Drive up to this storybook cottage, and you can tell there is something special about it. It’s the home of Ed and Joanne Hall. When I arrive, Joanne greets me and takes me down the hand-crafted pine stairs to her delightful weaving studio dotted with floor looms.
I recently had the joy of learning the ins and outs of drawloom weaving in this storybook studio in Montana. After the class ended, Joanne and I sat at her kitchen table to share some thoughts about weaving.
Come join us, and sit in on our conversation…
If you could keep only one loom, what would it be?
The 59” Glimåkra Standard. That would be my loom, with a drawloom. A big loom is easier to set up, easier to warp because I can step inside it, and easier to weave on than a little loom. As you get older you need every advantage you can get.
What would you weave on that loom?
I would mostly make narrow warps. I could weave some blankets or larger things, as well, because it’s easy on that loom. It is easy to beat and so easy to treadle. I could also weave tapestry on it.
Are there any weaving secrets you’d like to share?
One important thing to know is to wind a warp with more than one thread, especially a long warp. It is easier to beam and you will prevent problems when you wind with two or more threads. And doing so may also have a positive effect on weaving that warp.
Another thing to consider is that once you start weaving, plan to invest in good equipment. Some weavers start out buying the smallest, least expensive equipment. That’s okay for getting started, but don’t spend too much time with inferior equipment. Once you start warping looms, get a big vertical warping reel that is more than two yards around. You can wind a warp in half an hour, an hour at the most. And the warp will be more even and accurate than one wound on smaller equipment.
If someone wants to learn more about weaving, what is a good way to start?
Go someplace where you can take a class weaving on floor looms, even if you have never woven before. Keep in mind that researching online can be more confusing than helpful. In a class you will learn much faster and you will probably get better information.
Any final thoughts?
In Sweden, weavers guilds are different than they are here in the US. Most everyone in Sweden can join a guild, called a vävstuga, which in Sweden is a place with looms—floor looms, big floor looms. You meet there as often as you want, and you can weave on floor looms in the company of other weavers, who are very helpful. If we had that, it would be wonderful.
That would be wonderful, indeed! I think I got a little taste of that, right here in your Montana studio. Thank you!
This time, please permit me to share with you a short video that tells a little something about me as a handweaver. I suspect, if you are a weaver, you enjoy weaving for some of the same reasons I do. The process of turning threads into cloth never ceases to fascinate me! I weave on Glimåkra countermarch looms, with an emphasis on Swedish-style textiles. Even within that boundary, there are endless weaves to explore and techniques to try. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to sit at a loom and weave these threads together. Thank you to Eddie Fernandez for his kind manner behind the camera and for his masterful videography.
And I can’t tell you enough what a joy it is to walk through this process with friends like you.
Weaving Southwest has a vibrant history in northern New Mexico that has influenced weaving traditions far and wide. I recently took advantage of this treasure trove of experience in a class taught by Teresa Loveless, the granddaughter of Weaving Southwest pioneer, Rachel Brown. I hoped to sharpen my tapestry skills by learning a fresh approach, and I was not disappointed! Teresa’s attentive teaching style brims with encouragement, making every student exceed their own expectations.
Join me as I sit with Teresa in the park across from the shop to talk about her dreams and aspirations…
Fast forward twenty years. What would you like to be known for?
I have an interest in preservation of culture, and seeing that carried out through textiles. Preserving culture through textiles worldwide is a hidden passion of mine, and I’m working on ways to make that happen.
This sounds like a big dream.
Yes, it is a big dream that I have given a lot of thought to. With modern technology there is great potential. Technology makes it possible to pick out every little niche of fiber in the world and pull it all together in a classy and educational way.
What can be done to preserve cultures through textiles?
You could go to little villages or communities, and through today’s technology, bring them all together and preserve entire cultures. In Before They Pass Away, photographer Jimmy Nelson documents some of the most secluded tribes in the world. And he put them together in an incredible photo book, with their beautiful textiles draping all over them. That book was part of the inspiration for my dream.
Your grandmother taught you how to weave; and your mother taught you jewelry making. And now you are passing weaving on to your very young daughter. What are your thoughts about people passing what they know on to their children and grandchildren?
