Back to School, Back to Basics: Handweaving Teachers Share Advice

It's back-to-school time for teachers and students alike, and for many of us weavers, it's time to set some goals for the weaving months ahead. I like to set myself learning as well as weaving goals for the coming fall and winter evenings at the loom. To help us all with our weaving aspirations, I asked some well-known and well-beloved weaving teachers to share the advice that they always give their students, and they responded generously. Here is their advice to weavers everywhere. -Anita

From Deborah Chandler, weaving teacher, author of Learning to Weave, and Director, Mayan Hands:

  • Whenever you are confused or frustrated or not sure what to do next, HIDE YOUR SCISSORS and go for a walk.
  • Not all bodies are created equal, so find what works for yours. For instance, I cannot touch the palm of my hand with my thumb. You probably can. That gives you options I don't have.
  • What you are weaving is not the person you love, it is not your soul, and it is not the only thing anyone will ever know about you. It's yarn. Keep that in perspective.
  • In weaving, almost anything can be fixed. Not everything is worth fixing, but almost anything can be. Corollary: There are seven solutions to any problem. Don't do anything until you figure out what all seven are.

From Pam Howard, Resident Weaver and teacher, John C. Campbell Folk School:

The comment I give the most in my beginning weaving classes is "Sample, sample, sample."  The more you beam onto your loom, the more confident you will become as a weaver.  Start small with a manageable project.   I feel that when starting out as a beginner, one should pick a small project.  I usually suggest a scarf that will allow them to practice their warping, designing, weaving and finishing skills.   So often beginners want to tackle a huge weaving project only to get overwhelmed and discouraged with so much yarn. Scarves make a wonderful first project that can be used as samples that can even be worn.

I also tell my students, "everything is fixable." Learning that you can fix a broken warp thread, make a repair heddle, fix a major threading error is not a problem.    I have seen it all in the many years that I have been teaching at the John C. Campbell Folk School.  I love it when a problem arises in one of the classes that I am teaching because we can all learn how to fix it without getting stressed.  My motto is  RELAX, the weaving police is not going to arrest you for a mistake!  I want students to learn right from the start that mistakes can be fixed and they don't need to get stressed over it.

From Suzie Liles, handweaving teacher and owner, Eugene Textile Center:

  • When weaving overshot or a structure with a tabby weft I tell my students to use the left treadle when the shuttle is in your left and the right tabby treadle when it is in your right hand. Then you will always know what tabby you are on.
  • Never beat twice. You should know how hard to beat when you first see how many picks you need. Even when weaving rugs, it is not the number of beats that matter but rather the force of the beat and the weight of the beater. I actually learned this from Peter Collingwood.
  • Do not comb your warp. If you have warped properly the you should be able to wind on without combing. If it looks messy, stand back a few feet and jerk the warp. You will be amazed at how much it straightens up. If you comb, you are just making more problems for yourself later on. (Ed note: Can you tell that Suzie works with Madelyn, anti-combing crusader of the known universe?)

From Rosalie Neilson, weaving teacher, Oregon College of Art and Crafts and guilds around the country:

On Color: Back to school reminds me of "what am I going to wear to school today?" If you're lucky, a Mom or Dad or sister chooses for you so you don't have to think. However, if you're an adult taking a weaving class, and are asked to choose the colors of your yarn for the warp and the weft, there's a sudden cessation of thought. A dark cloud begins to form over your head and all the color theory you've learned begins lurking in the wings. So my advice on the first day of a weaving class is this … an acronym. ACGTUPO which means All Colors Go Together Unless Proven Otherwise. That suddenly frees up the mind to close the eyes and just randomly pick. Weavers always make several color "wraps" over 1 ½" cardboard strips to see how the colors they've selected work together. We then pin up everyone's color wraps and have a group viewing session to see how the color works. Comments from other weavers might be … that's really cool …or I like that one the best. Then the warping begins.

