The request came in through the website; a commission was being offered. A weaver was needed to make an inkle belt. Few of us must weave for money, and an inkle would never create enough income for the idea to entice most of our members. Eyes quickly glazed and looked away at the mere thought.
Then our web mistress sent the message directly to me. It seemed this person was persistent in her quest and had asked please again. She was going to the Artic for three weeks in February and wanted an inkle belt to wear while there. In an effort to let her down gently, and maybe get a little bit of a story, I contacted her and asked her exactly what she wanted. She told me she had already bought a belt but was disappointed by it. She assumed I would find her odd when she explained that it would do, but it was the wrong red. It was not the red she wanted to see cutting through the great white Arctic expanses and would clash with the rest of her ensemble. She was working diligently to make her anorak (an eskimo windbreaker) and moose hide mittens; wisely leaving her necessary footwear to the professional mukluk makers. She still had more than a month to find a weaver to create her bright red belt of her dreams. She had to try.
I have many inkle looms. The world of weaving hardly gets simpler. I have many red yarns; only needing to make a choice in material, diameter and hue. She’s a neighbor, only living a mile from me. She seemed weird enough to be a weaver, so I felt compelled to help. I offered to set up the loom and show her how to weave it herself with a little coaching. She loved the idea, and we agreed to meet.
The next day I took a few books and one of my little inkles and went to see and show. The blue and white demo warp had been worked by many hands large and small over the years, but she still saw the beauty of the structure despite the obvious tension changes. She fingered the cloth and said she thought it was neat, but really wasn’t anything like the belt she bought. She brought out what she had, and she was right. I was showing her an inkle. She was holding a ceinture fléchée.
It wasn’t even a pretty ceinture fléchée; machine made from chunky poly yarns in uninspiring colors. It was a big thick French Canadian belt 6 feet long, 5 inches wide, and a structure so stiff you could beat back a bear with it. Trappers wore them wrapped twice around the waist. They could use them as utility belts and back braces when heavy loads required more lumbar support than usual. Cinched tightly enough, even I might be able to move a moose, but that particular belt was unattractive enough that I wouldn’t have wanted to wear it even in the Arctic. She brought out a book to show me her inspiration photo. The front cover showed a woman happily dragging a sled across the frozen tundra. A bright red belt circled her waist, and that photo was laid over a much closer view of the belt. It was a beautiful Pendleton red Metis ceinture fléchée, stunning enough to inspire, and worthy of wear anywhere. I completely understood and wanted to help, so we had to quickly move to a plan B.
It turns out that my personal textile collection contains two ceinture fléchées, one of which is a beautiful Pendleton red Metis. They both came through Bertie, so I have no real knowledge of their history or monetary value. None of that has ever mattered to me as I consider them all priceless and have no desire to sell off a single stitch. I was willing to rent the belt to her on the condition that she return it with the story when she came back and thawed out, but we both had concerns over its eventual condition after three weeks in the Arctic. When I found her one she could buy and keep forever, we settled into the perfect plan C. A Canadian company named Etchiboy has a website where you can pick from many beautiful ceinture fléchées. She ordered a stunning red and white belt for about the same price I would have charged her to rent mine. I get to keep my ceinture fléchées safe and warm, and she has her total, completely coordinated, eskimo suit; stylishly worn on her intrepid Arctic adventure to keep together forever. It turned out that what she thought she wanted wasn’t what she thought, but what she really wanted she eventually got.
We did decide to make up a few matching tassels to sew on her mukluks (the lady on the book had hers flying in the picture) to really complete the look. I made one extra tassel on a clip in sparkly blue and white. It did not match her colors, so the rest of her intrepid expedition will share it, with the hope of its eventual return it to me with pictures and the story of its Arctic travels.
This is where Marcia eludes, outruns, or is eaten by a polar bear… update to come when and if she returns…