My journey into weaving began by watching one grandmother crochet, another quilt, seeing the rag rugs woven by my parents on the old loom in the basement. Weaving satisfies a curiosity for me. Beautiful textiles intrigue me and make me wonder how they “work”, how the weaver gets the threads to do what they do. And how can I use that technique?
“I don’t think that means what you think that means.”
Like Inigo Montoya, (“The Princess Bride”) I’ve found myself muttering that phrase lately. And it reminds me of my Mother’s answer whenever we asked what something meant—look it up!
We use a lot of words that are specific to our interests, but do they really mean what we think they mean? If we have to explain a term, can we do it without Google?
I’ve come across some design terms lately that I thought I knew – until I tried to define them. For example, what is the Golden Proportion?
What I learned when I looked it up (Mom would be so proud!) is that if you divide a line unequally into two sections, the ratio of the smaller section to the larger section should be the same as the ratio of the larger section to the whole. That’s the Golden Proportion (or Golden Section, or Golden Ratio). The same with a rectangle and any other shape or space. Our brains like the balance of that proportion.
Then there are design elements — line, shape, pattern, texture, color – and design principles — focal point, contrast, repetition, balance, movement, order.
These didn’t figure in my college courses, so at first glance, they seem sort of esoteric. (Did I use that word right?!) I mean, what exactly do designers mean by unity? Balance? Rhythm? Do I need to go to the deep end of the design pool?
Yes, I do.
In the weaving process, the hardest part for me sometimes is the designing. Why is that? Decision-making mostly, along with lack of confidence. I go back and forth about colors and placement, stripe sequences and where to put borders. It can take the better part of an afternoon to pull together a towel warp. If I can make these design principles a part of my planning, maybe the process will go more smoothly.
If I place a border on a towel using the Golden Ratio, I can trust that it will look good.
If I blend colors from one shade to another using a Fibonacci series — each number the sum of the two previous numbers (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and so on) – the transition will balance. In weaving, that could be the number of threads or the size of the stripe. Knowing how the system works should make designing less of a guessing game.
So now whenever I come across a design term that is a little vague to me, I will think of Mom and look it up. It will be worth it.
I’ve often done things the hard way, mostly because of impatience.
In high school, most students took Literature before they took Creative Writing. Except me. I insisted on taking Creative Writing first, then had to go back and take Literature the next year anyway. Would’ve done better in the proper order.
As a college freshman, I thought Prehistoric Archeology looking interesting, but Anthropology 101 was a prerequisite. When they removed the prerequisite, I jumped right to the course I thought I wanted without any real understanding of what prehistoric archeology was. There’s a reason for prerequisites.
Prerequisites in weaving are necessary too. While it’s fun to jump right in and weave something wonderful, eventually you have to know how to design your own project and dress the loom by yourself. Understanding how the threads interact and how drafts work helps determine which weave will work best for your project.
I admire weavers who study a weave structure and know how it works. I mean really know how it works. Through examination and practice (the prerequisites), they build an instinct about the weave. They can look at a sample of that weave and know right off the bat how it was threaded, how it was treadled.
There’s a weaver in our study group who weaves M’s & O’s and ripsmatta. Paula knows M’s & O’s and ripsmatta. Mary Jane can look at a block weave and before too long figure out exactly how many blocks were used and how they were threaded. Jenny is delving into tapestry and has created some amazing little treasures as she adds to her already-expansive weaving skills.
I want to be like them when I grow up.
There are so many weave structures that I skipped through in my weaving journey. One or two projects does not give a very firm foundation. On my way to twill and damask, I skimmed over brocade, lace, crackle, summer and winter, pile weaves, trying only a few token samples before moving on. So earlier this year, I decided that yes, I can go back and work on those weaving prerequisites. It’s never too late to make resolutions and review the wealth of ways threads intersect.
In between my usual projects this year, there’ll be lots of reading and lots of sampling. The goal is to expand skills that have become maybe a little too routine, a little too predictable. What better way to freshen perspective than to go back and catch those weaving prerequisites?
One of my former weaving teachers, Madelyn Van der Hoogt, used to say there are two kinds of weavers: color/texture weavers and structure/pattern weavers.
The color/texture people are drawn to – well, color and texture. Their projects bump and bubble with shades and hues, delighting the eyes with a virtual flower garden on the loom.
The structure/pattern weavers gravitate towards those intricate interlacements that take the yarn in elaborate diamonds and laces. How do you get the strict grid on the loom to softly curve in the design?
Like all generalizations, these show opposite ends of the weaving spectrum. Most of us fall somewhere in between the extremes, but may drift toward one end or the other. At one point in a guild meeting, we were discussing this and a friend told me “Oh you’re definitely structure/pattern!”
Hmmm. I hadn’t thought of myself as being so far to that end. But as I scrolled through my weaving pictures, it’s obvious. While I do dabble in color blending and like a bit of texture in my towels, those fancy diamonds and stars show up over and over again.
The lemon napkins with a green twill border.
A similar pattern shows up in some red and blue towels.
There are the double weave placemats with repeating blocks and ovals.
And then there are the small table cloths sporting diamonds, stars, and blocks overall.
Weaver, know thyself.
Right now I have a towel warp on the small loom and my mind wanders while I’m throwing the shuttle. What can I put on the drawloom that will be more than an exercise in sampling? How can I adapt the elaborate fancy twills from the 18th century Snavely manuscript into something delightful for the 21st century? Is there room in our clear-the-clutter culture for decorative textiles?
So my mind wanders. I think a point twill on the 12-shaft loom is beginning to take shape.
