Let me start by saying that I think this is one of the best weaving books to come out this year, and one that fills a huge gap in the body of weaving knowledge. In fact, I liked it so much that I agreed to write the Foreword for it, which you’ll find at the end of this blog post.
The Intentional Weaver documents master weaver Laura Fry’s decades of weaving expertise. Laura has not only considerable chops as a teacher (she teaches the Olds College Master Weaver Certificate Program), she is an experienced production weaver. And when I say “experienced,” I mean “has been making a living from weaving for over four decades.” Laura is among the best of the best.
The Intentional Weaver is intentionally eclectic. It covers the entire weaving process from start to finish. It starts with a discussion of fiber characteristics, then talks about determining sett and planning a project. Then it gets into the wonderful, irreplaceable part – the part that documents how Laura warps, weaves, finishes, and troubleshoots her cloth.
Here’s why this is valuable. Laura is a production weaver. She knows how to weave quickly, efficiently, and ergonomically (i.e., comfortably!). But she is also a pragmatist, not a dogmatist, so she explains why she does things in addition to how she does things. So this section is not only an opportunity to discover the techniques of a production weaver, but to find out how a production weaver thinks about weaving – how she optimizes and problem-solves. This alone would be worth the price of the book.
But you can’t just read about the techniques – you have to actually do them, and rather than doing them blindly, try to think through the problems the way Laura would while you’re doing them. That’s how you’ll get the most benefit from the book.
After the section on weaving, Laura has a section on design. She explains some of the major weave structures, then talks about how to design with them. Again, the value isn’t in the weave structures – the value is in her discussion of design, the process she suggests for starting with small changes and progressing to larger ones.
The section on design considerations is priceless too – advice from a production weaver with over 40 years of experience in designing woven products.
The book closes with a collection of projects that show examples of the different weave structures.
I feel this book is vital because it fills a gap in weaving knowledge. Books on weaving typically only cover the basics of weaving mechanics. “Put this thread through a heddle on shaft 1.” Well, there are slow ways to put the thread through the heddle, and there are fast ways. Left to our own devices, we may figure out the fast way. Or we may not. With the book, and the videos referenced in the book, we can all find the fast, efficient, and comfortable way. Hallelujah. Thank you, Laura.
You can order the book either by emailing Laura directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for a signed copy of the book plus a PDF copy to be received immediately ($68 CAD + $20 CAD shipping), or purchase from Blurb at http://www.blurb.com/b/9138231-the-intentional-weaver . There’s a direct PDF download from Blurb coming soon, too, so if you just want the PDF version, check back in a day or two.
Below is the Foreword I wrote for the book. Enjoy, and I hope you buy a copy of The Intentional Weaver!
Foreword – The Intentional Weaver
One of the biggest challenges for weavers is that – barring a few classes and books – we must learn to weave on our own. Unlike most other fiber artists, floor-loom weavers generally practice in solitude. Floor looms are too heavy to bring to guild meetings or other social gatherings. So while we may learn the basics of warping and weaving from a fellow weaver, or attend the occasional conference, most of our work is done by ourselves, at home. As a result, we don’t get a chance to see how other weavers wind, beam, thread, and weave their warps, or wet-finish the resulting cloth.
So we have to develop our own ways of doing all these processes, based on what we’ve read and heard. We never get a chance to watch and learn the methods that more experienced weavers develop over years of weaving – tweaks that make weaving more efficient and more enjoyable. We understand how to make cloth, but not the multitude of small motions that make the process quicker, easier, and more fun.
One of my luckiest breaks as a novice weaver was an opportunity to study in-person with Laura Fry, one-on-one, for five days. I had been weaving for a bit over two years, and had taken on an extremely ambitious project – weaving my wedding dress. An over-ambitious project, to be honest, and I was struggling with it. Laura offered to teach me in her studio – for free, since I couldn’t afford to pay for both tuition and a trip to her home in Canada. It was an unbelievably generous offer, but Laura has always been unbelievably generous in sharing her extensive knowledge with the weaving community. I grabbed the chance, hopped on a plane, and went to Canada.
