Monk’s Belt Hat

Today I’m really excited to announce the return of My Place – our collaborative project celebrating the work of talented independent designers. Over the next few weeks (in a leisurely fashion, as befits summer’s slightly rambling, holiday-accommodating pace), you’ll meet several different designers together with the fabulous hats they have created with our Milarrochy Tweed yarn. Each hat speaks to each of the designers’ respective sense of place in the world and, like the gorgeous shawls and scarves that were created as part of the My Place project in 2021, the hats of 2022 are a wonderfully varied and inspiring. This Wednesday, it’s my very great pleasure to introduce the very first My Place hat of the series, designed by Janet Bowen. A skilled craftswoman, with a love of hand-made textiles of all kinds, Janet is a talented weaver as well as a superb hand-knitter. Janet’s hat celebrates the creative locale of her loom, a place which she has found truly grounding through the turbulence and strangeness of the last couple of years. Hand-weaving and hand-knitting speak similar pattern-related languages, and, as a fluent speaker of both, Janet brilliantly enables one craft to celebrate the other through the re-making of a shared motif.

Here’s Janet to tell you more about her place, and the inspiration behind her Monk’s Belt Hat.

Monk’s Belt Hat

My Place in 2022 has been at my loom, weaving.

In a time of loneliness, uncertainty, and fear, the action of sitting down, picking up a shuttle, and engaging in the rhythmic, meditative work of weaving has housed me. 

Janet at her loom, wearing her Monk’s Belt Hat

This craft engages the whole body. Each row begins with my right or left foot pushing down on the treadles, which are the pedals beneath the loom that raise and lower a combination of harnesses, the wooden frames that hold hundreds of threads moving up and down. I push the beater away from me, then skim the smooth wooden boat shuttle from right to left or left to right, through the trough of space between up and down threads. I swing the heavy wooden beater toward me, or more specifically, toward the cloth that is slowly being laid down, one weft at a time, between my body and the loom. Then I start the sequence again by sliding my foot to a new treadle and pressing toward the floor.  

Not only does weaving engage the body, it also engages the mind. As I move through the physical process of weaving, my brain is working to process a number of mathematical, structural, and creative choices. 

Weaving begins with warping, which is short-hand for many mathematical equations that start with thread size, finished width of weaving, the number of ends per inch, and eventually lead to a precisely designed, measured, and threaded loom. After over forty years of being a weaver, it astounds me at the number of mistakes that I still can make when warping my loom.

Beyond the warping process, the mind, in a more relaxed state, still needs to focus. Have I woven the correct number of rows for this section of the pattern? Have I been careful to avoid beating the last weft too tightly (very easy to do if I use a little too much vigor) or too loosely (also way too easy) but just the right amount, so that the spacing between each row is a precise number of throws? Is the tension on the warp just the right amount of slack versus tautness in the weft as it moves around the edges of the cloth? Is it time to release more warp from the back of the loom so that the beater always hits the edge of the cloth in the same place? And did I miss the last few minutes of the audiobook or video I am watching because I was distracted by a mistake in the pattern?

In this simultaneous physical movement and mental focus, I feel myself, at times, in that state of engaged but relaxed mind that occurs in the better moments of meditation.  Weaving is both abhyasa – effort – and vairagyam – letting go, or detachment – which work together to create a focused yet easy mind. 

Throughout my life, and especially during the pandemic, my place at the loom has been a momentary island of concrete, quantifiable progress. When everything else is in flux and so amorphous that it was indefinable, I can see, at the end of a session at my loom, the number of inches woven, or I have finished winding on 6 yards of warp, or I am ready to take scissors to warp and cut my fabric off of the loom. And at the end of each warp, I have napkins or kitchen towels or pillowcases to use or to give away. 

The only challenge is convincing non-weavers that they should use their textiles and then throw them in the washing machine and dryer! In our house, we use the napkins and kitchen towels and pillowcases that I weave every day: a Shaker-like appreciation of simple, beautiful handmade things. 

Weaving is an exhale breath with material results. 

Given the importance of weaving to me during the last two years, it’s not surprising that when I was ready to travel again, I signed up for a class at a weaving school. In September 2021, I spent a week at Vävstuga, the Swedish weaving school in western Massachusetts. Vävstuga is run by Becky Ashenden, a force of nature and an amazing weaver and teacher; every student, no matter how experienced, begins as a beginner in the Basics class. I wove on a heavy Swedish loom in the barn and realized how long it had been since I had been in company with non-relative human beings. 

Weaving in the barn at Vävstuga

My Monk’s Belt Hat is inspired by a piece of cloth that I saw at Vävstuga.  The original cloth, woven in linen and cotton, was in a pattern called Monk’s Belt, a style of weaving characterized by bold geometric shapes and strong colors. 

Monk’s Belt cloth

I found in KDD & Co’s Milarrochy Tweed the perfect colors to recreate the Vävstuga Monk’s Belt sample: Stockiemuir, the same acid yellow-green; Cranachan, a bright orange-red; Lochan, a rich dark blue; and Hirst, the linen-colored background to my hat.

Janet in her Monk’s Belt Hat

Stranded colorwork, in easy-to-memorize motifs of squares and rectangles, alternating with plain rows of Hirst, make this hat suitable both for newcomers to colorwork and more experienced knitters.

Monk’s Belt crown

And here’s one last photo of me wearing my Monk’s Belt Hat (and my KDD Walking Socks), hiking with my dog Maisie in forests near our home. Maisie sends a cheerful wag across the pond to the Labs of KDD & Co!

Thank you, Janet, for sharing the story of your hat so eloquently with us. The dogs send a trio of waggy hellos to Maisie!

Janet’s Monk’s Belt Hat is now available to download on Ravelry. Please support our My Place designers, if you can, by favouriting, queuing and purchasing their wonderful work!