The Family Farm in Sweden – A Textile Adventure

I’ve said it before, and I will say it many times more. I am a very lucky person! There are many reasons for me to say that but since this is being written for my fiber arts website, I will stick to some of the fiber related reasons for my gratitude and appreciation of what is: I have been warmly welcomed and embraced by my husband’s Swedish relatives who maintain the family farm in Sweden, including textiles and fiber arts equipment, from the late 1800s.

My first trip to the farm was in 2017. My second trip was in August of 2019. In between, five of the cousins came and visited us in California. We are family in the best sense of the word, and it feels wonderful!

This farm has been in my husband Michael’s family since 1850, with the original house being completed in 1853 by Michael’s great-great grandfather.

Michael’s great-great grandparents and a sister and brother-in-law of Michael’s grandfather
Michael’s great grandparents

It is located in Småland and was originally a dairy farm.

Currently, the farm, the house with newer additions (completed about 30 years ago), a cottage, and two barns are owned by seven cousins. The farm now produces pine and fir, which is well managed by the government. It is beautiful and well-loved land, forest, and creek, and it is a lovely part-time home to the family members and their guests, including those of us crossing large bodies of water to get there. To say it is a magical place is not an exaggeration.

When I first arrived at the farm in 2017, I immediately felt at home and was intrigued by the textiles and artifacts of fiber activity. Spinning wheels, a band loom, temples, and other items related to working with fiber can be found in several rooms.

Hand-crafted textiles grace tables, walls, benches, and more. When the family understood my excitement as a spinner and newer weaver, they also became enthusiastic. Soon Annica, who makes everything so beautiful and welcoming, and Margaretha, the elder of the family, took me to the cabinet in the dining room and we were exploring table cloths, hand towels, and wall hangings that ancestors created in years past. They could identify some of the items and who made them, some they knew came from other locations, and some of the textiles were made by family members but no one knows exactly who made them. Recently, Annica found some hand-woven curtains that had been stored for a long time. They now hang in the kitchen windows.

Some of the items now grace my home. I have been gifted a crisp linen hand towel with embroidery that belonged to one of Michael’s grandfather’s sisters, a fine linen finger towel woven by Annica’s mother, Ruth (niece to Michael’s grandfather), and a rep-weave table runner woven by Annica’s mother. I also have a very fine linen table square that came from somewhere else as it would require more shafts than available on the loom at the farm. Since currently no one in the family is weaving, I have gifted them with handwoven towels, table runners, and placemats. It is an honor to know that items I have woven are now in the house at the farm. It was a great feeling to see my handwoven cottolin towels in service when I arrived this year.

During my first visit, in 2017, one of the relatives suggested we visit an art exhibit in the somewhat nearby town of Virserum. The exhibit was on a renovated campus of buildings that formerly were used for making furniture. There were beautiful gardens and several buildings. I could hardly contain myself when we pulled into the parking lot. The first building I saw displayed a large sign that read “Vävstuga.” That is one Swedish word I definitely know! As luck would have it, a woman was just about to leave and one of the relatives, speaking the Swedish I could not speak, engaged her.

Anne-Charlotte, the guild president at the time, was kind enough to stay and show us the weaving studio. How amazing to walk in and see over 30 looms! They recently moved to this location and she showed us all the counterbalance, countermarche, and drawlooms. The guild has two floors, plenty of reeds, yarns, and other materials, as well as a book of obviously old drafts. It was fun to learn to communicate. The cousins did a fantastic job of translating and then eventually Anne-Charlotte and I found some common language in weaving and medicine as she is also a recently retired nurse practitioner and psychotherapist. An amazing and synchronous connection across the globe!

During that first visit in 2017, Annica found skeined weaving threads in a trunk in the house. The best estimate is that they have been there at least 50 years. They had been wrapped in newspaper. She was going to discard them but instead I brought them home. Sadly, the black and the green threads were tangled and disintegrating. I have saved most of the white thread and washed it. I’ve managed to wind a small amount of it into a ball and, using a McMoran balance, it measures as sewing thread. My plan is to ply two strands and weave a small table square of twill blocks. That is IF I can salvage enough to weave something. This will be a project requiring much patience, but I think I am ready for the challenge.

The barns at the farm contain many artifacts from the distant and the less distant past. Michael has spent many hours sorting through things, sometimes finding things from when his grandfather was a boy here. While the cousins have organized many work days that resulted in much cleaning and reorganizing, as well as retrieval and restoration, there is still quite a bit of interesting material in the barns. In 2017 we found parts of the four-shaft counterbalance loom that Michael’s great-great grandfather built in the late 1800s. Not really knowing that we would be able to return to the farm, it was more of a fantasy than a plan, but Michael was imagining restoring the loom, assuming we could find all the pieces.

