My recent visit to Vävstuga Weaving School will remain high on my list of fond memories. Between New England autumn splendor, ten-shaft satin damask, and a side trip to see Becky Ashenden’s collection of drawlooms, there were enough “firsts” to keep me ooh-ing and ahh-ing repeatedly. With her smålandsväv coverlet, complete with sheepskin, draped behind me on her living room sofa, Becky made me feel at home as we talked about weaving. Click HERE to read the first part of our conversation.
And now, enjoy this second part of my conversation with Becky…
You studied handweaving in Sweden. How did you face the challenge of teaching what you learned to American students?
I’ve learned a huge amount from my students. When I first started to teach, I knew how to explain everything in Swedish, but I couldn’t do it in English. Someone would say, “Oh, you mean such and such…,” saying it in a different way. I’d say, “Oh yeah, that was a good way to say it (chuckle).” And I’d think to myself, “Hmm, say it that way next time.”
What is your approach for handling the various learning styles and backgrounds of students in your classes?
This is something that’s been intriguing to me since I was young. I started folk dancing when I was seven; and, when I was about twelve, I taught my first dance. I remember thinking, even back then, “Well, that brain is thinking about it one way, and this brain is thinking about it another way.” You can see around the room, “That person’s not getting it, but this person is getting it. Maybe if I say it another way, that person will get it.” The psychology of it is fascinating to me. It’s the same with teaching weaving.
I try to teach to what the person wants to learn. Does this person want a lot of knowledge, or, want hand skills, or, just want to have fun? Another person is uptight about being slow, so I want to make them relax (laughter) and enjoy it. Because–What are you doing it for? My biggest goal is to make this activity something that people can go home and enjoy. That’s why you’re doing it. I enjoy analyzing, “What’s going to make this person enjoy it?” I love working with people, and trying to understand where different people are coming from.
With the small class size of only eight students, you can see what students’ needs are.
Yes. And what their goals are. Someone who’s ambitious and has a goal of doing a lot of production is going to be motivated to do what they need to do. I let people have their own motivation. I used to cram more information down (chuckle), because I had an agenda of what I thought they ought to learn. Now, I try to understand–What do they want to learn?
The other thing that you do, Becky, is push us beyond our current ability.
If I see something that can be better, that’s my job to point it out. If the person wants to take me up on it, that’s their prerogative. If I see that they do, then I know I can keep giving out more.
Are there any new adventures on your horizon?
Oh… I hope so. Always (laughter)!
I am thinking about expanding the program, especially with the drawloom facility. Hopefully, to include linen and flax processing.
Those drawlooms are set up for my Drawloom Basics class. I don’t want to always do little basic warps. Bit by bit, I want to put big, lovely warps on all of them. People might do just a little of a big, lovely warp; but, they still learn about the different looms. …And then come back and weave even bigger, amazing things.
I’d love to translate more books, if I can figure out how to fit that into my life…
More trips to Sweden, certainly, to study different techniques. It’s been a while since I’ve been.
Those are ambitious plans, considering there’s only one of you.
I’d like to expand, also, in bringing in more young people. I want to make a concerted effort to pass the torch. …If I can have people trained to fill in the gap of being only one of me (laughter), instead of four of me (laughter).
Thank you again, Becky. It’s been a pleasure to get to know you even more.
Well, thank you. It’s been a real pleasure for me, too.
Side note: Did you know Becky is an accomplished accordionist? It was a treat to hear her play some of the folk music she knows so well.
May you enjoy the adventure of something new.