Thursday, January 15, 2015

Uncle Chuck

My marvellous uncle Chuck Kappelt died last week, and I just returned from his funeral in the US. Chuck built me my first loom, an inkle loom, in 1976. I had come to Christmas with an inkle loom, having borrowed it from the textile place in Northampton, MA, where I was taking a class. Chuck sketched it, measured it, and within a few weeks had replicated it. He presented me with an inkle loom of my own for my birthday. The only problem was that he had made it with one peg too few. To remedy that, he brought me down to his woodshop and showed me how to use the lathe to taper a dowel to make the final peg. I loved the lathe lesson. The following Christmas, he gave me my own set of tools, with a coping saw, C-clamps, a tape measure, and safety goggles for my 7-year-old eyes.  Our first project was to make a wooden tool box to contain these items. Although I have supplemented the tools with many others in the intervening years, I still have and use the tool box he gave me when I was a kid.

The lessons I learned from Chuck when I was a child had a tremendous impact on how I approach weaving now. There’s not a weaving day that goes by when something doesn’t break on the looms. The AVL’s cable will snap, or the dobby arm will need adjusting, or the set screw holding the treadles in place on the countermarche will wiggle loose, and all the treadles will fall off. I treat each of these as an opportunity to invent some solution. Many things can be solved with a length of texsolv (such as the AVL cable), a dowel rod, or a twist-tie. My dobby box is held together with hair bands, the kind in bright colours marketed to young girls, and I improved the rotation counter on the sectional beam by using a piece of dowel rod to trip the clicker.

In the spirit of Chuck’s innovative woodworking I’m going to take my new drill to my old countermarche loom and turn it into one on which I can weave large gauzes, such as those Peter Collingwood famously constructed. This will invariably require some experimentation, some failed attempts. I like the CM loom because it’s not so precious (like the AVL) that I can’t drill a few holes into it. In fact, it already has various sets of abandoned holes that testify to various ghostly appendages: there are holes in the castle from a drawloom that used to extend from the back end, holes near the breast beam from a bunch of failed attempts to position the rotary temple correctly, and a big nail that still holds the lamp in place.  It has a double back beam, an original one from the 1940s, and a new sectional beam that is lashed on with wire (works great!).

I’m grateful to my uncle for having taught me the rudiments of woodworking, and for fostering my confidence that I could solve the mechanical challenges that are part of using equipment with 2000 moving parts.

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