Below is an excerpt from the book Experiences: Life in a Continuing Care Retirement Community, which is a compilation of essays and poetry written and published by residents of Kendal at Longwood.
By Gabrielle Kimmel
We had just moved in and I was off to find that room. As I turned the corner, I could see that the door was open. I was very excited, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. Could I ever learn this complicated new craft? I was familiar with macramé, crewel, crocheting, knitting, embroidery and all types of sewing. I’d even once sewn a plaid winter coat. I was a patient, careful doer of many crafts. But this one that I’d never tried fascinated me. The amazing colors and patterns were fueling my imagination and the prospect was really speaking to me. The complete mystery for me was how the finished products come to reality. (After two years, I’m still not sure exactly how it happens). As I looked into the room, I wondered how I could possibly learn and master this new craft—dish towels and table runners and rugs and tapestries (pictures magically appearing in the midst of the threads).
When Ernie and I passed through this room as we toured Kendal, I said to myself, “I’m going to do that! I’m going to learn to weave!” Now that we had moved in, I was anxious to set eyes again on this lovely large room. There they were, lined up like soldiers of various heights, quietly waiting for action: the looms, owned by Kendal, or current weavers, or donated, or loaned by former weavers.
Light flooded in the windows and it was silent as I stepped into the room. I peered at samplers on the wall and books on shelves. Everything was as I remembered, only more fascinating. I was hooked.
“Hello, can I help you?” Suddenly a voice from somewhere deep in the room. A small woman stepped out from behind a lovely blond, medium sized loom. I had no idea anyone was there. She had been completely absorbed and hidden, not talking, which is the custom in the weaving room.
“Yes,” I said, “I’m interested in learning to weave.” Something profound had begun in that moment. A whole new love affair between me and this life-giving activity had begun. And equally, this very moment was the beginning of a relationship of affection and appreciation for this woman who stepped out from behind her loom.
Alice Haw is my mentor and inspiration. She embodies the best teaching skills; she knows when to give advice and how to back away and let me do it myself. Sometimes it feels like being thrown into the pool—sink or swim—but it really works. That’s how I’ve learned. She herself learned to weave eight years ago when she came to Kendal. In the same way she was taught by Charlotte Boucheron and others. Her teachers and mentors are now mostly retired from the room, but they stop by once in a while. Charlotte and Jan M. and Marian, and Mary and Joan. And then there are all the ghosts whose names are on the looms or on the shuttles or on the samplers or books, wonderful helpful spirits. How can the few of us now weaving fill the space of these forces from the past?
Nowadays we have several weavers in the room, all quietly throwing shuttles or loading bobbins or setting up to start a new project. Getting started, called “warping the loom” is the most complicated, difficult and crucial part of weaving. The “warp” thread goes lengthwise on the fabric and the “weft” goes across. You throw the shuttle to create the weft. My first project was a wool scarf in soft blues and grays with a fleck of turquoise, a gift I finished in time for Christmas for my husband Ernie. Through several more projects, I’ve learned a whole new vocabulary: warp and weft, tabby and twill, huck lace and many more fascinating and enlightening words. It’s like arriving in a new country—you learn the language to survive.
Some of the present occupants of the room are: Luis, a talented member of the Kendal staff, who made a beautiful huck lace shawl to send to his mother in Mexico. He is now embarking on learning to make a tapestry. Alice Long, a veteran weaver, is described by Alice H. as our “most meticulous weaver, the one to be emulated.” She is renowned for making material for beautiful jackets and is still turning out wonderful “monks belt” dish towels. She occupies a cheerful spot by the window.
So here is the question: Will I ever turn out a unique and beautiful tapestry? I hope so. I hope to be weaving for many years. But, pondering the word “tapestry,” I am struck by the comparison with the people at Kendal. What a beautiful, diverse, funny, hope-filled, generous minded and interesting group of people are surrounding me in this adventure of living at Kendal. Even if I never produce that piece of fabric, the tapestry is here all around me.