Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Weaving Loom

The Weaving Loom is my first ever short story that I wrote as a total fluke while serving in the Peace Corps. It was Site Announcement Day, or the day during training when we learned in which specific city, town, or village we'd be spending our next two years. My site? Smolyan, Bulgaria, deep in the heart of the Rhodope Mountains. Don't know where that is? Find a map of Bulgaria (About the size of Ohio). Then, find the city of Plovdiv, which is right in the center. After that, head straight down ALMOST to Greece. There, you will find Smolyan. It's beautiful!

A volunteer who'd already been in country for a year lived near my site, so I asked him what it was like in that region. His answer? A story about life in the Rhodopes. So... on a fluke, I responded in kind with a short story of my own. The result was The Weaving Loom. Here's an updated version I submitted to a short story contest for the Kenyon Review. Mine didn't get picked, but I wrote and polished it enough to submit to someone I didn't know. To me, that was a big step. 

I hope you like it! Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. - Heather

The Weaving Loom

Present day Sofia, Bulgaria

Rumyana hated to see it happen, but neither knowing how to use it nor having enough space in her new but small apartment she couldn’t keep it. She fought back tears as the museum crew slowly disassembled it and carried it away piece by piece. 

Her thoughts wandered to her grandmother who had told her stories about how she and her sister would spin to the comforting, clicking sound of dyado working at his loom. 

A sudden loud click snapped her out of her daze. She slowly walked over and re-snapped the heddle lock into place before the last pieces were carried out. Hopefully they would have a place for this. If not, it would be destined to collect dust in a crate, neatly tucked away in a museum storage room in Sofia. 

Traditional weaving loom - Ethnographic Museum, Sofia, Bulgaria

60 years earlier Smilyan, Bulgaria

Selling the animals was simply not an option if they still wanted to put food on the table. At the time, there were no sewing or spinning machines. There were no electric shears, only a large loom, two spinning wheels and a pair of sheering scissors. 

Together the family worked all day and often by candlelight to produce the fabric required to both make their own clothes and to earn their valuable income. Their father and uncles would sheer sheep throughout the year to provide the wool necessary to spin. 

Marieta and her sister would spend the day at their spinning wheels. Their mother would knit the family socks and pullovers while their father would take the bulk of the yarn and weave it into what he boasted was the highest quality cloth in the region. 

Alexander was proud of his work. Without question, he put in many hours’ hard work for his family day in and day out. They all worked to survive. 

After his daughters, he was proudest of his weaving loom. It was a large framed loom that took up almost the entire room. Made by his grandfather, it was the family’s prized possession. 

A talented carpenter and craftsman, his grandfather made it as a wedding gift for his father. Likewise, when Alexander married, he and his bride then received the loom as a gift. Its equal had yet to be found. Alexander hoped to pass it down to his eldest daughter, Marieta, should she ever get around to marrying Vesko.

To weave his cloth, Alexander would have to climb into the loom, sit on the bench and not move again until he was finished weaving for the day. After warping it at the start of each week, he would work the weft from the right to the left. From the left to the right, his arms slowly imitating the movement of a butterfly whilst moving the shuttle back and forth. A loud click and he would shift the heddles to weave the next row. 

Back and forth. 

Click. Next row. 

Would he be ready to go for next week’s market day? Would he receive a fair price from Mr. Borisov this week? Would he have enough to buy flour, salt and butter for the family? These were the questions that weighed on his mind each week. 

Click. Next row.

She was young and beautiful. With long, dark hair flowing in the wind, fair skin and deep brown eyes, Marieta turned many a man’s head in her small village of Smilyan. However, her heart was already promised to Veselin, or Vesko, the son of the village schoolmaster. Though she wanted more than anything to accept Vesko’s proposal, she felt she had nothing to bring to a marriage. 

She came from a family of weavers and though they only produced 20 + meters of fabric a week to sell in the local markets, it was enough to make ends meet. 

Click. Father shifted the heddles for the next row. 

She and her sister would spend the days spinning and spinning. They would often hum melodies to the clicking sound of their father’s loom. They knew that someday it would be passed down to them and then passed down to their children. However, passing it down meant an end to a father’s means of survival. What’s more important? Her own happiness? Or her father’s means of income? 

Sure – he could build another loom, but… 

Click. Next row.

Distaff, Swift and Traditional spinning and weaving tools
Ethnographic Museum, Sofia, Bulgaria

One day while spinning and humming their favorite songs, Marieta and her sister heard a knock at the door. They looked up for a moment as their mother stood up to answer it. 

Marieta glanced out the window and saw Vesko standing at the door. “Tatko”, she said to her father. “It’s Veselin”. “Hmm”, he replied, without breaking his rhythm. 

Click. Next row. 

A moment later, their mother came in and told Alexander that Veselin wanted to speak to him.

“Hmm”, he replied while getting up from his work. 

Their mother went back to her knitting as Alexander disappeared into the kitchen. The fiber she was spinning loosened rather quickly causing Marieta to have to re-attach it to her wheel. Her sister stifled a giggle earning a stern look in return. 

About 5 minutes later, Marieta saw Vesko leaving the house. Shortly thereafter, Alexander returned to his loom. 

Click. Next row. 

Marieta looked up with a curious look on her face. Without missing a beat, he looked at her, paused, and said, “It is time.” and returned to his work. 

She could have sworn she saw a tear in his eye. 

Instead of commenting, she returned to her own work and hummed her favorite song.

Click. Next row.

Thanks for reading! 

        - Heather


  1. This really came off the page when we're with Alexander in his head. It's small and it's intimate, but you suddenly see that the loom isn't just a static object passed down, but a way of being that effects everyday living.

  2. A piece I didn't realize was missing from my life. Loved reading it


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