Layers of Understanding

Every weaver's journey to understanding is unique. Some of us come direct to weaving and some from another craft. Our knowledge grows with each project, each class or workshop, each "Aha!" moment. Sara Lamb shares her journey today. If it stirs memories, please write and tell us about yours. ––Anita


Many weavers can clearly recall the moment that they knew how fabric was made; for me it was in January 1976. The fabric I was making was no great textile: a simple weft-faced sampler on a frame loom. 


But now I understood. I knew what warp and weft were and how they had to intermingle to become cloth. My fellow students in the beginning class and I could walk next door to the room with floor looms and translate what those women were doing, how structures could vary, and how the making of cloth worked (and they were nice enough to show us and tell us things!). 


I did not really understand previously when in school we talked about the Industrial Revolution, Ned Ludd, the Spinning Jenny, and Richard Arkwright. I did not understand when I toured a woolen mill in Vermont, in 1972; those big noisy looms were just clacking away and fabric rolled off of them. I did not understand.


But a homely little scrap of weaving helped me understand. And what joy and curiosity that humble beginning engendered! 


Like many new weavers, I wanted to try all the structures: rosepath, then overshot (magic!), and all kinds of twill derivatives. My father built me a 4-shaft counterbalance loom, just like the ones I had used in class: a simple frame structure, held together with a few bolts, sticks and string.


One day, a friend suggested we sign up for a class at the Mendocino Art Center on weaving cotton fabrics. Why not? A week camping, a week in a weaving studio, and I just might learn something. I like gathering together for a class or a conference; weaving is solitary, and there are few times we can work together.


  Sara Lamb fabric sample
 

Sara Lamb explains all the "layers" so you can
create your own colorful creative cloth in her book
Spin to Weave

In the class I learned a lot about cotton fabrics and began a long study of setts, weights of yarn, and….color. We could do so much! The finer the yarn, the more color blending; the more color blending, the more range and variation we could have in a fabric—not flat color, but color alive.


Working so intimately with colors, the inevitable time came when just the "right" color was not to be found, and so I learned to dye yarns. Dyeing is another world unto itself: a whole range of options from bright to dark, subtle to dramatic, resist dyeing, and painting with colors. After a few years of study, I had inadvertently added another layer of understanding to my fabrics. I could see colors; I could see them broken down into components, into their underlying tints, tones and shades. 


The next step was fiber; which fiber is best for which application, and if the fiber is not available in the configuration I choose, can I make it? How are yarns made, and which are suited to what? Spinning. The next step in the process: the next layer of understanding.  


Mixing color and fiber, dyeing and overdyeing, weaving contemporary fabrics of my choosing . . . all these layers of choice began with the wonder of that small misshapen sample, thirty-seven years ago. These things have happily consumed my time, energy, thought process, and resources for all of these years, and I see no end in sight. There is always another layer, always something else to delve into, another tool, another mystery to unfold.


—Sara Lamb

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