It's been a great week for learning new things and getting to create and explore. On Thursday a few friends and former co-workers gathered up at North Park Village Nature Center. Our challenge was to try and construct a simple loom out of buckthorn (an invasive tree that is all over the Nature Center) and jute. If you want to get a sense of what we were attempting to make, check out this clip on YouTube. (Minus the charming British accents.) Note well that I just found this video tonight while posting and no one involved had any real clue what exactly we were really making other than the fact that involved, well, buckthorn and jute.
I had made a loom like this when I did a week-long course up at The Clearing a few years back. I remember it being a fabulous hands-on activity for our large group that truly required team-work. At the Clearing we put cut grasses and other tall, thin plants in the loom and created a completely natural "mat" that doubled as a nicely textured wall hanging. Typical for me, I was so enjoying the process of making the loom back then that I never took notes. (So I couldn't recreate it it from memory, which has been fuzzy at best since having wee ones.) But just recently, in a funny 1950s book called, simply, "Nature Crafts" I found this write-up on Grass Mat Looms. Eureka! I made a copy, snail-mailed it up to my friend Sean at the Nature Center and asked via a sticky note (aren't I old-school?) "Do you think we could try this sometime?"
Sean, being the kind of person who always seems to be up for trying something out, said yes and proceeded to line up a date and also began cutting buckthorn. He asked a few friends as did I and the next thing you know there were half a dozen of us there at the Nature Center on Thursday ready to construct a loom. The one challenge we faced was that thing you can never, ever control: the weather. It had been raining on and off all day and was raining lightly but we didn't let that stop us.
We headed out and began pounding the buckthorn stakes into the soggy ground. Instead of using a hammer, Sean had us use a buckthorn mallet. And why not, right? We hammered a total of nine stakes into the ground (two at the top and seven at the bottom end) and then got busy knotting and lashing wood together with the jute.I have fallen in love with the word "lashing" it is a very compelling and good-sounding word.
I'd say the one skill we all seemed to be lacking in (except Sean of course) was knot tying. And tying knots in the rain with super large work gloves is even trickier. But he showed us a variety of knots (a notching knot was one) and we slowly made progress with the base of the loom as well as the "shuttle" which is the thing you move back and forth to make the mat.
Here's Molly checking on the knots and the tension . . .
So we as a group built the loom with lots of joking about knot tying and how insanely satisfying it can be to just whack a stick or a couple of sticks with a large mallet. I don't know, but the easy banter that happens when you are trying to make something collectively and you are all there because you really want to be was quite satisfying in itself. And we were all set to start laying plant material on the jute and moving the shuttle-thing back and forth to take ourselves into the final phase of the project . . . and then can you guess what happened? Yep. The skies opened up. I mean torrential rains with lots of lightning for added drama. (It actually rained so hard and for such a long time that our entire street was flooded later that day and when I returned from looming. had trouble finding "high ground" to park on.) So we had to go inside. And yet, our loom is done, it is sitting patiently at the Nature Center waiting for us to return and start putting it to use. It might have to be very patient. Maple tapping at the Nature Center is almost in full swing and spring gets so gonzo for people connected to outdoor happenings and events and education. But we all agreed we would re-group to make the mat. I mean, what's the point of making a loom if you don't use it to create something? (Maybe it's just knowing you now know how to make it?) Either way, I promise to post photos of the second half of the project.