Friday, July 27, 2007

Martha Comes to Visit

If asked what I do, I usually say I am a weaver, but that is misleading.

Weaving, for many people, is choosing a goal (dishtowels, say, or a new jacket), picking a yarn off the shelf, deciding on a weave structure and how to sett the yarns, how long and wide the fabric needs to be, and then proceeding to set those parameters up and warp the loom.

syc yarns july 2007

But when I start a project, I usually start with dyeing. I often also start with spinning, and both of these aspects of what I do are more time consuming, and more engaging, than the weaving itself.

I want the color that I am imagining in front of my eyes. I weave to get the fabric off the loom, to handle it, to see if all the pieces have fallen into place.

I have learned my favorite weave structure (plain weave) well. Oddly, there are lots of ways to weave plain weave: balanced, warp faced, weft faced, warp dominant, weft dominant, fine warps and thin wefts of thick wefts, heavier warps with fine wefts or thick ones, or alternately fine and thick threads in either direction. I play with all of these factors, and yet it is still everyday plain weave.

I weave simple peasant cloth, which I have mentioned before, and which I consider a compliment. I define peasant cloth as good, sturdy well woven cloth, meant to last and hold up through wear and use. No delicate flowers for me.

I have been weaving for over 30 years, and am to the point in my weaving career that I am reasonably certain to achieve the fabric I plan. There are surprises, of course, which keeps the whole thing interesting. But the structure of the fabric is not what I think about.

It is tactile and visual pleasure, the spinning, dyeing and weaving off lengths of colorful fabric.

silk band yarns july 2007

Color elicits the first response from most everyone, good or bad. It is the first thing we see in looking at clothing, say, or dishtowels. Closer inspection, when we handle the cloth, gives us a feel for the hand of the fabric, smooth, supple, slippery, fuzzy, soft, harsh, whatever. And then last, if we have a weaver's perspective of cloth, we look at the structure of the cloth.

Many weavers spend the bulk of their weaving time planning the structure, thinking of ways to manipulate the threads in the warp and weft to create a fabric that has structural interest. Somehow, I missed that gene. I think it goes along with the counting gene, because sometimes I get that counting stuff all wrong too. But I am resourceful, I can adjust: with plain weave, a few extra threads here or few less there are not a crisis. Many weave structures require a specific set of threads, and the right number of threads, and that counting gene is necessary.

Madelyn van der Hoogt, weaving teacher and currently editor of Handwoven magazine, has long held that there are two types of weavers: the Structure-Pattern people, and the Color-Texture people. I, obviously, fall firmly into the latter camp. We all cross over to greater or lesser extent, and occasionally I have been known to weave off a piece of fabric with color and structure. Those fabrics are notable and rare though, and a cause for comment among people who know me.

It is similar in knitting: there are the color-stranders, the texture knitters, and the lace knitters. Texture knitters and lace knitters seem very similar to me: some create bumps and some create holes, but they are manipulating the needles and yarn in their dance of choice. There are probably intarsia knitters too, but I don't know any of them.

There is no right or wrong here. People fall into either (or some of both) camp of weavers and knitters. Some people have an attitude about all of this, and would like to make their camp the only camp, or the most important camp.

In weaving, many people feel the need to get bigger and more complex equipment just to become a real weaver. But small looms, simple equipment, and hand manipulated weaves have a pleasure and tactile joy some of the quasi-industrial looms do not. Hours spent in quiet spinning, lifting each thread step by step over and over in a pickup pattern, can be balm to sooth the restless soul.

I so enjoying spinning and dyeing my yarns. Much of the pleasure of all of this fabric stuff would be lost, for me, without those two aspects.

Martha? Flowers:

glads day 3

Sent by my son and his wife, from They are beautiful, and open more each day.

And the color delights me.


Blogger Abby Franquemont said...

You can count me among the hand-manipulators. I do it for the doing it as well as the end result... but probably more for the doing it. The end result is there for me to see how the doing-it went.

