An Explorer at Home
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started… and know the place for the first time.” – T.S. Eliot
Sara likes to weave simple fabrics
in rich hand-dyed colors.
You would like Sara Lamb the minute you met her. (And I hope you will meet her, if you haven’t already.) She approaches weaving with her head and her whole heart. And she believes that what we need, as weavers, is to arrive where we started and know the place anew: we need to regain the “intimate knowledge of textiles” that was part of our weaving forbearers’ everyday existence.
Sara’s lifelong exploration of weaving is rooted in community and tradition. It began with a community college class in 1976, in a room full of looms and people eager to talk about their weaving. Sara enjoyed the intellectual challenge, and she continued weaving when, pregnant with her first son, she and her baker husband moved to the Sierra foothills in Northern California. With a growing family, she was weaving on a budget, so she bought a used copy of Mary Black’s Key to Weaving,and her father built her a 4-shaft counterbalance loom. Friends back in San Francisco sent her notes from their weaving classes, and she practiced, gradually absorbing the technical terms in Key to Weaving, and then working her way through the traditional patterns in Marguerite Porter Davison’s Handweaver’s Pattern Book. Money for materials was scarce, so at first she made napkins and other pieces using the only plentiful material, baker’s string from her husband’s work. But being in sheep country, wool was all around and spinning inevitably followed weaving. Like generations of women before her, Sara found that she could spin during the day while watching her children and then weave at night.
"High tech, high touch": Sara depicts a
computer circuit in traditional pile weaving.
The journey continued with the help of friends in the Sacramento Weavers Guild who taught in “such a congenial way,” suggesting improvements without criticizing. In 1992, Sara added a studio onto her home and considered a degree in fiber arts, but the hour-plus commute to the nearest university wasn’t manageable for a mother with young children. So Sara decided to create a “body of work,” and she spent six years exploring beaded and other embellishment techniques, dyeing, pile weaving, card weaving, kumihimo, and inkle weaving. A gift of a loom from long-time rug weaver, author, and neighbor Orlo Duker sparked the idea of making a pile-woven bag with hand-spun, hand-dyed yarn. One bag led to another, and the bags became a book, Woven Treasures, and the new skills led to teaching engagements from Idaho to Tasmania.
Sara sums up her story by observing, “Suddenly it’s 30 years later, and all my friends are spinners and weavers.” When I caught up with her last week, she was putting new trim on heirloom blankets and exploring the mysteries of sett for a class on “Spinning to Weave” at this year’s Spin-Off Autumn Retreat. And she still believes in exploring for oneself and coming home again. As there is no one “right” sett, there is no “right” way to weave. She says, “Knowing how weavers have woven is better than knowing how to weave. Learn from different teachers, take what you need, and leave the rest. Find your own way.”