This is the story of how a little pot of wet yarn became 4.3 yards of exquisite, one-of-a-kind fabric. I’m mostly going to let the (obscene number of) photos do the talking, because to me it’s pretty much sorcery, but this is my friend Allison Volek-Shelton of Shutters and Shuttles working her magic for me. As I wrote in my Fall Amirisu essay: “I don’t raise sheep, or shear them. I’ve never spun my own yarn. And I’m not much of a weaver, either. I’m still at the mercy of others for the materials I make my clothes from. When I knit a sweater or sew a dress, I can be 100% certain that no one was forced to make it for me in unsafe conditions or without being paid a living wage. But what about those materials I’m working with?” So as you may know, my big idea for Slow Fashion October was to have Allison weave a piece of custom cloth for me, from which I will cut and sew a garment.
We got together several weeks ago and decided to build it around a painted warp, a process I’ve seen her do fantastically well for designers Jamie and the Jones. So one day in mid-Sept, I went to her studio to watch the actual painting of the warp, above, and that’s where it all began.
The US-grown and -spun cotton was painted with fiber reactive dyes Allison had mixed up in a few different shades of blue. After it sat a few minutes, she washed out each hank and hung them to dry in the warm Tennessee breeze, then last Friday I went to watch her begin tying it onto the loom.
She had previously been weaving blankets on this loom, and cutting those off left the 1200 ends of natural warp, onto which she would tie the 1200 new ends of my painted warp. One knot at a time. This would take her about 4.5 hours, so I left her to it. On Monday afternoon, I returned for the next step: warping the loom, i.e. passing those ends through the 16 harnesses. Gradually the new warp made its way up around the sectional beam, with Allison painstakingly combing out the ends a little at a time as she went, like trying to comb through a little girl’s hair after a bath.
As she continued to work, I took 600 photos that look like this:
Once she’d reached the other ends, it was time to tie them to the canvas apron (fewer knots this time!) and then finally the weaving could begin. I was already a little in awe of how physical the whole process is, and then she began to weave. All I can say is that is hard work. I wish I had video.
The next afternoon she called me back to her studio so I could watch as she cut it from the loom — 4.3 yards of splendor, the final yard of which we decided to do in a textured weave. It is so beautiful, and so soft.
Don’t ask me what I plan to do with it. Figuring that out is step 2.
PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Week 2, SMALL — and some of my hardest-working garments