It’s in the Genes

my grandmother and myself.

I am cleaning out a cedar chest and found 3 rag rugs that my grandmother had woven and which are now at least 75 years old. As a young bride, I was so happy to use them on the cold floors in my old farmhouse. Now they are falling into disrepair, and as a rag rug weaver myself, I am tempted to reweave them on new string. The weaving is not the time consuming part after all, all the cloth has been prepared and it’s just the warp threads which have worn out in places.

My grandmother, Maria Jakkola nee Ravantti, emigrated to Canada from Finland in 1911. She joined her husband and settled in Copper Cliff, Ontario where there was a large Finnish population. Unfortunately, she was widowed young, with a family of 5 children. Never really becoming proficient in English, she earned money cleaning houses. Her employers gave her clothing and other textiles. She employed a “Hobo” , (one of those transient men wandering around, looking for work during the depression years,} to construct a large wooden loom according to her specifications. She would weave rugs for her family’s use and to sell.

I never really got to know her, she was quite elderly by the time I would have asked her about weaving, and she never did become proficient in English. I do wonder, for example, where she purchased her warp string. I also wish I had a photo of her loom, but there are none. She promised her loom to me but, unfortunately it was chopped into firewood before I could retrieve it. My mother told me that was probably for the best as it was an awkward old thing. I have heard a story about a dying pioneer woman who asked for her loom to be burned outside her window so that she could be sure that no one else would have to suffer as she had.

At any rate, I purchased my first loom and have never looked back.

I have 5 floor looms now and I weave my rugs on an old, hand built loom of cherry wood, very sturdy and heavy, perfect for rugs. It was a gift from a former student and I treasure it.

I am in awe of my grandmother’s work. I have a wool blanket she wove in 2 pieces, joined down the centre with the pattern matching perfectly. That would have been so difficult, I wonder where she purchased the coloured fine wools she used for it.

I do have a white wool blanket woven in a maritime mill from the wool from her own sheep. Also some of her crocheted lace and one of her stainless steel crochet hooks, from England, with a hook so small that it can hardly be seen. One of the rag rugs has a pattern woven in. Whew! That part would be difficult to replicate.

The upcycle/recycle aspect is also important to me. I use textiles that are not very useful in other ways, but sometimes I am tempted by a colour or pattern to use something else.

I have been weaving for over 50 years by now, with many bags of offcuts of my handwoven cloth that I have saved for years. I am now “felting” the pieces somewhat, cutting into strips and weaving rugs from that cloth. I am pleased with the results and have more cloth to use in that way. This photo includes the beater bar on my rug loom and look at the handcarved centre handhold as well as a rug being woven from my woven scraps.

Most weavers go through a stage of weaving patterns, I did and wove a cloth of Swedish Lace pattern to make cushion covers to put on my grandmother’s rocking chair. When my mother saw it, she actually gasped as she said it reminded her of something my grandmother had woven for that chair. It has long since worn out, I wove it 50 years ago, I wish I had a photo of that as well. Currently I have some hooked coverings on the rocking chair, hooked by my grandfather from the other side of the family. Working with wool, I can’t stop. What can I say, it’s in the genes!

Its only fitting that I end with a photo of myself and my youngest grand daughter. She is helping wind on a warp and was very interested in the different yarns I was using, pink, her favourite colour.