I realized I left out Laura’s email address for ordering The Intentional Weaver in my last blog post. You can find out more details of her special offer on her blog, and you can order it by emailing her at email@example.com or at Blurb.
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.
101 days ago, I was a couch potato. Today?
That’s me squatting 780 weasels (195 pounds) – more than my body weight!
And here’s me at 99 days, deadlifting 700 weasels (175 pounds):
That kind of improvement exceeds my wildest expectations – in fact, it sounds like something you hear about in an ad on late-night TV. You know, “I was a 48-year old couch potato…but after 101 days of Weasel-Power! Boot Camp, I was squatting over 780 weasels!” That would totally have me going out and buying their Weasel-Power video series and their “Weasel-Flex” exercise widget! (For the more gently minded, of course, there would also be “Weasel Yoga – Make yourself supple as a weasel!”. Or – for you digital folks – the electronic game with social media leaderboards, “Wea-Fit”.)
But the amazing part (to me) is that I’ve made this massive improvement without a single injury. I’ve had plenty of muscle soreness, and I’ve tweaked my wrist, shoulder, etc. a few times, but no major injuries and no soreness lasting more than a few days. This kind of improvement isn’t my expertise and certainly isn’t luck: it’s having an excellent trainer. Touissant has done a fantastic job of encouraging me to push as hard as I can without going beyond my physical limits (general or from minor injuries), and helping me improve my form so I can lift more efficiently while staying safer.
Just as importantly, working with Touissant has gradually enabled me to trust that I’m not going to hurt myself lifting, which has enabled me to put everything I’ve got into the workout, rather than worrying about whether I’m going to hurt myself this time. I have a long history of overdoing it exercising and then losing months to injuries – now that I can trust him to watch out for me, I don’t have to unconsciously limit myself and can put everything I’ve got into the task at hand.
Another thing that’s made rapid progress possible is that Mike and I are working out together. We get fewer exercises done total, but it’s more fun to be able to work out with a friend and partner, so I’m more comfortable working out and more motivated to show up.
All of which has made me realize how important having a mentor and a peer group is to learning/doing anything new. People have asked me how I learn each new medium with lightning speed. I’ve always said, “Because I focus obsessively on things and I read a lot,” but I’ve also realized it’s because I reflexively seek out mentors and social groups that can answer my questions, encourage me, and keep me from getting frustrated when I tackle my super-over-ambitious projects.
I think this is true for others as well. So the online course I’m developing will offer both direct mentoring (from me, of course) plus a forum where students can interact, encourage each other, discuss the exercises and their current work, etc. Because, especially for people who are nervous about a new topic, having someone to guide, encourage, and support you makes learning much easier (sometimes it’s what makes learning possible at all!), and having a peer group to work with helps you put that learning into practice once class is over.
Speaking of the class…I’ve been pretty quiet about my teaching business for the last few months, mostly because I’ve been hard at work on it! But I’m getting closer to releasing my class. Close enough that I’m comfortable divulging a few details.
The class is going to cover the essentials of color in handweaving. The first part will cover basic color theory: the fundamental properties of color (hue, value, and saturation), how colors interact when interlaced in cloth, and a brief discussion of color mixing.
The second part talks about design: How to set the mood of a handwoven project by controlling drama, energy, and ambiance with color.
And the third part walks you through the design process: Choosing and using a warp color, weft color, and draft to achieve the mood you want.
The class will be offered in two formats. One will be a 1-2 hour streaming video plus handouts. That will (cross fingers) be released in November.
The other class option will be a full online course, with a discussion forum, exercises, feedback from the instructor (me!), etc. I’m planning to open registration in mid to late November, with the first session starting in January.
Here are two slides from the section on the design process:
I hope that, once my course is released, my students will be making weaselly fast progress with color!
I left for Convergence on Thursday, July 5, and returned the following Thursday, totally exhausted of seven days of nonstop partying with 1,500 fellow weavers.
I started with the Sheep to Shawl on Saturday, as part of the Black Sheep Handweavers Guild (one of my two weaving guilds). Five spinners, a carder, and me (the weaver) – plus an educator to talk to passersby so the team didn’t get distracted. We had a lot of fun, and finished our shawl well within the 4-hour time limit:
For the unfamiliar, sheep to shawl contests originated when a medieval English lord bet one of his friends that the workers on his estate could shear a sheep at dawn, then wash the fleece, card, spin, dye, weave, and sew it into a jacket for him to wear to dinner. The workers succeeded (which still flabbergasts me!). But remember, these were trained professionals, kids – do not try this at home!
Ah, who am I kidding?? Bring on the sheep to shawl contests!
Modern day sheep to shawl contests aren’t nearly as strenuous. Typically each team starts with a washed fleece, then cards, spins, and plies it into yarn. The team gets to warp the loom before the contest, either with handspun or commercial yarn – so all that needs to be done during the contest is weave the shawl and finish the ends. There are variations on the rules, but the basic idea is to get from a fleece to a shawl within a time limit.
I had some funny conversations about the contest, like this one:
“I thought they were going to start with a sheep!”
“Nah, the conference venue wouldn’t let them have sheep.”
“Couldn’t we have told them they were comfort sheep?”
The day after the Sheep to Shawl, I taught my 90 minute seminar about critique. I’m pretty sure most of the students were expecting me to say something totally different – mostly because we have such terrible misconceptions about critique. The three-bullet summary of my 90-minute seminar:
- Critique is about evaluating your work in order to make it stronger.
- You get WAY more improvement out of taking good ideas and making them spectacular than you do from fixing flaws.
- So in critique, you want to focus on finding the things you like, the things that are working, so you can figure out how to make them amazing. NEVER focus on finding flaws.
