It has been a pandemic year. We have all gone through this year together, apart from each other. What we have felt, all of us living more isolated from one another, but interacting in whole new ways, is probably more alike than different. Our struggles this year have varied tremendously, from terrible suffering and tragic loss, to overwhelming fear, loneliness, or boredom, to an appreciation of things we were previously overlooked. We all had to make sense of things for ourselves.
We had closed our doors to customers after one last tour group, on March 11, 2020. We wiped everything down, sent our employees home, and looked around. I was almost done with the brightly colored Vallero I was working on, so I worked at finishing that up. I had determined that I should really work to empty out spools again, as extra yarn left over on spools becomes kind of a storage issue over time. While there were lots of colors, but not much of any one color, the infinite design possibilities were a particular challenge, but one I have always enjoyed. I thought these colors would be really good for a variation of a Saltillo or Vallero. A border, with concentric diamonds around a center, is a good way to bring in a lot of color and not worry about running out of a particular color. But at that point I didn’t have to worry about demonstrating weaving for customers for what I thought would be a few weeks, so there wasn’t a lot of pressure to get something started on the loom right away.
I really wanted to get on my knitting machine and finally master something called double-bed jacquard knitting. It was a years-long goal of mine, and having some concentrated time on the machine would surely let me finally get that done. So I knitted for a few days till I started feeling the pressure of mask-making. I had not one, but two sewing machines. I also had tons of bias tape, which seemed useful. The fabric we weave is unsuitable for masks, but we had a few yards of usable stuff. The County’s public health leadership was looking for people who could sew masks. They would provide fabric, and pick up the finished masks. So I jumped into production mask making. And over the next 6 months or so, I sewed over 2000 masks. The first 1500 or so went to the County, who delivered them to all kinds of people, near and far. The hospital gave them to patients as they left. They gave them to grocery store workers, and the homeless population. They gave them to local tribes, and to the Navajo Nation, when they were overwhelmed by Covid. It certainly helped me to know that what I was doing might actually be helping people.
Eventually it became clear that we would be able to do business in person once again. We struggled with a way to do this while minimizing our own health risk. We chose to set up a tent in our parking lot, moving our weavings outside every day, and taking it all down at the end of the day. There are days when weather has prevented us from setting up, but it has allowed us to have some limited interaction with the folks who travel up the High Road, visiting with them, and making a few sales. I have felt kind of guilty that we haven’t been able to offer the kind of experience we would like to offer. But it was what we were able to realistically, safely, do. It also meant that I needed to make masks to sell in our tent, and on our website.
After we were set up with our tent and masks, I still had those piles of spools awaiting my attention, and there were ideas starting to solidify in my head. Working from the idea of this being in the overall format of a Saltillo was my starting place. From the time I first saw images of the virus, I saw it’s weaving possibilities. It has a similarity to Chimayo designs with those triangle spike proteins that seemed to always be a lovely Chimayo red in published images.
I kept my eyes open for different elements of the pandemic that I could weave into the piece. I had already decided that masks could be used the same way hourglasses are used in so many of our traditional pieces, to separate color areas. And masks helped to separate people from viruses, so I could have sections with viruses, and sections with people. I knew I had to have a border, and the homes that we were confined to seemed to be the logical place to start for that. Some of us live in individual houses, and some of us live stacked on top of each other in apartments. The pandemic probably brought that distinction more clearly to mind for a lot of people, and I have spent a lot of time in deep gratitude for the room I have to move around in, as well as the freedom to safely go outside my living space anytime I choose. My border needed to speak to that.
The yarn I had on hand was mostly from our regular supplier, J&H Clasgens. There was a lot of variety in color, but not a lot of greys for windows, so I pulled a few cones from the knitting supply. These were particularly thin yarns, requiring to or three rounds woven for each “pic”. Windows got to be pretty laborious, with lots of spools running and all that extra effort, so that I was always happy when they finished up each time. I tried to do something different with doors and windows all the time, though, so that it didn’t get boring in any way. I kept windows and doors closed, but left the corner homes with open doors, as a symbol of hope.
“When one door closes, another opens but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
Alexander Graham Bell
How I put people into the piece confounded me for a long time. It had to do with the fact that we weren’t really interacting much with people at first. I finally settled on Zoom heads, when I finally started attending Zoom meetings. People in little squares on screens is a little unnatural, and I already had a grid on the border, so I skipped the squares and stuck with the head and shoulders part. I wove them in all kinds of bold colors, because I had so many colors to work with, and because people come in all kinds of colors. And that mattered.
The people in lines came to me to be a critical part of our pandemic experience after the primaries and our state set limits for grocery store capacities. People wound up lining up in front of stores to get their food. I was pretty good at staying away from those lines, but they weren’t entirely avoidable. My people were all different shapes and sizes, and one has a cane. I would’ve like to have done a wheelchair or a walker, but that seemed a bit too difficult to work in. And sadly, I don’t think I’ve been around anyone with a wheelchair or walker all year.
As I approached the center of the piece, I knew I needed to incorporate a couple of other things. We were all trying our best to stay away from the hospital, but we were very focused on what went on there. People dying alone was such an awful thing to contemplate, but it stayed at the back of my mind as something that was going on every minute of every day. The hospital was clearly the center of this experience, in all of its life-saving beauty and lonely-death horror. I could put the hospital, with its accompanying ambulance and morgue truck, at the center of the piece. I put the big tents for testing, food distribution, and, eventually, vaccination, there at the hospital too. And that driveway that I seem to associate with hospitals. As I was approaching the center I had to consider what would fill the empty space above the hospital. As the reality of vaccinations came into view, I decided that would have to be in that space, so I put the line of people waiting, the climactic moment of vaccination, and the lineup of post-vaccination folks in chairs, waiting their 15 minutes to observe any dangerous allergic response. I like that this is the high point of the piece. Maybe because I’m still awaiting my shot.
Weaving the rest of the piece was pretty easy. Almost all the decisions were made in the first half of the piece. Closing the housing border proved to have some challenges, but the day of weaving roofs was a lot of fun for my inner architect. The finishing work went very smoothly, with just a little ironing to get it flat.
I have been very lucky this year. My family has entirely dodged the Covid bullet, even my elderly parents in an assisted living facility. We have missed each other, but have been able to stay connected via phone and video contact. Our business has survived, in part thanks to PPP and Cares Act funding, and the fact that we had a functioning web site to lean on. We had a wedding, a baby born, and the promise of a new grandbaby later in 2021. And this piece has carried me through the stress and worry of the dangers and joys of the world beyond my control. It helped me to bring this year into the context of our tradition. It helped me make sense of things. Perhaps it can do something for you too.