By Hildur Hakonardottir
For the workshop held at the Osterøy Museum on March 10-11, 2017, museum workers Marta Kløve Juuhl and Monika Ravnanger set up 10 warps, 20 cm wide with 120 threads each, on five warp-weighted looms from the museum’s fine collection, hewn in their own workshop. That makes 1200 threads in all and they tied the heddles for a tabby ground. Only one shaft is needed, the other shed is naturally open in resting position.
The two students sharing a loom must work in unison. It takes patience to work that way, often having to wait and adapt to the thoughts, understanding, and movements of another person. Two people sharing a loom have to move the shafts to and fro at the same time as well as putting in weft and pattern threads. I say shafts because when the students had mastered the loom and woven a bit of plain weave they added another shaft for the glit and had to learn to tie the 20 extra heddles needed for the extra shaft. They pick up and tie a heddle for every sixth thread chosen from the back threads. Those serve as guide lines when you lay in the colours for the pattern.
We were going to learn to weave glit as it was done in Iceland from way back in the Middle Ages. We have many examples of fine saddlecloths from the nineteenth century. The method comes from the upright loom and when it was adapted to the flat loom the squares became all uniform and the glit patterns lost some of their variety and liveliness. But somehow the old method lived on in Iceland.
This method is a bit difficult to describe because the glit or pattern squares all have the same shape and value when you look at them on paper, but when weaving the value changes and is sometimes a bit unpredictable. It is like building a wall of stones or turf. The outside stones or layers of turf must be the strongest, but what is inside is more a filling and may be smaller stones or not so perfectly cut turf. You should therefore use 6 threads for the outermost squares but only 5 threads for the inner ones and those squares that stand all alone and without support use 7 threads. What is more, when you lay in the pattern threads from left to right, the way you write, you go forth proud like you are going out dancing in your best dress and you pass over both the outside laying guiding threads from the back – but then something happens and you discover a spot on your dress and you turn around and sneak back home to change. Then you want to forget the incident and take the ground weft thread and go from left to right just as if you were saying, “Now we draw a line here and forget and start over again.” This we repeat three times and in the end the last pattern thread goes over the warp guiding thread instead of under as when you turn and we leave it hanging on the back for further use. This is to form the square better, just as if you are slamming a door behind you.
You also are supposed to work in a 1-1-2-3 rhythm.
One round, or one square in the pattern:
Always begin from a resting position and open natural shed.
1-1. laying in pattern from a basic position forth and back.
2. lay in the ground weft thread from left to right
3. lay in the ground weft thread from right to left
Repeat 3 times (or 4) until a square is formed. Makes one square.
It seemed difficult but in the end all got it and beautiful things began to be born on the loom.
We have written about glit in our new book, The Warp Weighted Loom, published by Skald forlag in Bergen with the support of Museumssenteret i Hordaland ((Muho).
Postscript: Marta Kløve Juuhl and Monika Ravnanger, staff members at the Osterøy Museum, added a few of their thoughts about the technique:
Hildur’s first question was, “Why are the old patterns more lively than newer ones?” Our experience in the class showed us the freedom to make adjustments and pattern choices on the warp-weighted loom was important.
Glit resembles monksbelt (tavlebragd in Norwegian, munkabelte in Swedish), and a little like dukagang also, but as with many coverlet techniques, there is a big difference between the pattern on paper and the product on the loom.
You always weave in two background shots and then two pattern shots. You have a pattern shaft that raises every sixth thread. That is the starting point. But the rules are quite free, in that sometimes the pattern square can go over seven threads, and sometimes 6 or 5. You must decide which pattern square should dominate. If a pattern square stands apart, it should always go over 7 threads, because it turns on the thread that is on the pattern shaft. On the outer edges the pattern squares also go over 7 threads. But when two colors meet within the pattern, you must decide which color should dominate. It’s almost like drawing with thread.
The problem with using a floor loom is that when you tie up every sixth thread on the pattern shaft, it is very uniform, and you don’t think about how you can use the technique in a more freeform way. That is what they certainly did in Iceland, as long at the large coverlets in glit technique were woven on warp-weighted looms. But the floor loom in a way ties the pattern threads evenly, so the pattern becomes more square.
Monika and Marta agreed that the most important thing they learned about glit is that the old glit coverlets have a unique aesthetic, one that is impossible to merely plan on graph paper.
For the glit-weaving course, Marta had to find weights in a hurry. They had tons of stone weights at the museum, but they all weighed around 1 kilo, too heavy for the thin warp they used (Hillesvåg Alv, kamgarn 13/2). So they improvised with soda bottles filled with 4 deciliters of water, one for each 12 warp threads, about 100 grams per three threads.
When they ran out of bottles, they used plastic bags with about 400 grams of sand in each, clothed in black socks. “It worked,” Marta commented.
Postscript: Randi Anderson, co-editor of The Warp-Weighted Loom and a former instructor at Osterøy Museum, attended the class and added these comments.
Hildur Hákonardottir accomplished a ground-breaking task in translating the interview notes of Skùli Magnusson from the 1700s to understandable instructions to include in our new book. It was especially difficult to break the code with Glit, which she managed after experiments and discussion with Marta Kløve Juuhl in the spring of 2016. Glit now stands for something nearly magical, something that was difficult even for serious weavers.
So it was good that there was a course with Hildur as the instructor at the Osterøy museum. I was so lucky to attend, and I learned it was an experiment–to win back a method of weaving a pattern on the warp-weighted loom, one that had shifted to the floor loom and become quite popular in Iceland.
Hildur was an excellent instructor. She gave practical help and helped to show what would happen while you wove. Her excellent judgment showed that theory and practice can differ, and the weaving can vary from the pattern. Thank you for the course; it was a magical experience.