Weaving on the Shoulders of Giants

I love to be around people who have forgotten more than I will ever know. No matter how much I learn there is always someone who can teach me more, and that is a great gift. To build weaving skills, I practice and read and take classes when I can. But there’s no replacing the “Aha!” moments to be gained by watching someone who has woven so long that weaving knowledge has sunk into in every synapse, bone, and sinew.

Handwoven editor Madelyn van der Hoogt filming a new weaving video.  

Madelyn and director Garrett Evans setting

up another tip-filled video segment.

Deflected doubleweave cloth serenely handwoven by Madeyn.  

Madelyn shows us that there's no

mystery to weaving well.


I was reminded of the value of watching recently when observing Madelyn van der Hoogt’s video, Warping Your Loom. I sometimes struggle to get an even warp tension, especially with slippery threads. Sometimes one warp thread in a bundle will work itself loose and be under different tension than the others, and I end up untying and retying bouts to get all the threads to behave. A couple of months ago, I was watching the warping video in preparation for producing Madelyn’s new video, Weaving Well, when suddenly I had to stop and rewind. She was talking about tying onto the apron rod with even tension, and she was showing how to tie the bouts snugly but not tightly to get even tension without a lot of retying. But the thing that made me stop and back up was what she didn’t say, probably because it’s second nature to her. Before tying, she had gone through the tiny bundles of warp threads, pulled them tight together, and tied overhand knots in each bundle. Then she used two pre-tied bundles to tie each bout onto the apron rod. Voilà! No slipping threads!


On the set of Madelyn van der Hoogt's new video, Weaving Well.  

Camerawoman Carolyn Getches reminds us
how important it is to watch!

I thought of that “Aha!” moment often as we filmed Weaving Well. Madelyn often says that all weavers stand on the shoulders of giants, weavers past and present who’ve built our store of knowledge. She says she’s made every possible weaving mistake, and she has certainly answered a breathtaking number of questions over more than twenty-five years running The Weavers' School. Madelyn’s new video is full of techniques, tips, and tricks for successful weaving, gained from those years of weaving, studying, observing, and teaching. She shows how to size up a yarn, plan a project, and weave happily from start to finish. She explains the connections that are often left unsaid, because for expert weavers, they go without saying: that how you wind a bobbin can determine the quality of your selvedges, that you can hemstitch as you weave the header of your piece, when to unweave and when to just cut out wefts to correct a pattern error.


Madelyn also says that she tries to demonstrate things as awkwardly as possible, so that students don’t feel bad about awkward moments. I am reassured by those occasional awkward moments, but I’m even more reassured by watching Madelyn weave, serenely and in tune with shuttle, loom, and threads. I’m reassured because I see that there is no magic to weaving well, that a serene and successful weaving experience is also within my reach, given practice, time, and the will to look over the shoulders of giants and learn.  


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