Every year my weaving journey is peppered with notable highlights. Here are seven such highlights from 2020: 1. Siblings Tapestry, complete and hanging in our living room. 2. Joanne Hall (my weaving mentor and friend) visited our home in February (while in Texas for her Swedish Art Weaves workshop). 3. New 8-shaft Glimakra Juliacountermarch loom. 4. My favorite fabric of the year, Jämtlandsdräll in 6/2 Tuna, woven on the brand-new Julia. 5. Rag rugs woven on the drawloom. 6. Studio tour on Zoom for the San Antonio Handweaver’s Guild In November. 7. Handwoven Christmas tree skirt with Nativity appliqué from handwoven remnants.
2021 is beginning with the start of a new pictorial tapestry, an empty loom waiting for a new warp, and a drawloom warp that is near its finish line. Plus, two other looms that are mid-project. I am not expecting any dull moments around here. Thank you for joining me in this ongoing adventure.
Unroll the cloth beam with me and go back through time to recall the Warped for Good projects of 2020:
God completes what he begins. My prayer for you is that his finishing work will secure any loose ends.
My intention is to weave fabric for a couple of cushy throw pillows. But after just one pattern repeat, I realize that this cloth on my brand new Glimåkra Julia is something I would like to wear! No pillows this time. Instead, here is my new autumn/winter shoulder wrap, embellished with frisky swinging fringes. Miss Julia has proven her worth on four-shaftJämtlandsdräll (crackle) in 6/2 Tuna wool. Her next adventure will be something that explores all eight shafts. (See My New Glimåkra Julia Loom.)
This project starts with the draft for the Jämtlandsdräll Blanket on p.59 of Simple Weaves, by Birgitta Bengtsson Björk and Tina Ignell. Tuna yarn samples, along with Fiberworks Silver for Mac, help me jazz up the color. I settle on three colors for the warp, with burnt orange as the anchor. Six different colors are used for the pattern weft, plus dark teal for the tabby.
This is one of those times when the weaving is so satisfying that I truly don’t want the warp to come to an end. (…except that I’m excited to start on Julia’s second adventure!)
My family of looms just welcomed a new little sister—Julia! This 8-shaftcountermarch is Glimåkra’s smallest floor loom. I dressed the loom right away in 6/2 Tuna wool for 4-shaft Jämtlandsdräll to try out the loom. So far, so good. An 8-shaft project using 20/2 Mora wool is up next. Would you believe this is my new portable loom? Surprisingly, the Julia fits in the back of our vehicle, without disassembling. This is the loom you can expect to see with me at future workshops.
My Julia Observations:
It goes together like you’d expect from a Glimåkra. Instructions are minimal, and quality is high. It’s a well-designed puzzle.
The assembled loom is easy to move around to gain space needed for warping, or simply to change location for any reason.
The breast beam is not removable like it is on my other Glimåkra looms, which makes it a stretch to thread the heddles from the front. However, by hanging the shaft bars from the beater cradle at the very front I can thread the heddles without back strain. (Or, if you are petite and don’t mind climbing over the side, you can put the bench in the loom for threading.)
Tying uplamms and treadles is not much different than it is for my Ideal. Everything is well within reach from the front. It helps to take the lamms off the loom to put in the treadle cords, and then put the lamms back on the loom. With one extra person available, it is entirely feasible to elevate the loom on paint cans, upside-down buckets, or a small table to make tie-ups easier, but I didn’t find it necessary to do that.
Weaving on the Julia is a delight, as it is with my other countermarch looms. Everything works. With four shafts, the sheds are impeccable.
The bench adjusts to the right height.
The hanging beater is well balanced, sturdy, and has a good solid feel. I can move the beater back several times before needing to advance the warp.
I thought the narrower treadles might prove annoying, but I’ve been able to adjust quickly. After weaving a short while, I forget about the treadle size.
Steve is the loom assembler in our family. I stand by and give a hand when needed. I hope you can feel our excitement as you watch this short video of us discovering what’s in the boxes and figuring out how it all goes together.
May you enjoy the puzzles that come to your doorstep.
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!!