The Loom and the Yarn: A Tale of Epic Proportions / by Brielle DuFlon

On Dec. 27th I went to my boyfriend's mother's Christmas party and met Carter Howards. Carter is an artist and did a good amount of painting throughout her childhood and into her 20's, she then wove for 40 years until arthritis prevented her from continuing do so, and has now picked up the camera and photography has become her medium of choice. She goes on little scouting adventures in the VA countryside (or wherever she might travel in the world) and finds places to photograph. 

While we were talking about weaving I of course told her of my humble venture into making my simple loom and my 'Window and Wing' piece out of recycled material and cotton thread. I told her that it took me forever and had filled me with even more respect for weavers than I already had, having grown up Guatemala watching women weave with back-strap looms. She told me about her Macomber loom that she ordered from Maine in 1969 and didn't receive until 1971 because of the waitlist and the time it took to make each loom by hand. The loom is solid maple with steel and cast iron fixtures. 

At the party while we were talking about weaving she mentioned that she had the loom in her basement along with copious amounts of yarn that she'd collected all over the country and world on her travels and was actually trying to find a home for it, since she hadn't been able to use if for around 6 years and the yarn could actually go bad if it wasn't used. I assumed she was trying to sell it so I didn't pry for more information, as I couldn't afford it. But after the party, she went up to Amy, Colin's mom, the host of the party and her longtime friend, and told her that she'd like to give me the loom and as much of the yarn as I'd like because someone had to use it and she liked me. Would Amy and I like to look at it sometime at her house? 

The answer was obvious, though I couldn't really believe someone wanted to plop a loom in my lap, and as much yarn as I wanted. The truth is, I had no idea how much yarn Carter actually had. 

Amy and I drove out to see her one Tuesday and looked at everything. I took this picture: 

Carter's weaving studio in Ivy, VA. 

Carter's weaving studio in Ivy, VA. 

That's not even all the yarn! 

We took four full trash bags of yarn that day, when we left. I decided I wanted it all, because how could I choose some? And why not? I could always get rid of what I didn't end up wanting, or throwing away yarn that gave too easily under pressure, etc. She even offered me the shelves and the baskets. I told her I'd get my studio ready to move everything in and then I'd have a better idea of what I needed as far as storage was concerned. 

Over the next few weeks I tied up a few loose ends at the studio - took down my show that had been up in January, put some of the pieces away, moved things around to make room for the loom. I figured I could fit 5 of her 7 shelves and all of the baskets she wanted to give me. 

I coerced some strong buddies to come help me on a Sunday, and Colin and I rented a pretty big u-haul and we all set off for Carter's house around 11am. 

When we got there, Carter had already packed a lot of the yarn into trash bags for me. She had also collapsed the beautiful loom as much as possible (the sides can fold in ) and tied all of it's parts together so that nothing would fall off or get lost in the process of moving it. Here is Carter on the day we came to pick up the loom, standing with this beautiful tool that she was passing on to me: 

Carter Howards with her loom and yarn, moving Day. 

Carter Howards with her loom and yarn, moving Day. 

The boys wasted no time! They moved the loom into the truck first, then the shelves as we quickly emptied them of yarn, then the bags of yarn themselves, the boxes of extra loom parts, the baskets. We were done within a half hour and Carter was totally impressed! 

We drove everything back to McGuffey and moved it all into my studio. Believe it or not, the loom even fit on the elevator! it was insane! It's pretty much exactly 6 feet long. 

We piled everything into my side of the studio and decided it was time for pizza and beer. I took all who could stay to lunch at Mellow Mushroom which was delicious and a blast. When we left to go to lunch, the studio looked like this: 

It was a mess! I could barely see the floor on my side of the room. 

I got to work organizing pretty quickly. I decided to start with the cream colored yarns, and dove into that the day after we moved everything in. My lady friend Molly Mills came over to help. Here's a photo from when were up to our waists in cream colored fiber!:

Molly Mills, Badass. 

Molly Mills, Badass. 

From cream, I moved on to white, gray and then yellow. The studio sorta started coming together. When I needed a break from the overwhelming piles of yarn yet to be catalogued, I would turn and look at this one organized corner: 

After the yellows came the browns, after the browns, the oranges: 

After the oranges came the reds. I finished the reds and then I went home to Guatemala for two weeks and thought frequently of all of the bags of yarn on the floor (though fewer than there had been, the floor itself was actually visible again at this point). 

I came home from Guatemala determined to finish the process of cataloguing, taking inventory and putting away all of the yarn from Carter. I'd spent the entire week before my trip with yarn, and when I got home I spent my first week home sorting the terra-cotta and brick colors, mauves, reddish-purples, deep cranberrys and plums and then went into the deep purple-reds: 

And then the purples themselves that all ended up in baskets along the top of the shelves: 

Then, just because I was sick of staring at warm colors, I catalogued and took inventory of the greens, late into the night that friday night. That was now two full weeks I'd spent with yarn: 


That Saturday I catalogued the sea-foam greens and came back on Monday and started on pink:

And from pink I moved on to blue, the final color family... This was Tuesday....

I don't have a photo of the very last group of blues I sorted on Wednesday, I forgot to take one :/ but they were beautiful too - while these had a little green in them, the other blues had some purple in them, or they were that beautiful deep navy family. 

Believe it or not, none of the blues or pinks that are in these last two pictures are even on display! There's no room out front for them. So they're all in storage in my crawl space and if I want to use them I can find them through the inventory. They're stored in families so it shouldn't be too hard. But it's insane. I have all the baskets and shelves full and I still have 13 trash bags full of inventoried yarn in storage!!! They won't stay in plastic for long - yarn needs to breathe, so storing it in plastic is a death sentence! Moisture can get trapped in the bag and rot the yarn. I have cloth hampers coming in the mail ;).

The studio and the loom are looking pretty good though, check it out: 

Sorry that last photo is a little dark, the lighting was tricky at the end of the day. But things are sort of back to normal in the studio now and I couldn't be happier to be surrounded by all the beautiful colors. I'm still in disbelief. I'm trying to move past feeling undeserving. And I'm trying to not place too much pressure on myself as far as meeting to now make amazing weavings and becoming a badass weaver pronto, etc. 

Carter is coming over tomorrow to help me set the loom back up fully and teach me to warp. I have a lot of reading to do, and all the books on weaving I'll ever need (thanks to Carter, of course). 

This year is pretty much all set for me art-wise. I have three shows lined up for sure and am submitting to a collaborative show that might amazingly pan out as well, so the weaving is going to be something I want to take my time getting comfortable with and just learning how to do well on my own time. It's so so exciting though. Every time I walk in to my studio I get overcome with a feeling of tenderness for this beautiful loom and for Carter who truly changed my life. 

I told her that and in true Carter fashion she responded "Don't make me responsible for your life!" ha!