Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Broken Threads

The email group posting or guild newsletter ad is all too familiar, and weavers can usually read between the lines. A friend, often another weaver, is listing for sale the entire contents of someone’s weaving studio. Looms (usually more than one), shuttles, warping board, bobbin winders, lease sticks, benches, ball winder, swift , hooks and gadgets too numerous to mention, pounds and pounds of yarn and a full library of weaving books and magazines all for sale.

We know it means another weaver has died.

We read through the equipment listing debating whether to add this or that to our own collections, knowing the hands that threaded these heddles and threw the shuttles, the feet that tramped the treadles in a rhythmic order and the heart that pounded with excitement as a pattern began to emerge on the loom are gone.  

Today my heart is heavy. My first weaving teacher, my mentor, my close friend, Naomi Cannon, lost her battle with advanced breast cancer yesterday. In her Cherry Hill, NJ, cellar some 12 1/2 years ago, Naomi laid her shuttle in my hand for the first time.naomi “Step on a treadle,” she encouraged. “Now slide the shuttle through the opening and catch it with your other hand. Let go of the treadle and grab the beater right here. Now pull it toward you firmly…a little harder than that,” she instructed, grasping the beater and giving whatever she had been weaving a good thwack. “Now step on the next treadle and do it again.”

That was all it took. I was hooked. My heart was pounding and this lovely little (only 5-foot tall) woman was beaming. She offered to give me weaving lessons in her cellar. Saying yes instantly was the smartest decision I ever made. Naomi, schooled at the heels of Doris Boyd, who also became my teacher, was a perfectionist. She wanted everything she wove to be perfect, and to me and her other weaving friends it always was, though she was quick to point out any tiny flaws.

For me, this meant I was taught the “right” way to do almost everything and the value of a perfectly handwoven, properly finished textile. I will always be grateful to her for that.

But I will miss her most because she was my friend, almost a sister, really. Even though she was several years my senior, we hit it off right away. She taught me how to speak “weaving,” and once I learned the language, we could talk for hours. Naomi was coordinator (she wouldn’t call herself president) of the South Jersey guild. In fact, she was a large part of what kept that guild functioning. She brought me in as secretary, and during the years all guilds seem to experience when volunteers are scarce, we managed guild affairs as a team.

We drove to regional meetings together. We went to sheep and wool festivals, conferences and workshops together. We studied at Doris Boyd’s for nearly a decade after Naomi convinced Doris to take me on. Naomi was a joy to be around, and always first to share the latest internet joke or some delicious cookies she had just baked. Doris and NaomiShe insisted on washing the lunch dishes at Doris’, while the rest of us grabbed tea towels and tried to keep  up with her. Here’s Doris and Naomi celebrating the cutting off of another weaver’s project.

Even after I moved away from South Jersey to Asheville, NC., Naomi remained my champion and biggest supporter. I am sorry she will not be at Convergence with me next summer. She was thrilled to learn I’d be teaching there.

My most cherished memories of Naomi, however, are back when I was learning to weave from her one-on-one in her cellar. I’d be perched at her small Macomber, struggling to thread 20/2 cotton for an overshot sampler. He husband Del once asked her why she was making me use such fine threads as a beginner. She told him, “Doris made me do it.” And, of course, it taught me much more than simply overshot.

At lunch time, we’d climb the stairs to her kitchen, where I’d pull out the lunch I’d brought, and we’d sit down with Del to relax and talk about family, or flowers or the latest news.

I know that soon enough, Naomi’s weaving things will be dispersed among other weavers near and far. It’s the regular order of things. Whatever makes it back to my studio will be held very dear, a connection to the hands and heart that guided me along this path.

Thank you, Naomi. I love you dearly and will miss you forever.



  1. Beautifully said, Karen. We are all feeling the same pain and sadness. Tonight I will drive to the Guild meeting alone..........

  2. I found out about Naomi when I was asked to sign a card during our guild meeting tonight. Quite frankly I was confused - how someone with Naomi's light and energy be gone? She will surely be missed... Thanks for posting pictures.

    And thanks for driving me to my first guild meeting.

  3. Thank you, Karen, for the lovely tribute to a wonderful woman. Naomi was not only an exceptional teacher and weaver, she was also delightful and could be quite surprising. She would sit quietly listening to the conversation and at some point she would make a comment that would have me saying "Naomi!! You go girl!" I loved her and will miss her terribly. Mary

  4. Naomi was a bright light in our Guild. She will be sorely missed.

  5. I only knew Naomi a little while - but she was always a dear caring friend to me. . . I will miss her . . . the guild will not be the same.

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