There was a lot more to the seminar, of course – I’m thinking of recording it and putting it on YouTube, actually, because I got a LOT of positive feedback on it afterwards. In my copious free time, of course.
(As soon as I find out where I stashed all that free time…let’s see…could I have left it in the studio? Hey, what’s this black hole doing here…?)
Monday I took two classes from Mickey Stam – one about “Weaving Your Passion” and the other about “Opening Your Weaving to New Possibilities”. She had a really interesting approach to brainstorming new areas for exploration and some very practical advice on how to move forward with making, exhibiting, and selling textile art.
And Tuesday night started Barbara Setsu Pickett’s class on velvet weaving! I had been looking forward to this class for months – after Wendy Landry’s lectures at Complex Weavers Seminars 2016, I really wanted to try velvet weaving.
Velvet weaving is not for the timid. You weave velvet with two warps: the ground cloth warp, which weaves the backing, and the pile warp, which produces all those lovely fluffy cut ends.
Here’s how it works:
Weave a header of ground cloth. Then lift whatever pile warps you want to show, and insert a grooved rod. Weave a few more picks of ground cloth (to hold the pile), then insert another rod. After placing three rods, run a razor-sharp blade through the groove in the rearmost rod to cut the pile, remove the rod, and insert it in the next pile-warp shed. The five or six picks of ground-cloth/binder weft will (at least in theory) be tight enough to hold the pile warp in place.
It looks like this:
And here’s a short video of me cutting the pile (with a scalpel taped to a depth where it will cut the pile but – in theory – not your cloth):
Swiping razor blades down a thin groove right next to cloth! Relying on just eight picks of weft to hold your entire pile warp in place! What could go wrong??
But wait! There’s more!
If you want to weave figured velvet – and let’s face it, haven’t we all desperately wanted to weave figured velvet at least once in our lives? – every single one of those pile warp ends needs to be tensioned separately. That’s because figured velvet requires having pile in some places but not others, like this sample Barbara showed us:
Looping a strand of pile warp over a rod takes a lot more thread than just weaving it into the ground cloth. So if you are weaving pile in some areas but not others, your pile warp threads will take up at vastly different rates. So the only way to get even tension is to tension every pile thread all by itself.
At the Lisio Foundation, and other velvet weaving studios, they have huge racks that sit behind the looms. Each rack is full of individually weighted spools. Each spool contains (more or less) one pile warp. Multiply by a couple hundred pile warps, and what do you get?
…a ton of spaghetti (and an entire week of rethreading) if you accidentally cut the cloth, or if you haven’t beaten tightly enough to hold in the pile warp ends when you start cutting the pile.
Whee! Velvet is easy!! No problem!! What could go wrong??
Since we didn’t have giant racks, and some of us (including Barbara) flew in, we used an ingenious device (called a cantra) that Barbara designed for her classes. Here’s what my setup looked like:
In the top of the cantra is a piece of egg crate (you can get it in your local hardware store; it’s used as a diffuser for fluorescent lighting). The pile thread warps go up from their weighted bobbins through the egg crate dividers, up and over, through a little cross at the top, and then down to a stick held over the back beam. And from there to the rest of the loom.
The cantra is about three feet tall – which means you can weave three feet of pile warp before having to stop and unwind all the bobbins. And there are a LOT of bobbins. I wove a finer velvet than the rest of my classmates, so I had 15 pile warps per inch. So all the bobbins you see dangling there were required for weaving a two-inch-wide strip of velvet! For a wider warp that would mean unwinding bobbins for approximately all eternity, every time you need to advance. Better make that cantra tall.
You may have noticed that there appears to be quite a bit of stuff in that photo. I actually had a LOT more stuff than that, since I had to come prepared for the Sheep to Shawl and my own lecture, too. Plus, in a burst of generosity, I volunteered to bring an entire suitcase worth of rayon machine embroidery thread for my classmates to use, since I was driving anyway.
This led to a new linguistic discovery when I arrived. I now know that the sweetest words a bellhop can say, in any language, are “Don’t worry, we’ll deliver everything to your room. Have a nice stay.”
(I was AMAZED that he fit all that stuff on the cart. I later discovered that they take classes on how to load these!)
The bellhop who delivered the loom to my room, however, was apparently traumatized by the experience. He kept saying, “I’ve never had to move anything this big and this delicate before!” I didn’t have the heart to tell him what the rest of his week was going to be like. 🙂 (Though I did tip him $5 to help him get over the trauma.)
And here’s my finished strip of velvet – three days’ work!
I played with short pile, tall pile, cut pile, uncut pile, and all possible combinations of the above. It was a TON of fun, and I want to work more with this on the jacquard loom. I’m already plotting ways to set up a rack of spools behind the loom. Stay tuned!
Sadly, it looks like more travel is not in my immediate future. A good friend is going to Rwanda next week, and I was going to help him with his excess baggage allowance by stowing away in his luggage. Alas, this is not going to happen: The cats have grounded me.
“You have One Job! One Job! And that is staying right here and catering to our whims, not running off to Reno and spending a week partying with your no-good human friends!”
“But you had another perfectly good cat-slave to cater to your whims! And I made sure he understood that he was supposed to give Fritz belly rubs, play with you, and do whatever you told him to do while I was gone!”
“That’s not the point. You had One Job, and you weren’t doing it.”
“Aw, but Tigress…”
“No buts! You’re grounded until further notice. Now go clean your room.”
My cats never let me have any fun…
A quick note to let y’all know: I’ve posted 1000 of my 1500 dye samples on my website, along with an extensive write-up about my dye process. The other 500 samples are still being photographed, but they should be up later this week.
Here’s the link to the master page:
Please spread the word! It was a LOT of work photographing everything, color-correcting the images, and writing/posting the documentation for the samples. I did it because I thought others might find them useful – so please let others know they’re there!