There Was This One Time at Vavstuga: Home Again

What an adventure!! 8-Weeks away from home, immersed in a whole new world. Yes, I had never even been to Massachusetts let alone having slept in a cabin but found myself loading up the old Prius and driving 800 miles all with the promise of leveling up on my weaving skills. I received a scholarship, thanks to Ddora Foundation and Fabric of Life, an organisation founded to preserve and teach traditional skills. To be honest I was a bit worried about living in this new place far away from the safety of my home and family but this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was WONDERFUL. I can’t possibly share every last moment that made this experience so enriching and transformative. If anything my actions from here on will provide a more accurate record.

2021 Vavstuga Swedish Immersion Cohort

I left home with the goal of becoming a better weaver, learning different strategies for teaching weaving to others, and most importantly experiencing what it’s like to use handwoven textiles in a modern context. Vavstuga Weaving School delivered on all of this plus some!!

My colorful handwoven creatiions from Vavstuga

Coming from a culture in which napkins are made of tissue and table cloths are plastic and only used for Birthday parties, it was important for me to see how handwovens are actually used in the home. Real talk, I am a product of the generation of parents who had formal dining rooms that were set up with place settings that NEVER got used because no one EVER went in there. I don’t know if it’s a “Black” thing, but everyone I knew growing up did this. When we bought our homes we weren’t interested in having a formal dining room. Total waste. We’d eat in the kitchen and at a counter. Before going to Vavstuga I had only recently warmed up to idea of handwoven dishtowels. As far as I was concerned if I wove a beautiful fabric I ‘d find a way to wear it because what’s the point of a table runner? I’m a changed woman.

I was so excited to get home and put my new handwoven linen tablecloth on the table.

Spending time in the farmhouse really showed me just how much handwovens personalize and transform a space. It also showed me how practical handwoven textiles are for daily use. EVERY textile in the house was handwoven. The curtains, cushions, blankets, rugs, hand towels, dishtowels, napkins, table cloths at every turn had a personalized touch. Everyday a new set of table linens brightened our day in every color combination possible. No amount of shopping could produce such a variety. Each woven piece has a story to tell about its creation. Every week we chose new colors and patterns of napkins to use at meals and hand towels for the bathroom. It was cute but also incredibly practical. I now realize what I was missing. I left Massachusetts having every intention of replacing all of my generic textiles one by one. I have so much to create.

One of my favorite pieces in the farmhouse. A blanket woven in the Smolansvav technique with a sheep skin backing

We planned textiles and wove everyday mostly in the barn. I loved it, especially working late into the night. I was so inspired that I decided that the new shed I ordered would house looms instead of the lawn mower. Yes, looms. I couldn’t just learn all those weave structures and not be able to weave them at home. After learning more efficient ways to set up my loom I gained a new enthusiasm for weaving lots of different types of cloth. I scoured the internet for used countermarche looms that had more shafts. I added 3 to the herd. They have quirks and need elbow grease, but the prices were cheap and I can now weave the new structures I learned. Imagine that! me a tabby weaver branching out into multi-shaft patterns!! Whoodathunkit?!

My tiny workshop with my herd of countermarch looms

We had many spontaneous adventures and discoveries. One of the most memorable was when me and Gyorgy had planned to spin some yarn on the porch with Becky, our instructor/master weaver/and friend. It got late and Becky hadn’t arrived so I headed back to my cabin up the hill around 10:30pm. Halfway there I spotted a large, wild, beast of some sort snorting in the distance. My heart froze for a moment and as soon as I could think to move I bee-lined back to the farmhouse. As I approached, a headlamp appeared. To my relief, a familiar cheerful voice came soon after. It was Becky! We ended up going back inside and exploring her spinning wheel collection in the attic. Guess what, she had a Great Wheel! It had been up there for years. She had never spun on it. We brought it down and the three of us set out to get the wheel working. With the help of Youtube clips we learned to spin wool on the great wheel, laughed, and chatted the night away. It was midnight when we left. That wild beast, by the way, was just a deer. Lol

Yes, I fell in love with that great wheel back in Massachusetts and so….

Spinning Cotton at home on my new Great Wheel

There is so much that transpired in that two months you’ll just have to listen to my “There was this one-time at Vavstuga” stories in perpetuity.

We wove lots of linen singles which has been something I’ve been avoiding even though I love to spin flax. A lot has been demystified. Among the weaving that we explored was: cottolin towels in twill and rickrack, yardage for clothing, linen tow table cloth, wool blanket, 10-shaft satin damask, rosepath on opposites, monks belt, ticking, deflected double weave, overshot, and the one that stole my heart the most Smolansvav /skillbragd (loom-controlled brocade).

When I got home the first thing I did was stain the floor in the new shed and cleaned and set up looms inside.

My nephew was happy to help me coat the floor for the new workshop

Next, I wove a wool band that I fell in love with from Becky’s extensive collection. I had learned the hack to weaving supplementary warp designs quickly on a 4-shaft loom and measured myself a warp to take home and weave.

Becky’s extensive collection of woven band samples
weaving a wool supplementary warp band on 4 shafts. The key is to spread the warp out on the back beam. It weaves up so fast! No sticking threads

I sewed my fabric yardage into a colorful pinafore. It has everything I love, jewel tones, high contrast, a little sparkle, and a practical design that I can wear anytime.

A few days later I set up one of the new-to-me looms, a Thorpe from New Zealand to weave Smolansvav. It was not so easy since the loom came without the wooden wedges to hold it together! I first set the thing up with some makeshift cardboard pieces which worked long enough to see the loom go together. The loom was shaky so I got brave and carved out some crude looking wedges from wooden trim soon after. My rigging worked perfectly and I wove a set of placemats and napkins. The 1st I’ve ever owned!!

I think I’ll do some hand towels next. We’ll see


6 thoughts on “There Was This One Time at Vavstuga: Home Again”

  1. Beautiful photos Melvenea! what an experience! Love your Cabin! all so inspiring? Will you be making more pinafores? Will you have linen pieces to sell in the future?

  2. I am so happy to have found your blog. It feels like meeting a kindred spirit. I look forward to following you and learning more.

  3. Just discovered your blog via Gist Yarn. This blog post is very inspiring, thank you for sharing! Your excitement and commitment shines through. I look forward to seeing where this continues to take you. BTW, we always called the living room and dining room the museum room. Look but don’t touch!

  4. I heard your interview on Gist Yarn and loved it. I used to live in Western Massachusetts and had some lessons with Becky many years ago. She is a great teacher and her attic and house full of looms is like wonderland! I have a few Swedish looms and weave mostly tapestry now. Your Smolansvav is gorgeous and I love your smock. If you ever have any questions about setting up the counter marche looms, tying them up, etc. feel free to reach out. I am moving from CA to Ithaca, NY by mid March, but always available by email. Cheers and thank you for sharing all your beautiful thoughts as well, Leslie ( leslie.whitcomb88@protonmail.com)

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