On our visit to the farm this year we had more time to walk the forests and search the barns. And, amazingly, Michael found all the parts to the loom. I am familiar with Swedish counterbalance looms, but we could not quite figure out how to assemble all the parts and pieces. It just wasn’t fitting together. The warp beam didn’t fit where we thought it should go and neither did the treadles. A few days after putting the loom together as much as we could, Annica picked up Margaretha and brought her over. She came with an old text on weaving and some photos of a workshop on working with flax that she took in the 1970s. She quickly identified our error in putting together the loom. The treadles are hinged in front instead of in back and the warp beam fits in the front with the cloth beam in the back. After a brief group effort with hoisting and lifting, the loom was essentially put together. And Margaretha was delighted to be sitting at it, once again. She is the last living person to have used this loom. Annica intends to learn to weave and use this loom, probably some 140 years after it was built.

As far as we can tell, the loom is made of Swedish Alder, with the exception of the cloth beam, which is a hand-hewn log of fir. Given the lack of available sandpaper when it was built, a draw knife would have been used. It features hand forged metal in the hand cut brake and hand forged metal holding the beater. It is amazing to see the hand cut brake and all the mortise and peg work on this work horse of a loom. The warp beam is of a hexagon shape, done with a draw knife, and the beam features a chiseled crevice. Initially we thought the bench to be broken, with only three legs remaining. However, as Margaretha quickly pointed out, it is a swing bench and is attached on the left side of the loom. Nothing broken about it!Three generations studied the pencil marks on the loom, seemingly related to weaving drafts.Margaretha was so pleased that the grandson of her mother’s brother was able to reassemble the loom.

In a trunk in the house we found reeds and more parts for the loom. There is much work to be done to restore this loom. The cousins plan to repair a barn roof and remodel the kitchen and we live on the other side of the world. So, how and when loom restoration happens is anyone’s guess right now but in my mind’s eye, I can already see Annica weaving on the loom that her mother, her mother’s mother, and her mother’s mother’s-mother once used.

In the meantime, I have woven a shawl for Margaretha. It is Swedish Lace in Swedish wool and I hope it warms her heart during Sweden’s winter this year. Maybe my language skills will have progressed to the point I can converse, just a bit, with her on our next (hoped for) visit.

 

 

 

 

Transitions and Following the Thread

Hard work was inculcated. My burning desire to learn piano resulted in being given a typewriter so I could earn a living.

In order to earn a living, I’ve held many job titles over the decades since I was a young teenager. Life brought many transitions and the path has not been a straight line, but I wouldn’t say that it has been a twisted tangle, either. There has been a thread that has moved through all the transitions and me. This thread brings me to the point where I am currently contemplating a new job title.

The most important and the most beloved title I’ve ever held is Mother. This job is in my blood, bones, and breasts. It is the work I have been most passionate about and the largest part of my identity. Job descriptions have varied: new mom, mama, mom, single working mom, motherrrrrr (you know that teenage period), and now Mom Emeritus. The kids are independent adults living elsewhere. I never imagined what it would be like to work myself out of this job, but now I know.

Throughout my adult life I earned a living in health care with a variety of titles, job descriptions and professional licenses. From 20 to 30 years old I worked as a Cardiac Intensive Care RN (bells, whistles, and defibrillators) in the Ozarks, an ICU RN in San Francisco (floating to all the hospitals so none of them owned me), and then as a visiting nurse in San Francisco (fascinating to see so many cross sections of the City in the 80s). One must have passion to work so hard and let me say that there is a great deal of creativity in moment-to-moment problem solving in such environments. I studied hard, learned a lot, worked extremely hard, and I remain grateful for incredible experiences and lessons in living and dying.  I was very young when I learned – up close and personally – that life is short, precious, and subject to termination without notice. I still remember patients I cared for in the 1970s. However, I became frustrated with working conditions, lack of respect, lack of autonomy, and I wanted to do more. So, off to graduate school I went.

I became a Nurse Practitioner (in a variety of settings and roles, some great and some not so great) and then Educator at a major academic graduate program (that was pretty great). Again, I loved the work and the patients. And I was passionate about teaching, creating curricula, mentoring budding clinicians, and the amazing opportunities that came my way and that I created. However, there was never any guarantee about the faculty position, NP roles and issues were changing, and life in San Francisco was simply unaffordable. In the end, a number of factors contributed to knowing that I could not continue doing what I was doing and so after trials, tribulations, and considerable consternation about recreating myself, I was off to graduate school again.

This time around I was a single mom of two wonderful school aged kids and I was working full-time plus to keep us afloat. I loved studying, learning, and absorbing everything I could in my new field. I was passionately engaged in raising my kids and what I was learning. I knew that the first round of graduate education produced less income than I would have earned without the degree but I was hopeful and excited about this second round, working as a psychotherapist, and leaving the urban jungle.

