As he nears the barn he pulls the scarf a bit tighter around his neck, attempting to fend off the chill that the cooler weather has brought to the farm. He kneels in the straw and marvels as the tiny body takes its first breaths. He unravels the scarf and uses it to gently clean the tiny lamb, excited for another new life to join their growing flock of sheep.
A simple scarf woven together with green wool thread has been with Danny Bowles through many cold winter days. It has been there when he welcomed many new babies to their farm, and sparked his passion for weaving, one of the oldest surviving artisan crafts.
The art of weaving began thousands of years ago and became one of the primary methods of textile production in the world. For many years, families would produce their own fabrics using large looms in their homes and by the 11th century, most of the patterns known today had been developed.
Weavers have been depicted in many fairy tales as having mystical qualities, wisdom, and magical abilities. Greek mythology even tells the tale of Athena and Arachne, whose weaving battle ended with Arachne’s transformation into a spider, doomed to weave constantly and endlessly, trapped inside her own web and having her works destroyed by humans.
Today’s artisan weavers, like Danny, hold fast to the rich history of the art and are often eager to share their knowledge with others. “We have met many awesome people in the fiber world who have been so supportive. If you can’t find like-minded people it’s hard to keep the fire going,” he said.
When Danny and his wife moved back to Michigan seventeen years ago, they settled on a farm in Blissfield, Michigan. Along with their two sons, they have raised Shetland and Wensleydale sheep and Angora goats. Their current herd provides 500-750 pounds of wool per year. His wife carefully processes, dies, and transforms the wool into roving balls– a bundle of fiber that is ready to be spun into yarn.
“We have many memories of working together in our living room,” explains Danny, who often works side by side with his wife. While he is rhythmically working the wooden treadles of his loom to create colorful patterns in fabric, she is working on spinning their home grown wool into lengthy and colorful yarn.
While working on new scarves or kitchen towels, he often listens to books or sporting events, and even wove two scarves during the Super Bowl several years ago. “It is just total relaxation,” he describes as he talks about the process of working the loom.
The rhythmic sounds of the loom, created by the simultaneous motions of thread, polished wood, bare feet and constantly moving hands, has a magical quality as it creates detailed patterns using many tiny threads. With the variety of patterns and color, the possibilities are nearly endless.
“Once you start playing with pattern and become more confident, you can move on to color. You can do so many things– you really can go crazy,” Danny explains.
His projects are inspired by artisans he meets, as well as the traveling he is able to do through his job in manufacturing. “I’ve been to yarn stores and sheep farms in Japan, China, the Netherlands, Germany, France, South Africa, and all around the United States,” he recalls.
The new techniques, samples, and fibers he acquires in his travels are used in new projects Danny works on and sells here in Michigan.
He loves speaking with others about his craft, and he encourages someone who is interested in weaving to start small. “Sometimes looms are like pianos. You can find them for free if you can move them.” Danny said. “I just encourage people to start small to see if they like it.”
His sentiment for the historic art drives his creativity and willingness to share what he’s learned. He often demonstrates at art or fiber fairs, so that onlookers can more fully understand the intricate workings of the loom and the beautiful textiles that it can create.
“Weaving becomes part of you,” he concludes. “When someone gets it and appreciates it – that’s the best part,” he says with a smile on his face.
Stop by Danny’s booth at Artalicious this September to learn more about weaving, see his beautiful textiles, and watch his handiwork.