A good shuttle, while not absolutely required to make cloth, is one of the most important tools for efficient weaving.
The operating principle is the same for the simplest stick shuttles and the heaviest industrial flying shuttles: the shuttle carries weft (or woof, or filling) thread back and forth through an arrangement of warp threads.
When you consider the back-and-forth motion of a shuttle on a conventional loom, it’s easy to see how the word came to be applied to any sort of relayed transportation device.
From Old English scytel (“dart, arrow”), from Proto-Germanic *skutilaz (compare Old Norse skutill (“harpoon”)), from *skut- (“project”) (see shoot). Name for loom weaving instrument, recorded from 1338, is from a sense of being “shot” across the threads. The back-and-forth imagery inspired the extension to “passenger trains” in 1895, aircraft in 1942, and spacecraft in 1969, as well as older terms such as shuttlecock. (Source: Wiktionary)
So the next time you hop on a shuttle bus, wherever you’re going, you can really think of yourself as part of the… fabric… of modern society.
I’ve mentioned, probably too often, that I’m not much of a knitter.
I’ve been fascinated by weaving for as long as I can remember, but didn’t actually teach myself to weave until quite recently. In contrast, I learned to knit many years ago, when my mother taught me to make tiny ski hats. Her knitting didn’t exactly follow a by-the-book approach: more along the lines of “just decrease when it’s time” and “use whichever needles you can find that match”. Not that there’s anything wrong with that– learning to do things by feel gives you a better sense of underlying structure than does following a pattern to the letter, but it’s not the systematic approach that many (brilliant) modern knitters learned.
Accordingly, I’ve often felt a vague sense of inferiority in the knitting realm, not helped by my own lack of dedication. I tend to come down with knitting like a stomach bug: once or twice a year, unpleasant while it lasts, and mostly forgotten once over. When I come back a few months later and pick up the needles again, I’m invariably frustrated that my abilities haven’t magically improved in the interim. (When I mentioned my trouble with Henslowe to chopsticknitter, she was entirely sympathetic, until I showed her the absurdly simple pattern. At which point she observed that considerably less attention was being paid to the shawl on my lap than to, say, our conversation, my tea, and the weather.)
In general, I think I’m a bit disconcerted by textile techniques in which the whole project literally hangs by a single thread. Until the whole project is done, it’s a challenge to relax for fear of making a mistake. (For similar reasons, I’m a much better baker than I am a cook.) With my woefully slow-moving needles, knitting is the most troublesome of such techniques, even though it’s easier to correct mistakes in knitting than in some other single-string techniques. If you’ve ever tried to fix a mistake in tatting once a ring is closed, you will recognize this headache:
But even if you can undo knitted fabric without having to cut it apart (usually), it’s completely unrewarding to rip it out over and over again. Which is what I inevitably wind up doing– or else I decide to live with a mistake and it haunts me forever after. (That said, chopsticknitter also encouraged me not to rip out the lace section of my Henslowe despite the, well, personal touches that found their way into the pattern. Thanks to this helpful advice, I’m nearly finished and think I’ll find it quite wearable.)
Compared to knitting, I find the learning process of weaving much more rewarding, and with every new technique I learn I find that I’m exponentially* more willing to put in the time to study and correct mistakes.
In a welcome moment of peace amidst the knitting wars, I finally got myself an inkle loom (from this shop).
I quickly put on a test warp and am finding inkle weaving to be a pleasant and relaxing experience. I’d never tried this kind of weaving before: my plan for this loom had been to use it for tablet weaving as an alternative to a backstrap, but I’ve also become interested in the idea of pick-up patterning. Though, being freshly burned from the knitting, I thought I’d better master the basic mechanics of this little guy before starting anything fancy.
I guess simple weaving isn’t comparable to complex knitting, but even so– weaving is so much more my thing. I’ll keep struggling my way through the knitting, but I suspect I’ll be much happier if I keep a security blanket (literal or figurative) on the loom.
As a kid, I had a penchant for unusual science fair projects. One year I undertook a detailed investigation of the limbic system. (I’d gotten hold of an illustrated anatomy book and liked the shape of the fornix.) But my favorite was the topic I chose at the age of eleven: etymology, the study of word histories and not of insects. Not that there’s anything wrong with insects, but my delight was in gluing a bunch of Greek and Latin roots to magnets, sticking them to the back of cookie sheets, and encouraging my fellow preteens in the haphazard construction of classical-sounding if ungrammatical neologisms.
A very few years later, I started studying Tolkienian linguistics.* Aside from permanently establishing my nerd credentials, this led me to approach morphological paradigms and grammatical structures in a way that many modern language courses, well, don’t. This interest led more or less directly to my university studies in linguistics. These days the field encompasses rather more than the casual collection of Greek roots**, but I still have considerable affection for good old dictionary-style etymology.
So what does all this have to do with the professed theme of this blog—crafts?
A surprising quantity of terminology from weaving and other ancient handicrafts survives into modern (if specialized) English. I’d like to make exploration of this terminology a regular series on this blog, so let me know if this sparks your interest!
Today’s word is one I mentioned in my last post: thrum. According to the traditional definition, thrums are loom waste: the scraps of warp (yarn) remaining after a piece of cloth has been cut off a loom. Merriam-Webster gives this etymology:
Middle English, from Old English –thrum (as in tungethrum ligament of the tongue); akin to Old Saxon thrumi end part of a spear, Old High German drum end part, fragment, Old Norse t-hrömr edge, verge, brim, Greek tramis perineum, term n boundary, end — more at TERM
Observation1: thrum is a distant cousin of terminal. It is, indeed, the terminal portion of a warp.
Observation 2: Tungethrum is a fantastic word.
Webster’s also gives the obsolete but interesting definition of “a ragged beggarly lout”. There’s a joke in there somewhere about people who buy weaving equipment.
Anyhow, I get the distinct impression that weavers have been faced with the problem of what to do with thrums for as long as there have been weavers, resulting in such inventions as hooked rugs and thrum-decorated garments like these and these (using unspun roving rather than loom waste). Thrums seem like they ought to be useful, but if anyone has any suggestions for dealing with the heap below, I will be most grateful.
*On the off chance that you share this particular hobby, the lack of mutation in the compound of my blog title is out of fondness for the word “tintinnabulate”.I suppose a more probable but less reduplicative Sindarin name would be something along the lines of Tithinniel.
**Which might indeed be more entomological than etymological.