I grew up in this family of artists and inventors, and they were weavers and jewelers and everything in between, and I did it all. I wove and I made jewelry. It was normal. It was my life. When I went away and realized that not everyone brought their loom to college, or that making a silver ring is not something everybody can do… that was eye opening.
For me, it is all about passing it along. Teach your kids to do what you do. Even if they think they’re going to go off and do something else. I was going to go be a scientist. And then I came back. Clearly, I’m not a scientist. I’m a weaver.
Because it was passed on through my family, and because of my incredible grandmother, I am able to help preserve culture. I am helping to preserve beauty through textiles.
What about your daughter, do you think she will become a weaver?
Pass on the tradition, pass on the skill, and pass on, hopefully, the love for it. But my daughter loves bugs more than she likes yarn right now, so maybe she’ll be the scientist, who knows?
Tell me about your sweet spot. Are there times when you think, “I was made for this?”
I’m doing it here, like the class we just finished. I love teaching. I love being able to share what I know, what was passed on to me. It doesn’t matter how much someone knows or doesn’t know when they come. From afar, weaving does look a little confusing, but if you get the feel of it, if you understand the warp and weft and structure… Oh, the things you can do!
You enjoy simplifying things for people, don’t you?
That’s it, definitely! It doesn’t have to be hard. There are all sorts of technical terms, but weaving does not have to be difficult. Seeing people blossom, from, “Oh my gosh, which is warp, which is weft?” Or, “Do I do a single dovetail here?,” to realizing you can do a single dovetail wherever you want, …but you don’t have to. There are so many options. If you go into it with confidence you’re going to be able to produce incredible work!
You seem happy to see your students flourish…
Oh, yes. When I see my students happy, then I’m happy!
Thank you for taking time with me. It has been fun to get to know you more!
Becky pulled out her fiddle and handed it to me, and she sat at her old upright piano, ready to play. Believe it or not, I played fiddle tunes (not bad for a ‘cellist) while her fingers danced the keys. And that is how Becky Ashenden and I finished up our recent conversation. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Vävstuga. More Swedish Classics gave me a chance to learn a few things I had been especially eager to try, like smålandsväv, jämtlandsdräll (you may know it as crackle), and pick-up band weaving with a backstrap and rigid heddle. It was wonderful to sit and have a chat with Becky at the end of the week to talk about various aspects of weaving. Click HERE to read the first part of our conversation.
And now, enjoy this second part of my conversation with Becky…
It might be a surprising answer. I really like threading; and I actually really likesleying. (Laughter) It is sort of mindless and repetitive. If the threading is not too complicated, I love the idea of listening to a book. I used to listen to a lot of recorded books while I was doing production weaving.
I do enjoy the physical process of the weaving, too. I think my brain thrives on the repetitive process. If my hands are physically busy, it helps my brain focus.
In what way does it help you focus?
My mind loves to wander. I can conjure up new classes, or new ideas if I am busy with something repetitive like weaving. And with threading, it is a peaceful time, and I can think. If it is a complicated threading, I focus on the threading; but that is engaging in its own way.
Speaking of classes and ideas… When I took Vävstuga Basics, some people in the class had been weaving for years. Why do you think people who already know how to weave come to your Basics class?
They know how to weave one way, and they may have been taught by other people. But, they don’t know how to weave the way I teach to weave. The Basics class gives the opportunity to learn how I do it from start to finish.
In other words, you teach things that they will only learn here?
People tell me they want to know how I do things. They ask me, “How do you dress your loom? And how do you handle a shuttle, get good selvedges, fix broken threads, understand drafting, and keep good records?” Well, that is my Basics class, where I share a lifetime’s worth of knowledge. I was taught extremely well, the old-school way, in Sweden. I have also developed my own shortcuts that I share with students.
How does it work to have students with various levels of experience in the same class? Might a beginner feel out of place?
No matter who comes to my Basics class, I cater to who is there. For those who are advanced, I give them something beyond what they have experienced already. I always give as much of my knowledge and experience as students are interested in and can absorb.
I also make the class work for a beginner. So, a beginner should not be intimidated at all.
Even someone who has never put a warp on a loom, or someone who has not been successful doing it on their own?
One thing that helps the beginner is simply that the warps are put on by everybody together. No one person is going to be left behind or put on the spot. The warps will go on; and, they will go on smoothly, because I oversee it. Students can partake in whatever amount of the process they can absorb.