At a recent guild meeting we watched a portion of Laura Bryant’s DVD “A Fiber Artist’s Guide to Color.” She discusses how to arrange colors so that they don’t “fight” against each other. That reminded me of elementary school report card behavior comments:
Expresses ideas clearly
Does neat thorough work
Plays well with others
Do the colors I pick for any given project follow my mental directions in the warp and weft? Do they express my ideas of what that fabric should look like? Do they “play well with others”?
Laura took the audience through several exercises demonstrating how our perception of colors is affected by all the other colors around them. Putting a purple patch over a white background or a blue background affects how that purple looks. Our eyes will “see” it as different when it is actually the same.
Watching her exercises, I recalled a “problem child” cone of yarn I have that doesn’t play well with others. It’s called “Bluebird” and by itself, is a delightful purple which leans toward blue. But just try to blend it with other purples or even with reds and it becomes either a bully by standing out like a neon light or is itself bullied into a non-descript gray.
I can blame some of this on my camera or my lighting, but this cone of yarn is often the culprit when I can’t get a towel to photograph well. It’s a case of the background color either highlighting the accent or pulling all the color out of it. What I need to figure out is the happy medium.
I do a lot of color-blending in my warp and it’s fun to see which cones work together and which ones I have to save for another project. That’s what makes each project unique, each towel “expressing ideas clearly” and “playing well with others.”
Don’t forget the holiday specials going on in my Etsy shop. I am offering 10% off on any orders over $75. Just enter the code HOLIDAY18 at check-out. And if you order on today, November 26, your treasure will ship for free.
Here we are at our annual day of giving thanks. As soon as November hits, the stores put up the red and green, but I appreciate a day to reflect on all that I am thankful for.
I’m thankful for colors—blues, greens, corals, rubies, golds, browns—oh the richness and variety of browns in the world!
I’m thankful for textures—smooth, silky, fuzzy, bumpy, ridged, sharp, soft.
I’m thankful for handwork—weaving, spinning, knitting, tatting, crocheting, sewing.
But more than all of these, I’m thankful for faith, for family, for friends.
And I’m thankful for all of you who read through my occasional musings on fiber art and who have supported my creative jaunts.
To share my appreciation, I am offering 10% off on any orders over $75 from my Etsy shop. Just enter the code HOLIDAY18 at check-out. And if you order on Cyber Monday, November 26, your treasures will ship for free. Perhaps you’ll find just the right gift for you or your special someone.
I stand at the ironing board, ready to press over the hem on the towel. I look more closely, flip the fabric over, flip it back. I pause, indecisive; which side is the “right” side?
Many weaves look distinctly different on one side from the other. Summer and Winter is a perfect example. One side is predominantly light and the other predominantly dark; that’s where it gets its name. Twills can have the same effect depending on the float lengths and colors of the warp and weft.
I weave a lot of twills and when the fabric is on the loom, I get used to the face on top. When the warp advances around the cloth beam to where I can see the other side, it’s can be a delightful surprise. Sometimes I can’t decide which side I like better. Do I want the accent motif to stand out on a uniform background, or is the background itself the star of the show?
As the weaver, it’s really up to me to choose which is the “right” side. Some weaves are pretty much the same on either side. Plain weave is – well, plain. Lace weaves will be opposite but still lace weaves—a weft float on the front will be a warp float on the back. It just depends on what you are looking for.
There comes a moment, though, when I have to decide—which is the front side and which is the back side. Hems have to go somewhere.
I pick up the iron, press, and pin. Decision made. At least until I sit down to sew the hem and have second thoughts.
You’ve heard the saying: “You can take the girl out of (insert your favorite place), but you can’t take the (insert your place again) out of the girl.” Cute and catchy. It explains all sorts of idiosyncrasies we aren’t even aware of, and some we wish we could outgrow, but no, they are part of our make-up.
For me, it’s my rural, upper Midwest upbringing. The way I pronounce certain words (much to my husband’s amusement); my love of cheese curds, brats, and beer; my preference for cool weather and all things “Norman Rockwell”-esque. You can take the girl out of Wisconsin…
I shared in Learning Experiences about this damask barn I was working on that would reflect both my Dad’s dairy farming and my Mom’s quilting. The challenge was getting the woven piece to show the same proportions as the graphed picture.
Five samples later, I took it off the loom, but then had to decide how to frame it. Another month went by before I found an answer in a box of my mother’s old pictures—a frame made by my grandfather. Its dark brown, rustic finish works, although I wish I had used a similar colored thread in the weaving. But then I didn’t know about the frame when I was weaving. Maybe next time.
It felt good and right to hang the barn above my loom, to step back and remember. I’m hoping they would approve.
UFO as in “unfinished object.” I noticed this week how very many of these are lying around my studio waiting to be finished.
I started framing the three damask pictures I wove for family late last winter. In my defense, I’ve been undecided until recently just how to frame them, and now I just have to … finish.
Damask waiting to be framed
There’s the basket of cottolin towels woven in…hmmm…maybe May? They are ready to be hemmed, just waiting.
Towels to hem
There’s also the “new” towel warp put on while I waited to hear about a yarn order. Two towels woven, seven to go.
Two done, seven to go
Then there’s the doubleweave placemats that necessitated the said yarn order. These are on the loom and are my current focus since it’s a set order.
Doubleweave in progress
And there’s the agreement to weave an opphämta wall hanging with winter motifs, in the vein of the hangings I wove last summer. This one is not even on the loom yet, but it’s committed.
Not to mention the millennial braided rug, visited only sporadically because it is such a learning experience. Or the two knitting projects that sit next to my couch for evening relaxation.
UFOs are not bad things really. Each project moves at its own pace and if I have to wait for something on one project, it’s good to have another to work on. But there is a tipping point. It’s time to wrap up at least some of these UFOs — so I can start some more!