Why We Love Elizabeth Hill
Meet Elizabeth Hill: Fabulous Designer, Weaver, Instructor, and Technical Editor
Elizabeth (Lisa) Hill has long been one of my favorite designers. She brings a joy and creativity to her craft, to her classes, and to the technical editing that she does for Handwoven. Enjoy her philosophy about weaving and designing.
How and when did you start weaving?
I started weaving when my oldest son was three and my daughter was six—twenty-one years ago. I took a beginning weaving class with Scott Norris at WEBS, finished the class, bought a loom, and have been weaving ever since.
Prior to weaving, were you creating other types of fiber or non-fiber art?
Before weaving, I was an avid knitter and a seasonally possessed baker. I was pretty fiber obsessed and would plan the year around Sheep and Wool Fairs, trying to spin yarn and knit sweaters for my kids to wear to the fairs.
I still have and use the twill wool bag that I wove in my beginning weaving class, but the first thing I wove on my own loom was a project from Handwoven. It was a pieced Harrisville wool blanket in shades of yellow. The selvedges were disasters, but I loved it.
What do you love to weave and why?
This is such a hard question because I love weaving for what I call “the ever-receding horizon,” meaning that as soon as I imagine I have “mastered” something in weaving, the next structure, project, and/or skill appears to flummox, entice, or challenge me. I imagine that this will be true until I can’t get under the loom or hold the shuttle any longer.
I also love the aspect of weaving that allows me to deploy all parts of my brain. There is the “thinky” design structure part; the meditative, repetitive warp-winding-and-threading part; the physical, small-motor precision part; and finally the creative, imaginative part that pushes me to conjure cloth in my mind.
Where do you find inspiration for designs? When you start planning a project, where do you begin?
I find inspiration everywhere: seeing a color or texture while walking my dog in the woods, my library of beloved weaving books and magazines, and a lovely textile I see on the Internet, or a gorgeous cone of yarn on my shelf. I also weave from need: if I need something in my household, I use that need as an opportunity to weave/learn something new. I have begun the process of slowly replacing all my household textiles as they wear out with those I have woven. This determination stretches my weaving muscles. Weaving a durable stair runner, upholstery fabric, and fabric for Roman shades are currently on my list.
I almost always start a project with my library. When I have an idea of something I want or need to weave, I start pulling books and magazines out to find information/inspiration on a structure or fiber. I am also incredibly fortunate to have a weaving mentor in my town that I go to immediately when I have woven myself into a corner, or when I need to find elusive information. Ute Bargmann is a treasure. She is a former Special Collections Librarian (hard-to-find weaving references, anyone?) who is a weaver with deep and broad knowledge, and I feel that my weaving life would be so much poorer without her.
Part of learning is making mistakes. What is your biggest weaving disaster and what did you learn from it?
Oh boy, where should I start? I have a “what’s the worst that can happen?” philosophy that makes weaving very fun and stress-free for me, but it has also lead to (many) weaving disasters. One of the most gob-smacking mistakes I have made was on a wide project with fine threads. I was a little worried about it when I was warping it, so I made the warp with two crosses. It was a beast to beam, and in the struggle I lost the first cross. No problem, I had the second cross . . . and you can guess what happened: I stunningly blanked out and pulled my lease sticks out of the second cross. It was like a scene from a movie—just as I was pulling the sticks out, my brain came to life, screaming, “Noooooooo!”
Do you have a favorite project or one you’re the most proud of?
I have quite a few textiles that I use daily, and they continue to give me pleasure years after I wove them. This is a different pleasure from having figured out a difficult structure or having woven something difficult to execute. I love my linen kitchen towels, a big rya blanket that I see my youngest son napping under, or my rep placemats that I use for dinner with family and friends.
Whom do you admire in the weaving community?
So many!!! Lynn Tedder whose mentorship in technical editing I continue to appreciate and whose articles in Weavers and Handwoven educate and inspire me. Fran Curran who runs the Hartford Artisan’s Center and who has a color/design sense I love, as well as a commitment to the seniors and sight-impaired weavers at the center. Ute Bargmann is of course on the list, as is Tom Knisely for his great knowledge as well as his spirit and sense of humor. I would also include Chris Hammel for her hard work and commitment to the weaving program at the Hill Institute, and Becky Ashenden for creating the magic that is Vävstuga and setting a head-spinning standard for productivity, craftsmanship, and loom wrangling. Not to mention all my weaving buddies who inspire me, support me, and make me laugh.
What is your favorite tip to make weaving easier or more efficient?
I have a hybrid loom-dressing system that is partly Ute, partly Laura Fry and partly Vävstuga, and it is super-fast. I pre-sley a reed while sitting at my table, insert a tie-on rod in the loops, pop the reed in the beater, flip the warp chain over a bar attached to my ceiling (my valet), tie the tie-on rod to the one that is attached to the loom (this saves the step of moving all the cords), and beam with the lease in front of the reed. I then move my lease sticks to behind the reed and thread.
What advice do you have for new weavers?
Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Really, weaving is a safe haven where you can feel free to try anything. Every time you try and fail, you are gaining invaluable experience. It is a creative gift to play in an arena where you can take risks and find that the potential rewards of that risk are always greater than the losses. It’s not skydiving—the worst that can happen is a lost warp or a failed textile. So play, have fun, and remember that every warp you put on is only partly about making the towel, scarf, blanket, etc. More importantly, it’s about making the weaver (to paraphrase from Laurie Autio, one of the myriad people on my “admire” list).
—Susan E. Horton