I started weaving in the early 1980’s. It wasn’t a direct route to the process. Life, like weaving, is an intersection of events that make a seemingly simple thread- or path – part of an entire cloth, or life. So my path to weaving was just like life.
My parents made me go to college. That was the only direction I had after graduating high school.
When I got there, I had to pick a major so I decided on Psychology.
I thought it would be easy.
Psychology 101 was on a Wednesday night. The biggest party night of the week.
That didn’t go well. I ended up re-taking that class and was forced to find a new major…
So one day after my abysmal failure, I wandered into one of the oldest, dilapidated buildings on campus. Immediately, my nose was hit with the combined smell of oil paint, musty wood, linseed oil and torched solder. As I inhaled those representations of creativity, I continued to meander through the large two story foyer, the old wood floor creaking below my feet giving notice of my arrival. In a sunny corner room the late afternoon sunlight cast its beauty on the light oak floors.
The room was filled with weaving looms of all shapes and sizes. I never knew anything like this existed!
I continued wandering the foyer and the next room was a very large closet, filled from floor to ceiling with shelves of colorful cones of yarn. All types, sizes and textures. My heart skipped a beat. All I wanted to do was touch the yarn, unroll the spools, feel the texture in my hands and play.
I had to learn how to do this. So the next semester I signed up to be an artist.
My Dad wasn’t happy…
All I remember of those years are the late nights weaving. Sitting at the loom, inhaling my surroundings and enjoying my dinner of popcorn drenched in butter, Brewer’s yeast and dill. The perfect evening. All these years later, it still is.
Four years as an art major left me experienced enough to know that I could solve any life problem – except how to get a good paying job as an artist.
So I went back to college. This time for a business degree. My weaving and art degree wasn’t to be heard from again for 25 years as I pursued life in many different jobs. And every job was filled with problems to solve, so my art degree came in handy.
Eventually I found myself a divorced empty nester and the first thing I did was buy a loom. My time was finally mine to do with what I wanted. I wanted to weave and I had to re-learn what information had been lost to me, which was most of it.
So my design process became untraditional. It’s more like a clusterfu*k. Here’s how it goes…
First, while in the middle of a weaving project, (because frankly, the actual weaving is sometimes boring) I begin to design in my head the next project. This process is often interrupted by self imposed distractions like baking cookies, going for a walk or to happy hour. But eventually, the weaving design I want to explore next, becomes a vague idea in my mind.
Second – and the rest of this isn’t in any particular order – I pull some yarn from my stash and set it on a shelf so I can look at it and decide if it will work for whatever it is I’m going to do. I have a small stash by most weavers ideas of stash. I live in a small condo and too much gives me too many choices. I like less choice…
Eventually I put that yarn back and pick up another, then another. This could last for weeks. Even though my stash is small I like to take a while to decide.
Next I spend copious amounts of time looking through Handwoven Magazine, handweaving.net, all my weaving books and Pinterest to find a draft that might interest me.
Often I get on Fiberworks, the weaving software, and throw a few drafts up and start to play with color. I usually don’t use the colors I’ve picked. That would make too much sense. The vague idea in my mind stays vague until I start to wind my warp. Because who knows what might happen at the warping reel.
Anyway, after playing in Fiberworks for a while, changing the draft many times, I decide on something. Well – not really something – it’s more like I make a decision and just fly with it because there are too many options and I know something will work out and I better stop overthinking it or it will go on forever.
So I start to wind my warp. Really, I just go with whatever general color I have enough of. The design process up until this point is basically thrown out the window. I pick a yarn with a threading order in my head, a general knowledge of the width of the finished product and the idea that I will make it work, no matter what.
Serendipity at its best. Or worst, depending on how you look at it.
I wind part of the warp because my math is usually wrong no matter what I do, I put what I’ve wound on the loom in the pattern I decided on. I have to stop many times because I usually get the heddle count wrong and have to add more. Then I go wind more warp in a new color, go back to the loom and finish warping.
I like it this way. I get to see what is going on the loom and make adjustments if I want.
Cutting the tedium to get to the point, what I spent weeks planning usually never ends up being what I planned. It becomes something else.
And somehow it works.
Plans can change. And when they do and the process gets interrupted, there’s a choice. Throw it out and start over, and trust me, I’ve done that. Or adjust and adapt.
My years of weaving have taught how to make a viable fabric. My personality and skillset is the type that no matter what comes off the loom, I’ll figure out what it will become. That’s the way I roll.
Maybe a towel, maybe an apron. I’ve covered chairs with my fabric, made a few rugs, purses, and jackets. Now I’m experimenting with wall hangings.
And it’s all good.
And besides, if I really don’t like it, I give it to my sister who sews it into something beautiful.
My unconventional design technique rarely turns out to be a disaster. It’s all in how you look at it.
So for all you budding artists out there – don’t worry about the process. The process is only one tool in the end product. Learn how you learn, not how someone tells you to do it. Take direction from others, then turn that direction in a direction that is your own.