It must be interesting to see what a beginner can accomplish in just five days.
Some people who come to Basics, who have not woven before, take to it like a fish to water. It makes sense to them, and they whip through everything. I have seen absolute beginners weave beautiful things. And they’ve never touched a loom before!
It might be more challenging for people who are used to doing things a different way. But I say, “Try this.” “Try holding your shuttle this way,” or, “Try stepping on the treadle this way.” It might be a completely different loom for them.
Does it matter what type of loom someone has at home? Does it make sense to come to Basics if they don’t have a loom like one of yours?
A lot of people are used to jack looms. So, another reason to come to Basics is to experience the looms we have. Come and learn how to use them firsthand from someone who has had decades of experience using these looms.
We have Glimåkra looms, both counterbalance and countermarch. There is a tie-up system that I developed for the countermarch which is unique. This is something that I teach in Basics. This method makes the countermarch tie-up very easy for the body. You spend as little time as possible under the loom. The sheds are accurate the first time.
I can attest to that. Your tie-up system makes it a breeze for me to set up my countermarch loom at home.
That simple tie-up system makes a huge difference. It opens up the world of being able to do multi-shaft weaves.
These Scandinavian looms are old-style looms. Originally, this loom design came from China. It moved across Asia, and then through Europe over the centuries. Big old barn looms are basically the same thing. A big frame loom with a hanging beater.
Does the hanging beater make a difference? What advantages do your students have by being able to weave on Swedish looms here?
The hanging beater is something that makes the weaving happen, almost by itself. It takes the physical work load, the body wear and tear, off of the human being.
The difference between weaving on a jack loom and on one of these Swedish looms is huge. Many people come my Basics class worried and concerned, saying, “I’ve never been able to weave for more than twenty minutes at a time because my back can’t take it.” And then, at the end of the week, they say, “I can’t believe that I wove for three days straight, and I don’t hurt!”
So, if someone is curious about weaving in general, or Scandinavian looms in particular, this would be a good chance to try it out.
This is the opportunity to explore weaving, and discover the possibilities. They can try it out on our looms, without the commitment of changing looms at home.
And have fun while they’re doing it.
It is the fun, the meeting other people, and the camaraderie, that makes it special. It is a whole social experience that is an absolute blast. Eating good food together… The social part of eating meals together, having a good time, laughing together, adds so much to the experience.
I think the enjoyment around the table helps us relax, making our studying and weaving time that much more effective.
People are not having other things to worry about. Your brain can focus and absorb as much as possible.
What is your primary goal for Vävstuga Basics?
The goal of Basics is to cover everything someone needs to know to be able to weave on their own. I want to give everybody the tools to do that.
I love that I can take everything I learn here and do it all on my own at home. Or, I can just come here and have the pleasure of weaving in good company.
Some people come because they are interested in learning the techniques that I teach, or to see if are they interested in this type of loom. And other people come to see if they are interested in weaving at all. They may want to learn how to do this; and then, they can come here and weave. Maybe they don’t have the space, or the money to buy the equipment, or to have a stock of yarns. But they can come here and weave.
We welcome students who come for all these different reasons!
Becky, thank you for sharing your thoughts. It is always interesting to hear what goes on behind the scenes at Vävstuga!
I enjoyed it, Karen. It’s been my pleasure!
(I noticed that there is space available in upcoming Basics classes. That is good news!)
I recently returned to Vävstuga for More Swedish Classics, with high hopes for a week of excellent weaving instruction. I was not disappointed! Come with me behind the scenes for a visit with Becky Ashenden, the personable instructor who finds pleasure in sharing her wealth of experience and knowledge. Sitting in her New England country home, we had another meaningful conversation. Picture Becky smiling, chuckling, pausing for emphasis, and even gazing off as she dreams big. (Here is last year’s Conversation with Becky Ashenden, Part 1, and Part 2.)
In this first part of the conversation, Becky and I talk about weaving for pleasure, and how to relate to students. We also did some dreaming about a big future project. In the second part, coming later this week, I ask Becky what part of the weaving process she enjoys the most. Her answer may surprise you! You will also get the inside scoop on Vävstuga Basics.
Do you get to weave for personal enjoyment?
