Why We Love Our Designers!

For this edition of Why We Love we’re focusing on something we at Handwoven couldn’t live without: our designers. We wouldn’t exist without their willingness to share their talents and their projects with the world. Of course, with the limited space in our magazine it’s sometimes hard to really get to know the designers so we decided to highlight one designer a month here at www.interweave.com. This month’s designer is the wonderful Sarah Jackson. So please enjoy this Q&A with Sarah, and check back throughout the month to see more of Sarah’s work.

A small selection of the projects woven by Sarah for Handwoven, from left to right: Summer and Winter Towels, Shades of India Towels, and the Peaceful Rhythm Towels.

A small selection of the projects woven by Sarah for Handwoven, from left to right: Summer and Winter Towels, Shades of India Towels, and the Peaceful Rhythm Towels.

  1. How did you start weaving?

    I took an introductory weaving class when I was a sophomore at the University of Kansas. My interest in weaving was initially sparked during family camping trips to New Mexico when I was growing up. One of our favorite and regular stops was the Craft House (a weaving cooperative founded by Rachel Brown and Kristina Wilson) in Arroyo Seco, a small town about half way between Taos and the Taos Ski Valley. The looms fascinated me, and I loved the beautiful colors of the hand-dyed wool. The whole enterprise was unlike anything I’d experienced, and I never imagined there was a place for weaving outside of New Mexico. At least until my older sister had an opportunity to taking weaving as an elective for a graphic arts degree at the University of Kansas (KU). I was so excited by what she was doing. Until then I had no idea there was something so wonderful to be learned at college!

  2. What was your first project?

    Finally, after fulfilling Fine Arts freshman requirements, I got to take weaving! My first project was a 4-shaft cotton sampler in a class taught by Mary E. Snyder who was a graduate teaching assistant working on her Masters of Fine Arts at KU.

  3. What do you love to weave and why?

    I love to weave it all! Simple or elaborate; it all begins with one thread. I never tire of sitting at my loom and throwing the shuttle while witnessing the interplay of color, pattern, and texture as it develops into cloth. It’s magic every time.

  4. Where do you find inspiration for designs—when you start planning a project where do you begin?

    At a weaving conference last spring someone asked me, “What about weaving makes your heart sing?” It took me about a half a second to answer: Color! That’s what I love most about weaving. Color challenges, intrigues, and inspires me. I’ve seen warps and yarn and woven projects that make me drool (some of them so delicious looking I sometimes think I could eat them). I’ve also had warps on my loom that turned out so ugly that I almost lost my lunch. But from one extreme to the other, color delights and puzzles me. It is a never-ending, captivating mystery, and I love its unexpected complexities and surprising revelations.

  5. Part of learning is making mistakes. What is your biggest weaving disaster and what did you learn from it?

    Biggest weaving disaster part one: a 6-yard warp of rayon chenille and 20/2 cotton for diversified plain weave. There were some tension issues while beaming on, so I decided to rewind the warp, and the resulting tangled, gnarled mess took several days and a mountain of patience to salvage. The tension problems were resolved and the cloth wove and finished beautifully. But . . . biggest weaving disaster part two: I hadn’t sampled the exact colors I was using and although the cloth was technically sound, the color was a major disappointment. Lessons learned? Number 1: Beam the warp on so carefully the first time that there doesn’t need to be a second time. Number 2: Always sample!

  6. Do you have a favorite project or one you’re the most proud of?

    There are two that come to mind. The first is “Friendship Towels with Tintes Naturales”, designed for the Mayan Hands Dye Project, a fair trade organization whose mission is to assist women in their quest to rise from poverty by giving a “hand up,” not a “handout.” When I was invited to design the towels, I joined a team of remarkable people who had generously donated time, energy, and technical expertise to help a group of Guatemalan women committed to learning and perfecting the natural dye process. Together, for over five years, they worked to make the life-changing project a reality.

    My design is a variation of a block design, “friendship towels” that first appeared in Handwoven in 1985; the name still fits, perfectly appropriate to describe the affiliation between the Guatemalan weavers who have mastered the dye process and those who appreciate their artistry and support the project by purchasing the towel kit. It is my continued hope that the design of the towels honors the efforts of all of those involved in the Mayan Hands Dye Project. I hope, too, that weaving the towels will provoke a deeper appreciation of the connections and the friendships we forge through our love of weaving.

    Another favorite project is the summer and winter towels I designed for the May/June 2013 Handwoven. “Four Blocks on Four Shafts; Summer and Winter Towels.” The design has proved popular with many weavers and their variations turn up often on Facebook weaving pages, Ravelry, and Pinterest. As a designer, it’s very gratifying when other weavers use my work as a springboard to explore their own ideas. If I design something that inspires others, my joy in what I do is magnified.

  7. Who do you admire in the weaving community?

    While I admire many in the weaving community there is one that is especially dear to my heart. Patricia (Pat) Ghourdjian was a member of my guild who passed away in 2012. What makes her so memorable is not only the fact that she lived into her nineties doing the things she loved but the impact she had on her friends and family. All of us were drawn in by her enthusiasm, inspired by her commitment, and energized by her dedication.

    Pat struggled with macular degeneration and had trouble recognizing people because she couldn’t see them clearly. Undaunted, she threaded her own loom, wove fearlessly, and continually delighted the Weave Study Structures study group with her ongoing projects. In 2010 she decided she’d waited long enough to have an 8-shaft loom, so she ordered four extra harnesses and installed them herself. When her husband came home from running errands and she told him she’d spent most of the morning on the floor, he feared she’d fallen. “Oh, no,” she told him. “I mean I’ve been tying up my new harnesses.”

    Talking to Pat one day, she expressed regret that her weaving days were coming to an end. She said she wished she could “back up” ten years and claim that time to weave. I shared with her my belief that the joys we experience on this earth provide us a glimpse of heaven, a perfect place, prepared just for us. And if heaven is perfect for her, it must surely include weaving. The desires of our hearts are a gift, designed for our pleasure and for the joy of our Creator. Why would we assume that those gifts will not follow us into eternity?

    The notion that there is weaving to be done in heaven brightened Pat’s spirit, and I think of her now, eyesight restored, weaving glorious cloth, more beautiful than we can ever imagine. What a lovely influence she was on our world. How blessed I am to have known her.

  8. What advice do you have for new weavers?

    Of the many things I would advise new weavers, I believe one of the most important is this: Sample. Weaving a sample provides an opportunity to try out a new technique or experience an unfamiliar fiber, color combination, or weave structure without committing to an entire project. The time spent becoming familiar with the threading, the treadling sequence, and the fiber in a sample increases the likelihood of success in the actual project.

  9. And anything else you’d like to add about yourself or your art!

    The passion you have for weaving is a gift: Treasure it, and honor the gift by exploring it, developing it, expressing it, and sharing it with those around you. Do that, and your love of weaving be a joy forever.

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