We recently toured Grovewood Gallery in Asheville, North Carolina, housed in what used to be Biltmore Estate Industries/Biltmore Industries and the Homespun Shop. In its heydey, Biltmore Industries produced “hand-loomed woolens…sold in some of the best shops in the country. Biltmore Industries’ fame for quality wool fabric even extended to the American presidents.” (http://www.grovewood.com/about-us/history)
The process of weaving fabric by hand is incredibly intricate, painstaking, and very labor-intensive. I had no idea so much work was involved!! Only men worked on the looms because they had the upper body strength to do it.
In the case of the particular loom used by Biltmore Industries, 1068 individual strands of thread were hand-threaded in pairs through guides (lease rods) onto the loom from a roll of continuous warp (the carefully-wound large roll of threads). One thread from the pair went through a heddle eye on an upper heddle and the other thread went through a heddle eye onto the lower heddle (for a simple, plain weave). If one thread was out of place, the loom wouldn’t work. In order to work properly, there also has to be the correct amount of tension on the warm threads.
As half of the threads on one heddle were lifted up, the shuttle (with weft thread) was passed between the upper and lower threads. The heddles were then switched (using a foot-operated control) so the lower ones then become the upper ones (and vice versa) and the weft thread was locked into the warp so it could firmly become part of the woven fabric. The new thread was then “beaten” against the already-formed fabric, and the process was repeated. All that work…for a basic piece of cloth.
As I understand it, in order to make a pattern such as plaid, up to 8 heddles were used on this size of loom – and an equal number of foot pedals! Complicated, isn’t it??! For wider fabric, more intricate patterns, picture-type scenes or tapestries, the process was even more complicated!! Wow!
Basic loom workings:
Diagram of the formation of fabric on a loom: (1) warp beam, (2) warp threads (yarns), (3) whip roll, (4) lease rods, (5) top beater, (6) reed, (7) shuttle, (8) breast beam, (9) guide, (10) sand roll, (11) cloth beam, (12) rocker shaft, (13) sley swords, (14) harness (with heddle), (15) heddle eye, (16) batten (http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Hand+loom)
As anyone who has read this blog knows, I’ve always thought of grief as the process of integrating loss into the fabric of one’s life and that I try to understand, explain, and think of concepts in pictures or analogies.
It seems to me that, at times, people tend to think of life as an ongoing process such as weaving fabric (e.g. Carole King’s “Tapestry” or Corrie Ten Boom’s Poem “Life is But the Weaving“). We talk about people becoming unraveled, ragged, frayed. We hear commentators and politicians talk about things affecting the very fabric of our lives. People talk about events that tear at their lives or tear lives apart. All of these are “fabric” terminologies.
To continue this analogy, the death of a child interrupts and changes the patterns in our lives – the entire fabric of our lives and the continuity of the weaving, as it were. It’s as if a giant knife or scissors has come along and hacked at many of the continuous warp threads on which the pattern of our lives is being woven. Threads are missing, frayed, tattered, broken, cut – not just a few threads, but a majority of them. All of a sudden the pattern we were following as we worked on the weaving our of lives – our hopes, dreams and expectations – is gone. The continuity is gone!!
In the early, numb phases of grief following the death of a child, it seems as though the weaving has stopped. Not only is the pattern is gone – it’s been obliterated – but there’s not much base of thread to work on. We look at the jumbled mess and don’t even know where to start. We don’t have the energy, focus, or desire to start.
Bereaved parents talk about life in terms of “before” and “after” the death of their child. We look back and see the already-completed picture. We look forward and see a mess of broken, frayed, and missing strings. All of those nice, neat, straight threads on which we were weaving the pattern of our lives are gone. The pattern or picture (future) we imagined and were working on is gone. The continuity and patterns are gone – and it’s all so very overwhelming. Sometimes we have to just do the minimal work on our “loom” – whatever we can handle until we are able to do more.
At some point (when we are able), the next phase begins – the restructuring of all those cut and frayed ends into something usable, stable, worthwhile, and meaningful on which we can begin to weave again, something that can handle the tension of weaving a “new” pattern. That’s when reality sets in and all the hard work begins.
We have to untangle the broken threads – both the threads that that hang from the already-finished weaving and the warp threads that should be connected to it. Threads that have been damaged and are not strong enough to handle the tension of the weaving process must be cut and replaced with new thread. We have to figure out a way to connect ALL of the old threads to the new in order to start the actual process of weaving again in earnest.
Once the threads are repaired and connected again, we can slowly and carefully start integrating (weaving) the loss into the fabric of our lives. Sometimes the process is affected or delayed by additional changes or losses – secondary wounds, lost friendships and relationships, loss of another loved one, loss of job, selling a home, moving – all which additionally fray or cut the threads of our continuity and lives. These threads, too, must be repaired or replaced. Sometimes we miss repairing some threads and have to go back later and try to repair the damage. Sometimes we have to compensate for damage that cannot be repaired. The whole thing is a slow, painstaking, labor-intensive and difficult process.
The “product” we complete during this time may not look all that pretty for a while. It may not be lovely to look at; it certainly looks nothing like it used to. It may be uneven and contain unsightly knots or blemishes. It may have holes. It may have odd colors in it. The “pattern” we knew and were weaving – previously almost by rote – is gone, and we have to find a new one – sometimes through trial and error. We may not even have a clue what the pattern will look like right away; all we know is that it won’t look like what was already completed before our child died. The important thing is that we are working on it.
Sometimes people who grieve deeply seem to be selfish and self-absorbed during these early years. Sometimes the process takes longer than others expect it to, so they get impatient and leave. Sometimes they get impatient and step in uninvited to “help,” which may confuse or disrupt the process and not accomplish what was intended.
If those friends and family surrounding a bereaved parent could picture a huge loom (much bigger than the one pictured above) with threads of many, many colors…and many, many, many broken threads…and then picture all the time and energy it would take to untangle, repair and restring all of those threads in order to start “weaving” again the multifaceted and intricate pattern of our lives, then perhaps more understanding and tolerance for the griever and the grieving process would be the end result. If they could picture themselves standing close by to encourage or hand us a tool or thread when we ask or need help, perhaps the restructuring and weaving process would be a little easier.
We have to integrate the huge loss of the death of our child – and any additional or secondary losses – into the very fabric of our lives. Please be patient with us as we endeavor to do the best we can to repair all of the broken threads and once again start weaving the intricate pattern of our lives. Don’t disappear; don’t ignore us. Encourage us; be kind and show us that you care. The integration of our loss into the fabric of our lives may take a while; it’s a very difficult, time-consuming, labor-intensive thing to do.
© 2012 Rebecca R. Carney