Veasomem suehpedh – to weave a life Posted on 19 Jan 00:10 , 0 comments
Meet Johan Sandberg McGuinne – a STOORSTÅLKA certified Sámi weaving instructor and band weaving blogger.
*In the Vualtjere dialect of South Saami, the word for warping and weaving a band is the same as the word for the birth of reindeer calves.
Looking back, it’s easy enough to say that I come from a line of weavers, so perhaps it wasn’t all that strange that a part of my own reconnection with my maternal culture would involve me picking up a rigid heddle, in order to try to recreate a woven band that my late mother had left me when I moved to my first own home at the age of eighteen.
The rest, as they say, is history.
At the time, being a teenager far away from home — a liberating and simultaneously scary feeling — I didn’t care much about the band, and having been raised away from Saepmie for a large part of my childhood, my Saami heritage was something that I back then had grown accustomed to not pay much attention to. Indeed, it would take a long time before I actually bothered trying to learn the art of band weaving at all, though I in retrospect could say that band weaving in many ways has become a major part of my personal decolonial process.
Weaving roots me, it’s a part of my culture, and I feel the presence of my ancestors each time I warp a rigid heddle, or let the shuttle fly back and forth, creating bands meant to decorate dresses, hats and walls or work as straps for backpacks and rifles.
Now, despite the numerous woven bands and tapestries at home, it never dawned upon me that they were physical manifestations of an important family tradition, something that connected me to my ancestors. Being a man, I guess I had subconsciously internalised the idea that weaving is something that women should do, and for a long time I consequently focused on making guksieh and knives; my grandpa was eager to teach me, and I preferred the smell of the fire in the smithy to what back then seemed like the epitome of boredom, i.e. my grandmother’s baskets full of yarn meant for all kinds of textile handicraft projects.
God, have I changed my opinion about yarn since then!
When I was 20, I moved to Scotland, and it was here that I started to think seriously about my own identity. My mother had recently passed away, and I’d severed all contacts with both my dad and stepdad, so in a way, I guess I felt lost. I am Scottish and Saami, but it was not really until I found myself in Scotland, where being Scottish was the norm, that I started to reflect upon what being Saami really meant to me. Even though I did not grow up as a reindeer herder, nor with the language – I tried to get lessons in secondary school, but to no avail – I still was Saami, and very much so, and being Saami was and still is something of great importance to me.
I did however grow up with yoiking as an ever-present yet often silenced soundtrack, and my summers where spent living off the land in the Arctic, fishing charrs, laying nets and collecting cloudberries under a never-setting sun. There is a twin birch where our summer house stands; we treated it as a guardian and a sacred companion, and often put brass rings and reindeer antlers on its branches. I don’t think I ever reflected over why, but all those and many other things are distinctly Saami to me. I grew up with myths and norms firmly rooted in the Saami community and realising this, I started to look more and more into my own family, finding Saami hermits, spiritual men and handicrafters aplenty.
Together they all inspired me into looking further into my family’s handicraft history.
I started weaving after having attended a crash course in Máláge, arranged by the ever brilliant StoorStålka. Attached to a flag pole, and looking like a demented man, I wove two metres of wobbly blue upon black. My first band was a disaster, but I still keep it, as a reminder of the first step towards something which I now do because it fills me with both inner peace and joy.
Bringing the band home to my grandparents, my grandmother took one look at it, told me to weave some more, and when I’d made my first decent band, she handed me a set of old, handwritten descriptions of woven decoration bands; some being Swedish bands, some being Saami.
Being South Saami, I mostly weave laskah, - traditional hemline decoration bands – faahtelh – thinner decoration bands – and juvvieh, a type of woven belts that aren’t as common today as they used to be say 200 years ago. Nowadays most people tend to wear pewter wire embroidered belts instead, but I like the woven belts; they feel more understated, yet beautiful to me.
Having been bitten by the weaving bug, I don’t just weave South Saami bands though, but I’ve learnt to pick patterns as well, commonly seen on North Saami bands. I figured, why stop learning when I’ve found a traditional hobby that excites me?
Weaving is, contrary to my first misconceptions, something both fun and rather easy. Getting even, strong bands take some time and practice, but that in itself is not something negative. On the contrary; being a part of your weaving, you have to calm yourself down, and with time, the act of weaving becomes almost meditative.
My favourite part about band weaving is on hand the progression of the band; a miniature version of life itself from start to finish, and on the other hand I like the fact that I become an active part of my own weaving when using a rigid heddle. I do not simply weave, but I am in essence the loom as well.
Johan Sandberg McGuinne