Whatever it is, I want my hands In There, making it happen. That's the joy for me. This doesn't mean I can't see value or thrill in anything else; but for me it's like music. As a generalization, I prefer music that can be played live, to music that requires a studio and can really only be recorded. It's the live-ness or potential for that, which makes my toes tap and gets me up out of my seat; and the same is true with fabric.

I learned to weave fancier structures, sure... but what I always want to be doing is stuff like pickup weaving.

10:49 AM  
Blogger Sharon said...

Oh boy, Sara, that really resonates with me. I was weaving this afternoon, wondering how I could ever weave without my own hand-spun yarn - I'm just not interested otherwise. I've read blogs this past year and seen beautiful lace shawls. They're lovely - I still don't want to knit one. We all have different muses. I think your thoughts are the roots of an full-blown Interweave article. Please think about it.

4:25 PM  
Blogger Crazy Colorado Knitter said...

oh, this makes me want to be at home weaving. I'm a novice weaver and a pretty good dyer/spinner/knitter, but I love the making of things. I have a large scarf/small shawl on my loom right now that I've been ignoring for a couple of months, that has been calling to me.

More so today since I taught a drop-spindle class, then had to go to work.

5:45 PM  
Blogger dragon knitter said...

what an introspective post. i thoroughly enjoyed it! i'm not a weaver (but not from lack of lust, i just CAN'T take on another craft, lol), but i tend to look at teh structure of a fabric when i buy clothing, as well.

and i'm a texture/lace knitter. anything with more than 1 color can tend to annoy me (ask me about the 2-color mittens i'm knitting, lol), but give me a cable, or a twisted stitch, or a series of yo's/decr, and i'm happy as a clam. thanks!

7:45 PM  
Blogger Bonnie said...

Ditto for me (except for the spinning and dyeing part) :)

Thanks for a lovely post!

10:42 PM  
Blogger Sue Bleiweiss said...

Great post. I fall into that texture/color camp. I've pushed myself to weave the fancy weaves but find that it's not as pleasurable an experience as when I weave in plain ole plain weave using unusual fun and textured yarns.

3:04 AM  
Blogger Marie said...

I "hear" what you're saying even though I'm not a 30 year weaver/dyer/spinner. I love dyeing the most and use the weaving to show off the dyeing. I believe all the previous commenters said it far better than I ever could and second the idea of submitting an article to Handwoven.

7:58 AM  
Blogger Peg in South Carolina said...

Sara, instead of calling yourself a weaver, how about artist? Don't even put fiber in front of the word artist. You are right that you are much more than a weaver. And if you can get used to it and comfortable with it, you need to begin thinking of yourself as an artist.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Leigh said...

This wonderful post strikes an instinctive cord somewhere deep within me. So nice to have it all put into words.

4:20 AM  
Blogger Jackie said...

I am a colour/texture person too who is in love with plain weave. And I having just started spinning, and weaving with my hand spun and am soooooo in love with the end results. Now, if I could just squeeze a few more hours into the day....

5:32 AM  
Blogger Carol said...

Thank you for a thoughtful post. It helped put some things I had been thinking about into words. Madelyn also said there are product people vs. process. Sounds like you fall into the process group. I know I do. I too missed the counting gene yet one of my favorite aspects of weaving is the whole warping process. I use my hand spun and also love plain weave and used double weave(double width)all the time. Plain weave allows me to sit back and enjoy the ride. I read with interest about your dyeing as I have avoided it...

6:43 AM  
Blogger JQ said...

Hello Sara,

This is my first time posting a note here. I want you to know how much I enjoy buzzing through your blog. I am a recent graduate with a BFA major in fibre and am just starting up my first studio out in the country (Rural Saskatchewan).

This entry had me nodding vigorously! I hava a good friend who studied in the same department and was a "Patternhead" She spent hours and hours drafting and counting threads (thousands), and later on the compu-dobi, while I was throwing wool into dyepots and perfectly content to play with plain weave. I ALWAYS enjoy the process more if it's intuitive. Sometimes I can't even stand to document my dye recipes! I just want to mix it until it's beautiful and dump the yarn in!

I also agree with Sharon's comment about an article!

Anyhow, I am so glad I found your blog and I just love your photos!


8:59 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home