There were a number job titles (Intern, Staff Therapist, Behavioral Health Therapist, Domestic Violence Advocate, Psychotherapist, Behavioral Health NP) and, again, a wide variety of practice locations, roles, and variations on the theme. And, again, as with nursing, some roles worked for me and some roles worked against me. I don’t do well in impossible situations, like watching the county repeatedly fail to intervene to help abused kids or provide desperately needed mental health services, not being paid enough to support a family, and working in hopelessly broken systems. I enjoyed providing depth psychotherapy for clients who wanted to make change in their lives. However, this can be isolating work in a small community and it wasn’t really paying the bills, let alone offering any possibility of not working until my last breath on this earth. I had achieved my dream of private practice psychotherapy and decided against the mountain range of debt it would take to pursue another degree and license in the hopes of better professional opportunities. In the meantime, with the kids fledging from the nest, I had become an avid knitter, a spinner, and was carding and combing fiber and exploring dyeing.

I had been able to find passion and creativity in teaching, which I had been doing since my CCU nursing days. And sometimes there is creativity in psychotherapy. After the University, other than my own private practice, work settings didn’t allow for creative problem solving. There was very little left of me after work so anything I did with fiber and the fiber guild was a very part-time passion. Meanwhile, I was quickly losing any passion for my work in health care and my patience for what was supposed to be a health care system was long gone. Perhaps in nearly 40 years of direct clinical work I had just sat with too much suffering. I was too young to retire, if retirement would ever be a possibility, anyway.

So, I transitioned to one last job title in order to finish a few years in the state system to gain a pittance of a pension. I became a regulator of vocational education. Forget creativity. Forget sanity. Forget humanity because I certainly didn’t see any of that from my glass cage. That job about killed me. Hell of a way to cap off 40 years of licensed work in health care. I utilized every single coping tool and skill I had been using and teaching clients for a couple of decades. Still, that job left lasting scars. What it did for me, though, was illustrate just how very finished I felt with any sort of “professional” role and how important it was to enjoy what I was doing.

I opted out as soon as feasible and “retired.” If you have read the “About” section of my website, you have seen the picture of me under the rainbow. That was taken just a few weeks after retiring.

Now, mind you, I had absolutely no interest in any sort of job title at that point. My goal was to be at home, tending home, hearth, partner, and garden. I found sweeping the deck to be some of the most meaningful and mindful work I had done in a few years. I was happy, I was home, and I was content. And I wanted to learn tapestry weaving. Before undertaking the study of tapestry weaving I decided to play with my four shaft counterbalance loom. I had woven only a few things prior to living away from home Monday through Friday for that last job and thought that I would do just a project or two and then use the loom for tapestry, its intended purpose when purchased.

I’ll skip over the frustration, confusion and trashed warps. I did find Ravelry was a fantastic source of information and support for weavers and I began finding some help with my many questions. And then it happened. I got hooked. Of course, my incredibly enabling spouse really tipped the balance when he insisted I should go to weaving school and get a loom that worked better for me. What happened was that I regained a sense of passion once again: Passion for learning, exploring, creating, and problem solving. And it was joyful! I was playing with color and fiber in a different way than I had with knitting and spinning. Oh, to be sure, I was knitting and spinning and dyeing and could participate in the fiber guild again, but this was different.

 

Now I just wanted to learn and explore. Be the perennial student, like I had so enjoyed in the past. I will be learning and exploring until my last breath, spirits willing, and this was a whole new field to explore. I will admit to an academic bent in this and that’s fine with me because it is always connected to hands-on at the loom. One thing leads to another and my enabling spouse has really led the charge on this one, and, as our tax attorney suggested, we diversified. Looms have been bought and sold and Tamarack Counseling and Consulting has become Tamarack Fiber Arts. My passion for color and fiber, creating, and problem solving has taken on a life of its own! But with it came the consideration of a new job title.

It has been interesting to set aside certifications, degrees, licenses, and life structured by the time clock of a regular job. This is the first time in my life to have such an opportunity. It has been fascinating to let the day shape itself, to follow my desires to play with color and fiber, and to see what I can create. Productive? Sometimes. Exploring? Definitely! Learning? Every day! Goals? Some, but I’m also learning to be gentle with that. For the first time in a long time, when I consider the “work” I am doing, I am An Si’th. I feel at peace, in harmony. My heart is singing again and it is in tune with the Oran Mor, the great song or vibration that holds the universe together.

No longer in a tangle, I enjoy what I do, I am passionately exploring many facets of weaving and the fiber arts, and, even if in very small ways, I work to create beauty in the world as I continue to learn. I will never run out of inspiration and things to do and study in the world of weaving. I can mindfully explore my way through the day. I once again have a good hold on the thread that runs through my life. And, so, my new job title is: Plays with Pretty String.                   

I’ll leave you with this poem by William Stafford.

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among

things that change. But it doesn’t change.

People wonder about what you are pursing.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost.

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

or die; and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you can do can stop time’s unfolding.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.