Su Butler – My Weaving Journey

I have never blogged before. But I see blogging as I see weaving. I love puzzles. Word puzzles, pictorial puzzles, and most especially, problems that need solutions. I am blessed and forever grateful to have been educated at a time when schools taught problem solving skills, but I think problem solving is in my nature. Weaving, from my perspective, is nothing more than a set of problems requiring solutions.

Given the limitations of the way a loom allows one to create cloth, that being a gridded structure of warps intersecting wefts, the puzzle becomes how to get the motif/patterning desired. Color placement is one of my passions. How does it work? How can I make it work the way I want it to? How can I bring my watercolor painting experience to my weaving?

Even before obtaining a firm grasp of weave structures, I was able to envision what I wanted to weave. Having learned structure and color theory has allowed me to take that vision and create it on the loom. Over the past thirty seven years I have come to love Tied Weave structures. And so the fun begins……

I started weaving Tied Weaves in 1978. My first attempts were siphoned from pattern books, and while I wove I tried to understand what was happening with each pick. Summer and Winter was my weave of choice. I did a simple two block design using 10/2 cotton for the warp and a rather heavy 800 ypp wool for the pattern weft. While not pretty, I did learn a lot about how Summer and Winter works. Many years later, frustrated at the "boxy" images I was able to produce on 8 shafts, I opted for a 24 shaft computer- aided dobby loom. 24 shafts would allow me to create curving lines and the computer-aided dobby meant I no longer worked under the restriction of a limited number of treadles. With the addition of software to take the tedium out of the design process, my ideas began to flow. Above, see my first Tied Weave created with my new found freedom.

My attempt to weave leaves left a lot to be desired. Having the freedom of unlimited treadles, I wove another couple of pieces, trying to obtain more curvilinear designs. One attempt is pictured at right.

I was still getting that stair-stepped look in my designs. I thought that finer threads might be the answer to getting smoother lines so the next year was spent experimenting with different thread sizes along with new ways to create pattern within the limitations of a tied weave structure.

Tied Weaves pose limitations that must be heeded, but there is also a great deal of freedom in how a weaver uses the pattern threads. When I finally realized I did not have to adhere to the strict unit  threading, my curves became what I wanted them to be. Using 60/2 silk afforded the freedom of smoothly flowing lines, as exhibited in the piece at left.

Now I felt I was on my way. I could weave circles and wavy lines and put color where I wanted it to be! But I was not satisfied. I began to crave weaving images. I was not seeking to weave jacquard type, realistic imagery, but wanted more than just abstract patterning on the face of my cloth. The leaf has long been a favored motif, so I chose that as my goal and began designing.  At right is one result woven in 100/2 cotton and 60/2 silk.

Happy with that success I was eager forge ahead. I can create my own direction by asking, "What if…." questions, each question leading to a new direction to explore.

I have not even begun to exhaust the possibilities of Tied Weaves, and intend to continue my explorations within that limitation for many years to come. My current work is based on placing color exactly where I want it on the surface of my tied weave designs. I am using many shuttles and playing with structural variations, as well as utilizing painted warps and Photoshop design techniques. To the right are two results of this study.

As I grow as a weaver and designer, the technical aspects of my work and the tools required to achieve it increase in complexity, but the passion is as pure and simple as it was in the very beginning. I love to weave. I love to create colorful work with curving designs uniquely my own. I am fascinated by the ways yarns can interlace and transcend the woven plane into something beautiful.

I’ll close with a photo of a piece that is still on the loom. I am excited about the new direction my work is moving and having more fun that I probably should be allowed playing with color and curves.

I’ll be teaching all summer at Midwest, MAFA and Michigan League and hope that any tied weavers will show me what they are working on!!

I weave not to earn money or noteriety, but because I LOVE to weave. How can life be any better than that?

Su Butler

Editor's Note:  The editors of Handwoven and Weaving Today thank Su for opening our guest blog. Please visit Su's website at

Post a Comment