Saturday, May 31, 2014

You can't warp in the rain, or a day in the Radomskie region

One Thursday morning my neighbour Mariza called me up.

"I'm going to the countryside on Friday, there's a huge old loom that needs setting up! And we'll be winding the thread onto the warping mill. Are you coming with?"

What a silly question. Weaving is a great tradition of almost every folklore, and woven cloth is particularly beautiful in Poland. The most recognisable traditional pattern is simply a composition of  colourful stripes, and Mariza, aside from having a loom of her own, just happens to be friends with an elderly woman who had supported herself all of her life by weaving skirts, shawls, blankets, and ceremonial rugs and throws of all sorts.

A typical Polish striped throw

So we got into the car bright and early at 6 in the morning. Even St. Christopher on the dash seemed sleepy.

Święty Krzysztof, patron of travellers

"I might stop at chapels," Mariza said, and that was all right by me. Roadside chapels are a peculiar characteristic of Poland, and they range from quaint to kitschy. It was may, and may is when the women of the villages decorate the chapels with garlands of flowers and ribbons. There is even a verb pertaining to this: 'umaić'. To make something 'May-worthy'. Something that is 'umajone' has been festively and brightly decorated.

Three chapels we stopped at. Mariza nicknamed the last one 'the road to Heaven'.

 I digress- I'll do one about chapels another time.

For now, a couple of hours later, we arrived at the weaver's house, ready and eager to set up shop.

"Pani Krysiu," Mariza called, in that manner which sounds so strange translated into English but which is the proper way to address an older person or a stranger in Polish: the Mr or Mrs honorific (Pan, Pani) plus the person's first name. "Mrs. Krysia! Pani Krysiu! Shall we get the workshop out of the shed first, or shall we warp the thread?"

As it turned out, neither. Pani Krysia gave us tea, grumbled and mumbled, and said the workshop was all gnawed on by mice, and she had no room to set it up, and her hands were old and too gnarled to go back to the craft, and it looks like rain, and you can't warp in the rain.

Slightly disillusioned but accepting that things just work differently in the countryside, we packed up the 30 km of thread Mariza had bought and went to her own cottage, a place she had inherited from her father.

"Luckily I've already been here this spring and evicted the bats from under the shutters," she said, and I disagreed, as I did not find it lucky at all that I had missed seeing bats fly out into the forest.

Mariza's loom

And I discovered exactly why we could not warp in the rain. You see, Mariza's warping mill was set up in the doorway of her barn- half exposed to the elements, and humidity would ruin the thread. The obvious solution was to move it into the house- but the central pole was too short.

The warping mill. It was raining already.

Advanced engineering and a clever pair of hands were necessary here. For lack of such, I stepped up. After some hemming and hawing, we decided to hop across the road to see Pani Tosia, who had an impressive stockpile of timber in her back yard, guarded by a ferocious dog.

Pani Tosia and her friend

Old as the world, but she picked the straightest little pine and chopped off most of the branches before we could protest. The rest was up to us. She lent us her axe. We measured, and began to chop, scrape, and carve.

Two hours and two inches of progress later...

I think I got pretty far considering the circumstances!

... we decided to call for help. Luckily, Pan Janek who lives just down the road was a carpenter. A few runs through a circular saw and then a few slices with the drawknife, and our pole was ready. Although I maintain that if I'd had eight hours to spend on it, I could have managed with just the axe.

All I needed now was to spend another hour hammering a support into the ceiling, and by late afternoon, the warping machine was set up in Mariza's cottage.

Harder than it looks- the pole has to spin smoothly and stay upright, and it also needs to be removable.

 We called up pani Krysia, proud of ourselves, ready to spin, only to hear these harsh, rhyming words:

 "Piątek zły pracy początek."

 Which means "Friday is a bad day to begin work", or more accurately translated, go away you silly city girls I've got no time for you.

That was that, the adventure was over. Friday is a bad day to begin work, and you can't work on that particular Saturday, because it just so happens to be May 3rd, a very holy day dedicated to Mary Mother of God, Queen of Poland, and of course Sunday is right out.

There was nothing for it. We heated up some pierogi on the old oven than sits in the heart of the house and heats every room, and we sighed and complained a little bit, and then I went home. I didn't see warping, and I didn't see weaving, and I didn't get to put together a weaving workshop.

Still…somehow I don't consider the day wasted.

I'll be sure to take another trip down there, maybe in the summer- and there will be a perfect warping mill with the date and my initials carved into it waiting for me. :)

(and just wait 'til I tell you about what we saw in Pan Janek's mother's house... but that's for another time.)

Consolation prize.