I always seem to weave under some kind of pressure. I wove for production in my past; and then, as I started teaching, I always needed to be prepared for the next class. Going through my mind is, “What’s going to sell, or what class is going to sell, what are people interested in?”
Recently, I did a runner in halvkrabba. It’s a pick-up technique that I wasn’t sure I would like. But then, I really did enjoy doing it. It was riveting! The patterns are different every time.
Since that was preparation for a class, it sounds like you enjoy weaving, even when it is under deadline pressure. You do get to cover a variety of weaving techniques that way.
When I was younger, the physical labor of throwing the shuttle fast and repetitively was a pleasure; and it still is, actually. If you are in the right frame of mind, weaving plain weave yardage is a sheer physical pleasure. But, if you are a little bored, it helps to weave something that keeps your brain engaged. A pattern that is different every row, even a little different across every row, is so engaging. For some of the pick-up projects that I’ve woven, I have never had time go by faster, and it really has surprised me!
Fortunately, those who come to Vävstuga benefit from what you learn, because you like to share what you know!
Some of our projects for Vävstuga Treasures, like krabba and halvkrabba, and the monks belt pick-up, are so much fun!
Does all of the planning come easy for you?
Often, the most stressful part of a project for me is when I’m starting to weave something before I really know what it is going to look like. I don’t know what the colors are. I have to choose a pattern; I have to decide what to do about the details. And then, I weave a little bit, and I think, “Just go for it.” But, the uncertainty is still there.
Becky, if you had a week or two to weave for your own pleasure, what would we find you working on?
I’ve never had that opportunity, so it is hard to say. What would I want to do just for myself?
Yes, just for yourself.
I would like to sit down and take the time to look at all those beautiful old Swedish books that I have, and see what strikes my fancy. I see things fleeting by, and say to myself, “Oh, I’d love to do that!” I need to go back and pull out those books, and look through them.
I suppose things I would do for myself are things that I have not done yet. There are heaps of them! There are other techniques I would like to try.
Can you think of anything in particular that you want to try?
One thing I know I do want to make is a big coverlet with big rya knots. I have seen pictures of these. There might be a pattern in the rya, or maybe it would be all white, pretending to be a sheep fleece. The ground that I would weave it on would be some kind of bound rosepath, with the patterns. You’re weaving the patterned cloth the same time you are putting the fluff on. That is one thing that I want to do.
I look forward to seeing that interesting coverlet!
You appear to enjoy teaching as much as you enjoy weaving. How are you able to find a connection with each student, despite diverse experience levels in your classes?
I love to share anything that increases the enjoyment of the student. What is going to make this person enjoy their hobby more? What is going to make this other person into a better production weaver, so that they can earn more money with it, if that’s their goal? I ask myself, “What is their goal? Why are they doing this?”
I have observed that you understand the power of an encouraging word.
I’ll share whatever bit of knowledge I have. In some cases, it is how to hold your body better, or, how to hold the shuttle better. In other cases, it is finding a way to relieve their stress. They may be stressing out about what colors to put together. I may not know what colors to put together, either. But, I can give an encouraging word, saying, “Those two colors are good.” It makes them relax. And, if they relax a little bit, they can be more creative.
Your drafting sessions are an important part of the classes I have attended here. I always leave knowing more than when I came.
I try to give as much little bits of information as possible, knowing that some of it is going to go over the tops of their heads. But, one little piece of information is going to sink in for somebody. I throw some things in because I know some of the students are advanced, and they might be bored by the simpler things. Other people in the class may not get it, but that one advanced person is going to appreciate it.
Maybe you should write a book.
Because of the many students I have taught, I feel like my eyes are open to what might be of interest to people. I would love to write a book sometime.
What area of expertise would you like to write about?
Over these years of developing curriculum, I feel like, well, that is the book right there. I have been working on it; it is a lifetime work. I have a lot of the ideas and the teaching materials. I have the curriculum.
I think you could write your own weaving course. Your book could be an updated resource for current day weavers.
I would like to. I hope I live long enough. I would really have to focus on it, and not be responsible for a whole school at the same time.
I know you do have a full plate of responsibilities right now.
But, I am working on the book ideas in the meantime. All of my students are an inspiration to me. What do they want to learn? That is going to determine what else gets put in this book. It is going to push me to learn new things. I would love to see it all compiled in a book. It would be a blast to do that!!