Around the Block with Madelyn

Block theory for weavers is not a one-hour lecture. In my experience learning and teaching block weaves, grasping the vast potential for pattern design with blocks often proceeds through about five stages:

Karen's Drawloom Sample
More blocks equal more fun. Karen’s drawloom
sample from The Weavers’ School. Bottom was
Madelyn’s design; top were Karen’s.

Stage 1: “Could you repeat that please?”

Stage 2: “Oh, so I can weave this design by substituting a threading unit of this weave structure for each square in the profile draft? Great.”

Stage 3: “Where’s the tie-up and treadling draft for this pattern?”

Stage 4: “Can I weave this design with blocks?”

Stage 5: “Sure, I can tell you how block weaves work.”

I’ve been designing and weaving with blocks for a while now. I’ll admit, however, the shorthand and design potential of the profile draft eluded me at first. It wasn’t until I took Madelyn van der Hoogt’s The Complete Book of Drafting for Handweavers with me on vacation and worked through the lessons and exercises beside the pool with pencil in hand that the light bulb finally went off. Hey, you have your beach reading, I have mine.

If I had Madelyn’s Block Weaves DVD with me on that trip, I would have spent more time in the pool vs. beside it. Speaking as a learner, teacher, and writer, weaving is one of those things quicker to grasp when someone shows and tells you what would take many words to describe in writing. This is especially true for designing with blocks.

Using beautiful woven samples, printed weaving drafts, and drawdowns,  as well as on-loom demonstrations and references from her drafting book, Madelyn demystifies block weaves. She shows how block weaves differ from twills and plain weave, how to analyze a woven cloth to identify the block pattern, how to read and design with profile drafts, how to translate those profiles to unit and some non-unit block weaves and how to thread and weave from the profile vs. a thread-by-thread draft.


The video also includes a printable workbook, which she asks you to use during the lessons, completing assignments as you go before proceeding with the next chapter. For viewers new to block weaves, follow this advice. It will get you through those five stages much more efficiently.

Given my experience with block design, I chose to do exactly what she said not to: watch the whole video in one big gulp (well, two gulps in my case): one disc with lunch and the other over cocktails. More than once I found myself asking, “What did she just say?” as I hit rewind to make sure I captured details I must have missed or didn’t quite get from her book.

That’s what I love about Madelyn’s workshops, whether on video or in person. I always learn something new. If you have never had the opportunity to attend one of Madelyn’s workshops at The Weavers’ School on Whidbey Island, Washingon, watching Block Weaves comes close to that experience, without the long shuttle ride from the airport. Madelyn even closes this video with a tour of the many looms in her teaching studio, perpetually dressed in almost every major weave structure. This includes two of her three drawlooms, which, for block-weave enthusiasts, take loom envy to unsafe levels.

What a treat to re-visit The Weavers’ School and remember the hours I spent happily weaving a sample on that drawloom. Ahhh . . . a nice lunch, a cool umbrella-styled drink ,and wonderful vacation memories.

 

Karen Donde

 

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