Monday, July 27, 2009

Those Who Can...

It's been one of those days when it seems that the entire world is now populated with people that haven't the vaguest idea of what they're talking about. I normally go through life nearly oblivious to these well-meaning souls, usually with nothing more than a slightly pained smile and that most useful of comments, "Well, bless their hearts..." Usually these poor benighted beings avoid me like a form of plague--I can be intimidating under most circumstances, and downright forbidding if I haven't had any coffee. However, the moon must be in just that phase when they all decide it's time to come out of the woodwork--or wherever else they hide hang out--and tell me exactly how to walk, talk, think, or do things. This is not a recipe for happiness: I spend most of my time telling people what to do, not the other way round.

H.L. Mencken once said, "Those who can--do. Those who can't--teach." I think it's time to update that old saw to: "Those who can--do; those who can't--complain interminably on social networking sites." The past 24 hours has been filled with comments by people complaining that they can't: a) travel where they wish; b) have the fiber they wish; or c) do a type of fiber art. An example: someone complains vociferously about how difficult/tiring/time-consuming it is to comb locks with mini-combs. Other posters join in, commiserating on how simply awful it is to use tiny combs to comb ten pounds of fleece. Finally, your intrepid blogger does what needs to be done: gently suggests that it might be best to use big bad English combs for combing the fleece, as that's what they were designed to do. At this point, the excuses begin. English combs are expensive; they are, but so is a spinning wheel, a drum carder, and we aren't even going to talk about the price of a new floor loom. English combs are dangerous, with all those long, sharp tines; so is a 10" French chef knife, and I don't hear anyone complaining about using one of those. English combs are too big and hurt my hands; have you considered doing some hand/wrist exercises? What is not being said: I'd rather use the wrong tools, spend time complaining to others, and then blame my less than satisfactory results on the tools. Poor tools--they were only doing what they were designed to do.

I'm also being plagued by the "ukants": people who say, "You can't do that." "Can't" is a word rarely found in my general vocabulary. There are very few things I can't do; as my dear mother frequently says, "I could probably do brain surgery, given the right training and tools," and I've usually followed that same philosophy. When someone says "can't," if they're lucky, they'll get "The Look"--that sideways over-the-glasses look that teachers give students who are about to do something stupid/wrong/illegal. If they aren't lucky, they may be treated to a "gentle" explanation--in excrutiating detail--of exactly how I will go about doing just what they said I couldn't do, followed up by my giving them several suggestions on what they can do (jump in a lake, kiss a pig, you get the idea).

The latest target of the ukants is my good old Gilmore loom. It's big, it's heavy, it's old, it's noisy, and it weaves like nobody's business. A lot of thread has passed over the warp and breast beams of that loom (it's not dated, but the consensus is that it's from around 1940) in the last 69 years, and it's still going strong. You can imagine my surprise when I was informed that my loom was all wrong--the shafts are too low and there's no way it could possibly make a shed for weaving a rug. Huh? I've woven rugs on it for years--it weaves very nice rugs. Oh no, say the ukants, you have to get a big Swedish loom with a big overhead beater that makes giant sheds to properly weave rugs. Huh? I don't have the room for a big Swedish loom with a big overhead beater, and why do I need a gigantic shed anyway? I weave rugs with ski shuttles that are 1 1/4 inches tall--I need 3 inches, max.

I suspect that some of this pushing back against the ukants (besides being naturally obstinate) is that I didn't learn to weave in a formal setting. I learned to weave the way I learned to knit, to crochet, to sew, to cook, and to make terrific jams and jellies: by learning at the knee of another, asking questions when I didn't understand, and supplementing with a lot of reading. Older weavers, some of whom had been weaving when my loom was new, were patient and generous with their time and knowledge, and answered a child's endless questions on the whys and hows of weaving. It turns out, I have an affinity for the loom and its workings: I can't explain how I know when a warp is tensioned properly, or why I rarely use a temple and still have nearly perfect selvages any more than I can explain how I know when a conserve is cooked enough and is ready for the jars. The knowledge is in my hands and fingers. The ukants, trained in their formal textile labs and classrooms to always do "this" and never do "that," don't grasp that there are others for whom "that" is just what they need to do. For the ukants, the loom is a noisy piece of equipment; for some of us, it's the music of a centuries-old song of labor and love and beauty.