Weaving Demonstration
at the Scottsville School of Crafts,
Scottsville, Cape Breton
(10 October 2012)

"1, 2. 2, 3. 3, 4. 1, 4." Instructor Verna MacMillan tells me, flipping switches speedily on her little portable handloom. "Now that's tabby," she says, the white thread base of any pattern in weaving.

I throw the shuttle hesitantly at first, intimidated by the complicated array of thread and imponderably complicated wooden machine. With Verna's instruction, soon it's whipping back and forth, and I'm weaving tabby like a madwoman. She quickly moves me on to "overshot," which is color thread added to tabby to create the pattern. Suddenly I have houndstooth going on!

Weaving is both far simpler and just as complicated as I thought. Shuttling is the easy part, threading the machine is a whole other process. The instruction books look like sheet music to me, just as indecipherable.

Verna shows me a floor loom as well. The two are just the same, she tells me, the difference being "the floor loom you do with your feet instead of hands." It's also considerably larger, which allows for much bigger projects to be worked.

By now a small crowd has gathered, each taking a turn at the loom.

"I've read about it, seen it at craft shows and on TV, and wanted to see how it was done," attendee Anne Marie Cady, of Portland, Maine, tells me. "I've never seen it done, and to see the beautiful things they've done is incredible." Her ancestors may well have been among the early craftsmen of Nova Scotia, she says, before they were forced south in the French deportation in the 1700s.

A man approaches and tells me, " My grandma grew up in this area, she did this because she had to. I still have some of the quilts she made." Handcrafting seems to bring out the storyteller in everyone.

"This used to be a man's job," Verna tells the assembled group. Assistant instructor Polly Davis tells me this was because the work takes a bit of "brawn." "The women spun, the men wove," she says, adding, "The women sat around doing the fulling, and gossiping about their husbands."

Verna points out a wall of framed woven squares, a collection on loan from Brenda Timmons, granddaughter of the collector, Florence Mackley, who searched out and preserved these traditional patterns not only in fabric, but also in her book, Handworking in Cape Breton.

Verna herself has been at the craft a while. After her minister's wife convinced her to take a class in Baddeck in 1984, she was hooked. "I'm so glad I did," she tells me. An accomplished weaver by now, she designed both the Lake Ainslie and the Inverness County tartans. "We had a competition," she says, "and I won it."

I'm not sure I have a future in weaving, but this certainly was an informative and entertaining afternoon's occupation.

The weaving demonstration was held at the Scottsville School of Crafts, which is owned by the Lake Ainslie Weavers & Crafts Guild.

music review by
Katie Knapp

2 February 2013

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