Grandma’s Legacy: Learning How to Use a Loom

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I didn't want to see Grandma's loom leave her garage, much less the family.
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Rolling material into balls for my grandmother to use.

As a child I was fascinated as I sat watching my grandmother make rugs. I watched as she sewed strips of material together, and my sister and I often helped roll balls of cloth strips for her to use. As an adult, I always intended to have her teach me how to use a loom. Now, it was too late.

About a week after my grandmother passed away, a woman contacted our family wanting to buy Grandma’s rug loom. We needed to sell the loom for financial reasons, but I didn’t want to see the loom leave Grandma’s garage, much less the family.

My husband listened patiently as I wailed about losing my grandmother, who was very special to me, and now her loom. I worried that we couldn’t afford it. I also could not imagine where we would put it. It’s not small. When the price was set, I actually could afford it. But where to put it? How would I ever learn to use it?

What I wanted just didn’t seem practical. If I couldn’t learn to weave, we would just have a huge keepsake sitting around taking up space – a lot of it.

My younger brother encouraged me to buy it, and I knew I would forever regret not doing so. I jumped in with both feet and told Dad I wanted to buy the loom. My husband and I brought it home and put it in the garage.

After years of sitting idle in Grandma’s old garage, the loom needed work. I cleaned and polished the wood until it shone. But neither my husband nor I had any idea what to do with it.

Much to my surprise, my husband decided to build another room at the side of the garage just for the loom. When my grandson asked what Papa was building, my husband told him it was a room for Grandma. My poor grandson was very upset and asked, “Is Grandma going to have to sleep in the garage?”

I was very proud of my loom room. But I still didn’t know how to use the thing. We found the original owner’s manual in one of Grandma’s kitchen drawers, but it was useless to me. Warp, weft, shuttles and heddles? The book may as well have been written in Greek.

Finally, I found people who were more than willing to help. I became a part of a group of fiber artists. Until this time, fiber, to me, had been bran and oatmeal. This group of women taught me an appreciation for art forms I never knew existed, and I am in awe. These artists are constantly learning something new, and they can knit, crochet, weave, quilt, spin, tat – any number of techniques that we might consider skills of the past.

An extraordinary woman with an abundance of patience taught me to use my grandmother’s loom. I wish I could say it was a breeze, but if there was a mistake to be made, I made it.

Before I began, I had to remove Grandma’s last weaving from the loom, and now her last piece hangs in the loom room right above my first one.

My brother looked at my first rugs and said, “I never thought you would learn to use that thing!” His confidence in me was underwhelming. Luckily, my husband had more faith than my brother and me, and said, “I knew you could do it!”

After 10 years, I am still making mistakes on my beautiful two-harness Union loom. It has been a wonderful experience, and I feel very close to my grandma every time I sit down to weave. She taught me a lot without ever realizing it.

Now everyone in my family has a rug I’ve made. Prompted by my sister-in-law, I entered some rugs in the county fair and was shocked to win blue ribbons. I believe Grandma would be proud. She entered many fair competitions, and did very well. When I was a baby, she placed second or third in a national sewing competition that landed her in New York City on the television show “I’ve Got a Secret.” Her secret was that her dress was made of feed sacks. She was very resourceful and never wasteful.

Some of the ugliest material makes the prettiest rugs. You know, sow’s ear, silk purse and all that. We are all weavers. Our lives are woven together with many events. Some are happy and some are sad, but they are all woven together to make something beautiful.

My grandchildren like to watch me weave. It’s wonderful and rewarding to share this common thread between my grandmother and my grandchildren. I can’t count the times I hoped to someday be just like my grandma, because I believed her talents were limitless.

Life came full circle one day when I was weaving. One of my granddaughters looked at me and said, “Grandma, I want to be just like you when I grow up. You can do anything.”