On mistakes: I've made every mistake there is in weaving, and know that for every problem there is a solution … not always an easy one, but something that can be solved. For a beginning weaver who forgot to put the warp OVER the back beam? Put a dowel under the warp, and tie it to the back beam. Crossed warps, and incorrect threads on heddles, are easily corrected as well. When it comes to weaving, if there's an unexpected texture or pattern, it becomes a Design Element, especially if it can be repeated. For a really obvious mistake that can't be corrected … like four inches from where the weaving continues … don't take out what's already been placed. Rather call it the "spirit trail" as in the Navajo weaving tradition where a mistake is purposely made so the spirit can escape the confines of the rug.

On selvedges: Selvedges are like shopping the end aisles in a grocery store. Don't pay too much attention to them at first until the rhythm of weaving has been established. THEN, master the art of throwing weft shaped like a mountain and beat on a closed shed if selvedges are drawing in, or learn how to pinch the edge threads to pull out the slack of the loose loops that are forming along the boundaries.

On terminology: There's a whole new vocabulary connected to weaving … ends, picks, heddles, reed, shuttle race, castle, etc. There are two terms though which I always explain in detail. One of them is "beat". I can always spot a potential rug weaver. He or she pulls back without hesitation on the beater bar and bangs the weft into place. This is fine if the project is a weft- or warp-faced rug, but not okay if it's a huck lace project. For lace, I tell weavers to "press" the weft into place with the beater bar, and if it's not close enough give it another brief tap.The other term is shaft. A 4-shaft project used to be called a 4-harness project many years ago. I still interchange these two terms. I like to visualize that I'm "harnessing" the power of my loom rather than "shafting" my loom!

From Peggy Osterkamp, weaver, teacher, and author of the recently released Weaving for Beginners:

Things to know before you throw a shuttle: Throw the shuttle into the correct open shed. Take out the shuttle so the weft is in the shed on a diagonal as shown in the figure at right. Holding onto the shuttle, snug up the weft to the outside warp thread-the side where the shuttle entered the shed-just so it touches and barely moves that outside thread. Then, swing the beater and gently place the weft next to the previously woven weft. You do not want to actually beat it as the name implies. You are simply placing the weft against the one woven before it. Now, while the beater is toward you after placing the weft, change the shed. Then, swing the beater back toward the heddles and begin the process again. The steps are: throw the shuttle, beat in the weft, and change the shed. I like the rhythm of saying: "Throw, beat, change the shed." That's 4 counts, with "the shed" as one beat. (On the fourth beat you're pushing the beater back toward the shafts.) 

A common selvedge problem: Too much draw-in: In my teaching experience, the problem that showed up almost as soon as the weaving began was that the cloth narrowed in too much. If the problem wasn't noticed and dealt with soon, the selvedge threads would begin to break by the abrasion of the reed. Look at the edges of the warp at the fell. Is the reed stretching out the warps way beyond the width of the cloth? If
so, can you see why the reed is abrading and breaking the selvedges? Here are the three common causes of this problem (in order of commonness):

  1. The warp tension is too tight.
  2. There is not enough slack in the weft.
  3. The wefts are pulled too tightly at the selvedges.

And one more thought:I think an apron for weaving class is a good idea. You have everything you need at your loom. Here's a photo of mine. I can't weave without it.

From Tom Knisely, Handwoven  Teacher of the Year 2011 and teacher at The Mannings Handweaving
School and Supply Center

This Labor Day weekend, take some time and give your loom a really good cleaning. Start by vacuuming it well in all the nooks and crannies and underneath the treadles. If you have a jack loom that uses tracks to guide the shafts, and if you don't have a warp on the loom, this would be a great time to lift the shafts out of the loom, being careful to keep them in correct order. Wipe out the tracks and lubricate the metal track with silicone spray. While the shafts are out of the loom, this would also be a good time to shift heddles if you need to do so. Lay them on a table to do this easily.

Wipe the loom down with Murphy's Oil Soap, and when the wood is dry, use a good furniture finish to polish the loom, or if your loom has an oil finish, you may want to feed it again with Tung Oil or a Danish Oil finish. (Check your loom's manual to find out the finish that was applied at the factory.) Next, lubricate all the moving parts except for the brake assembly.  This will allow your loom to move freely and operate the way it should. Finally, don't forget your shuttles!  Imagine how smoothly they will slide through the shed if you take the time to give them a little polishing.

So put your whites away and make that potato salad for the picnic this Labor Day, and then give your loom some attention!

 

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