What I learned from Laura leapfrogged me years ahead of the learning curve, weaving-wise. It wasn’t about the theory, though there was some of that. It was a priceless opportunity to learn how an experienced production weaver winds, beams, threads, ties on, and weaves a warp. All the small improvements and efficiencies that otherwise would have taken me decades to figure out – if I’d learned them at all.
Individually we might dismiss these small improvements as “tips and tricks,” but collectively they meant I could put on a warp in under half the time, with fewer mistakes, and much more enjoyably than I could before. No more hair-pulling! And my weaving speed went up drastically, too.
Suddenly I, a novice weaver, was able to weave like someone with double my experience. Weaving was comfortable, fast, and fun.
The other thing I learned from Laura was how to think about weaving. Laura didn’t just teach me how she did things – she always explained why she had chosen to do things the way she did. She also emphasized that every weaver weaves differently, and that my choices might be – should be – different from hers, tailored to my own body, equipment, and weaving preferences. That I shouldn’t do what she told me to do, but whatever – after observation, experimentation, and thoughtful consideration of the results – worked best for me.
In short, she wasn’t just showing me how a production weaver weaves, but how a production weaver thinks about weaving – how she observes her weaving, finds and solves even small problems, and continuously seeks minor tweaks that create large improvements over time.
This way of thinking, and this information, is priceless, and isn’t something taught in books. It is something that has only been passed on individually, weaver to weaver – and because today’s weavers work in isolation, these improvements have been lost, and had to be relearned, generation after generation.
The Intentional Weaver is valuable because it teaches weavers not only the finer mechanics of weaving, but the thought process of an experienced weaver. What I learned from Laura through five days of one-on-one tutoring, you can now learn by reading her detailed descriptions of her weaving and design process, by watching the YouTube videos she references in the book, and – most importantly – by paying close attention to her explanations and her thought process.
Don’t just skim over Laura’s descriptions of winding a warp. Actually do it. Stand in front of a warping board and wind several warps the way she describes. As the motions start to feel familiar, start paying more attention to your process and your body: Are your shoulders comfortable or hunched? Are you making more motions than you need to in order to wind the warp effectively? Where does the process feel smooth and efficient? Where are you fumbling?
Much of The Intentional Weaver is about what I call meta-thinking: not only absorbing the material, but the philosophy and approach behind it. Laura’s unofficial motto, oft-repeated on her blog and in person, is “It depends.” This is not equivocation; Laura is not a wishy-washy person. Instead, it’s a call to action. It’s a call to think about the context in which you ask your questions – not to accept a recommendation blindly, but to seek to understand why a given method is recommended and in what contexts it will (and won’t) be effective.
Laura’s intent with The Intentional Weaver, as it was with the five days she spent teaching me, isn’t just to teach you about the material covered in the book, but to teach you about her entire approach to weaving – how she thinks about design, her attention to ergonomics, and her very pragmatic approach to problem-solving. This book, read carefully, will show you the thought process of a professional weaver and teacher, one with decades of experience.
While the earlier portions of the book simply detail Laura’s warping and weaving methods, later portions, such as the sections on troubleshooting selvedges, setting tension, and determining beat, reveal Laura’s problem-solving processes. Step back a moment and look at her overall approach: tweak this, observe the results; change this, see if it fixes the problem. Especially in a craft where authoritative pronouncements are common, this approach serves as a priceless guideline for the novice weaver.
And if you are designing your own projects, pay close attention to the section on designing your own drafts and projects. Laura isn’t just detailing weave structures – she’s also showing you how to think through designing your own drafts, starting with simple changes and working your way up to more complicated designs. And the section on design considerations is pure gold, advice from an experienced production weaver.
I was extraordinarily lucky as a novice weaver to get a chance to study with Laura Fry. We should all be so lucky one day. Fortunately, now we are.