languages.

Weaving, knitting and other fiber arts can be found in almost every culture you choose to study, and by trying my hand at the kinds of weaving practiced in those cultures—or at least learning about them, I discover a little bit about my ancestors and the lives they led, and maybe, just maybe, I can connect a little better to the past that is programmed in my DNA. For although I want to live fully in the present, the present is lived best if it is informed by the past.

Humans have been weaving fabric for thousands of years; every civilization has had its weavers from populations in the Neolithic to Egypt at its prime to today. One of the inventions of the Islamic Golden Age was a loom in which the heddles were operated by foot pedals, this design was improved upon in Moorish Spain and became the underlying design for traditional European looms. Certainly we are familiar with the intricately woven rugs of Persia, the wools of England and Scotland and the beautiful, symbolic Native American weavings from the indigenous people in North America. Each of these are unique to the culture that produced them; yet all cultures are the same in that they produced woven fabrics that did more than merely provide protective cover: the fabrics told the stories of their lives and culture.

So, I am excited by this new adventure I am starting. Of course it will be fraught with tangled threads and scraggly edges to begin with, but I’ll learn a lot, make new friends in the process, and perhaps connect, in some small way, with those who have traveled this road before me.

© 2012 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.

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