It is a year since I travelled to the Vävstuga Weaving School in Shelburne Falls, MA, to take the Vävstuga Basics class with Becky Ashenden. Little did I know that this would be the last in-person class I would be taking for the entire next year. 2020 was absorbed by a big black hole, and now it is time to reclaim the memory and document the experience.
February, 2020. Cold weather was certainly expected. And despite the fact that there was still snow on the ground, and tempestuous weather, for the most part it stayed in an almost spring-like mode (occasional flurries included) for the week I was there. Traveling from Phoenix made for a long day – no direct flights, transfer in Dallas, and over an hour drive from Hartford airport.
Things were certainly different this year – planning was a series of mishaps that finally culminated in meeting my weaving buddy Laura up in Shelburne Falls, then rushing back to Arizona at the end of class so I could be with my husband as he went through radiation treatments for prostate cancer.
Be that as it may, I had not been in Massachusetts since 1979 – a weekend in Boston with record snowfall and low temperatures. Flying into Hartford was a more direct route, and I enjoyed being able to observe the scenery and the towns as the drive morphed from Connecticut to Massachusetts and ultimately the isolated and quaint town of Shelburne Falls.
I stayed in a Bed and Breakfast that was a five minute walk from the school, so it was very comfortable and convenient to get a wale-up walk there and a wind-down walk afterwards. There were twelve of us in the class, from all parts of the country – New York Vermont, Maine, California, Washington State, and of course, Arizona. Lunches were a fun group event, gathered around a large table that also served as our teaching area during the class. Dinners were a mix of either dining with the group, or Laura and I exploring the town. It was fun browsing through the local shops, a good coffee shop, and just a nice walkable experience in general. Thursday night Becky treated us all to an authentic Swedish meal at her Farmhouse – it was a magical experience, meal and music included. She has a wealth of weaving samples and an extensive library and so many looms in different project phases. It was a place a weaver could easily get lost in and lose all concept of the outside world, in a good way.
Both Laura and I consider ourselves experienced weavers. The class is presented as a basics class, and it has a wealth of information that is a must for anyone who is serious about using a countermarche or counterbalance loom. Personally, I find them more ergonomically friendly, although there is much more to do for set up as compared to a rising shed/jack loom. Becky has a distinct and disciplined process that really helps you understand the workings of the loom. Mysteries of the temple as a tool are solved as you work with it and appreciate its effectiveness. Of course, I love working with linen, and we had plenty of opportunity. It was also lots of fun to work on a 50-inch wide loom to weave a blanket – you put your whole body into throwing those picks!
Everyone was involved in the entire process of measuring the warp, warping the loom, and weaving four different projects that are usable items for when you get home. I use all my projects at home – even in Arizona this winter it was cold enough to cuddle up on the couch with my wool blanket.
All in all it was a great experience. And I have a real appreciation for Becky’s passion for weaving and wanting to share it so that people will keep the craft alive. Her store was well stocked and had so many things I mentally added to my wish list. I am sorry that she had to close the Shelburne Falls location because of the events of 2020, but there is still the Farmhouse studio. And I look forward to when she has her online classes up and ready to go.
Round robin, clockwise – linen block weave sample, wool blanket completed, dishtowel, wool blanket in process, tablecloth.