Oberlin Blogs

From Yarn to Garment X

March 24, 2011

Ida Hoequist ’14

While I was squelching through manure and manipulating third graders in Oregon, my roommate spent a cozy Winter Term bonding in the kitchen of Harkness and in the Firelands Association for the Visual Arts (FAVA) Gallery. I am endlessly jealous not only of the weaving she did and of the lovely end product, but also of how totally chill her entire Winter Term was. I've decided to let her tell the story herself (so that you, too, can share my envy); without further ado, I present to you the voice of Sarah Francis!

I signed up for an on-campus Winter Term project called "From Yarn to Garment X" because I was too overwhelmed by the endless possibilities to come up with an independent project of my own (and also because the project, along with many other on-campus group projects, sounded awesome). I also knew that a lot of my friends would be on campus over Winter Term, and I thought it would be fun to experience Oberlin then. All I knew about this project before January 5th was that Betsy Bruce, the director of the Athletic Department at Oberlin, would be teaching us how to use a weaving loom, and that we would design and make a garment of our choice. I have always been interested in fiber arts, mostly involving fabric and a sewing machine, but I had never tried my hand at weaving before.

At our organizational meeting at the end of December, Betsy showed us countless pictures and fabric swatches of projects that had been done in past Winter Terms. I was amazed at the beautiful things people had created, and in only one month! I became obsessed with designing my project over winter break while I was home. At first I wanted to make some sort of blazer or jacket, but then I thought about how much fun it would be to make a dress, too - I didn't end up deciding until the very last minute, right before I had to purchase yarn for my project.

On January 4th, after a grueling ten hour drive from home, I arrived back on campus at around 8:00 pm. I immediately began unpacking, and then repacking again for a fun-filled adventure out East with the other students in my group project. Over the course of four days, we found creative ways to entertain ourselves during the long van rides, visited a professional weaving studio in Clinton, New York, learned about American textile history in Lowell, Massachusetts, toured a privately-owned wool spinning company in Harrisville, New Hampshire, and shopped for yarn at the biggest yarn store in the country. Nobody in the group knew each other before the trip, but we knew each other very well by the end of those four days. The night before we went shopping for yarn, I finally decided to make a patterned cap-sleeve dress with fringe on the hemline and a solid-colored scarf to go around the waist. I was undecided about specific colors until I examined the choices, and eventually settled on forest green and cream.

Once back in Oberlin, we all met at FAVA Gallery in the local art building, where we found a room full of weaving looms with our names on them. Much to our dismay, it would be several days before any of us could actually begin weaving.

For the remainder of the month, we went to FAVA Gallery every weekday for four hours each day. The entirety of the first day was spent "making the warp," which basically amounts to making anywhere between 200 to 500 threads (depending on how thick your yarn is) of exactly the same length to be threaded onto the loom.

A warping board used for measuring out threads
The warping board I used for wrapping yarn around to measure out the threads.

After we all made our warps, it took another several days to actually thread it into the loom. Each individual thread had to be pulled through a small eye, called a "heddle," in a certain order to create the correct pattern. Many of us became impatient and frustrated, but we were soon to be rewarded for our perseverance.

Threads being pulled through the heddles
Partway through the process of threading the heddles.
Tying the warp onto the loom
Tying the warp onto the loom.

Once we started weaving, the fun really began. It was so easy (assuming that you threaded your heddles correctly and that your tension was even so none of your threads broke), and the fabrics we created were so beautiful! The weaving process itself was somewhat monotonous, but totally therapeutic.

The fabric starting to take shape
The first few inches of my fabric!
The sewing shuttle used to make the pattern
The shuttle I wove back and forth to make the pattern.

When the weaving was done, it was time to sew. The sewing process shouldn't have taken terribly long, but I spent countless minutes in front of the mirror pondering what I could do to every inch of my dress to make it fit better.

The sewing machine used for making the fabric
The adorable sewing machine I used - I think it looks like a diner!

By the end, I was very satisfied with the result, and I wove a solid-colored green scarf to go around the waist. Watching everyone else's projects come together was really incredible, too. I was amazed by each and every creation. There were two wool hooded capes that looked beautifully warm, a pastel-colored blazer with a pink collar, a delectable double-breasted wool jacket, a striped wool sweater with eye-catching colors, two flowing origami dresses, a wool bat-wing top, a striped vest, and a hammock made by one of the adults at the studio.

Sarah Francis poses in the finished dress
The finished dress!
The back view of the dress
Back view - I think the socks really add to the look.

That month was probably the most relaxing month of my life. Class didn't start until 1:00, so I was able to wake up late, bike over to the gym to do some cardio, shower, lounge around in my bathrobe drinking tea and listening to NPR podcasts, and head over to Harkness Co-op for lunch, all before class started. Dining in Harkness was a wonderful part of my on-campus Winter Term experience, not least because I had heard of OSCA before Winter Term, but never fully appreciated it until I was able eat there. I loved crossing the street to find a new and delicious meal; learning something about cooking over the course of the term was great fun, and doing clean-up crews was actually kind of fun as well.

After class was over at 5:00 every day, I usually came back to the dorm to lounge around even more. I taught myself to knit, and ended up with a pair of alpaca-silk hand-warmers and a pair of cabled wool socks by the end of the month. At 6:20, I would head back over to Harkness to enjoy the latest kitchen creation, and then I sometimes stayed after dinner to help with crew. Most of the time, I came back to the dorm to hang out with friends while they cooked dinner for themselves in the dorm kitchen.

It may sound like I had so much time on my hands that I should have gone crazy with boredom, but believe me, I was not bored for one second over Winter Term. Between reading good books, learning how to knit, cooking, listening to podcasts and books on tape, and spending time with friends who stayed, there was never a dull moment. It was also incredibly relaxing, and even though I enjoyed myself immensely, I got a bit tired of relaxation by the end of the month and was really excited for classes and for my roommate and the rest of my friends to return to campus at the beginning of February. The day before classes started, there was a fashion show at FAVA where we all wore our beautiful garments and walked the runway while the audience gawked and fondled the edges of our fabrics. My friends were amazed at everyone's creations, and I was very proud of the work we had all done. Looking back on it, it doesn't seem like any part of the process was terribly difficult, but if you only see the end result, I can see why it would appear incredibly impressive. I have truly learned the meaning of high-quality clothing, and I hope I will have the opportunity to weave in the future! Next time I'll make something wool and warm and cozy.

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