One Handweaver

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.

May you enjoy the part of the process you are in.

Happy Weaving,
Karen

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Conversation with Teresa Loveless of Weaving Southwest

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.

Weaving Southwest in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico

Weaving Southwest in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico.

Weaving Southwest student accomplishments.

Teresa Loveless on the right with her five happy students from the class “Habitat, A Study in Verticals.”

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?

Weaving Southwest in New Mexico

Weaving Southwest pickup truck depicts the down-to-earth approach of the shop. Highly accomplished, yet unpretentious.

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!

Absolutely! Thanks!

Study in verticals from class at Weaving Southwest in NM.

This study in verticals is hung horizontally just above the work table in my weaving studio. Makes me smile.

May you dream big.

Very happy weaving,
Karen

2 Comments

  • Liberty Stickney says:

    Hi Karen
    I love this post, I hope you had a wonderful time. It sure looks fun, I’ve never been to New Mexico, but maybe I will have to go someday soon.
    I am wondering about your recent post about linen scarves, I have been watching for an update to see how they came out after you washed them. Did I miss that one or is it coming up sometime soon?
    Love all your posts and wait for them to come up in my inbox!

    Thank you for all you do for us.
    Liberty

    • Karen says:

      Liberty, you are so sweet! We did have a wonderful time. New Mexico is worth the visit. You will see interesting landscapes with color that shifts according to the weather and time of day.

      Thank you for asking about the linen scarves. You haven’t missed anything. I have a few “irons in the fire” right now, and the linen scarves are in the queue. You might see them next week.

      It’s really great to know you keep coming back!
      Karen

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Another Conversation with Becky Ashenden of Vävstuga, Part 2

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.

Handwoven curtains frame the view at Vavstuga student quarters.

Handwoven curtains on windows in the Vävstuga student quarters frame the New England autumn view.

And now, enjoy this second part of my conversation with Becky…

What part of the weaving process especially energizes you, Becky? Planning, measuring warps, dressing the loom, weaving, finishing?

It might be a surprising answer. I really like threading; and I actually really like sleying. (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.

Sign on door to Vavstuga weaving studio.

Cheerful greeting as you enter the Vävstuga weaving studio. Even if you do not know any Swedish, you can guess the meaning of this word.

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.

Vavstuga More Swedish Classics - finished projects!

Gorgeous results from More Swedish Classics. Becky enjoys the students’ accomplishments.

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.

Mealtime at Vavstuga, with handwoven tablecloths and napkins, of course.

Tablecloths and napkins this time. Handwoven, of course. Table runners, placemats, napkins… It is always interesting to see how the table is dressed.

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!

Vavstuga's More Swedish Classics

Class is over for “More Swedish Classics.” It is fun to see everyone’s woven efforts across the table.

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!) 

May your experiences make you smile.

Weaving instead of fiddling,
Karen

4 Comments

  • Eileen Crawford says:

    Thank you for this in depth interview with Becky, a truly unique individual who is a blessing for all who make the effort to go beyond their comfort in meeting their personal creativity goals. Your interviews truly reflect her focus on teaching, which is entirely different than some classes that are “taught” by an expert who is not a “teacher”.

    • Karen says:

      Thank you for the feedback, Eileen. I’m pleased to hear that Becky’s valued teaching style comes through. That’s what I was hoping to portray.

  • Devorah says:

    Great interview and beautiful pictures!

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Another Conversation with Becky Ashenden of Vävstuga, Part 1

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.)

Vavstuga Weaving School in lovely autumn.

Looking like a quaint cottage on the outside, Vävstuga Weaving School holds more on the inside than you might imagine. Besides endless yarns and tools, it holds dreams ready to be explored.

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.

Shelburne Falls Bridge of Flowers, next to Vavstuga Weaving School

Acting as a preview of the colors and textures inside the weaving studio next door, the famous Shelburne Falls Bridge of Flowers is delightful. The view is a perfect compliment to the woven beauty coming from the looms inside the weaving cottage.

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!

Jamtlandsdrall (Crackle) comes off the loom at Vavstuga!

We did it! The teacher is just as excited as the students when the woven efforts come off the loom. This is jämtlandsdräll (also known as crackle), a unique weave structure that was fun to weave. Stretching for me, literally, but fun nonetheless.

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.

This is where Becky teaches Vavstuga drawloom classes.

Becky, in her handwoven yellow dress, playfully poses in front of the house where she grew up. She has turned the house into her drawloom studio. The studio has an impressive collection of looms and stunning examples of weaving on display. Wouldn’t you love to take the Drawloom Basics class?

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.

Becky Ashenden teaching More Swedish Classics at Vavstuga

Becky shows woven examples of everything she teaches. This provides an exceptional hands-on understanding of concepts taught in the drafting sessions.

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!!

Stay tuned for more to come in Part 2…

(Click HERE and HERE to see a few more pictures from my week at Vävstuga More Swedish Classics.)

May you dream big dreams.

More Happy Weaving,
Karen

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Conversation with Becky Ashenden of Vävstuga, Part 2

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.

Smålandsväv by Becky Ashenden

Stunning smålandsväv coverlet, a traditional Swedish weave, with sheepskin hand-stitched to the piece. Would be perfect for a sleigh ride in the snow!

Swedish Smålandsväv and Sheepskin by Becky Ashenden

Close up. Oh, so soft!

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.

Accordion music in the weaving studio

Becky is just as comfortable with her accordion as she is with her looms.
Music and weaving looms. What more could a girl like me ask for?

May you enjoy the adventure of something new.

Happy Weaving,
Karen

2 Comments

  • Nancy C. says:

    Great article! I have had the opportunity to take the Basics and the Drawloom class… and I was so inspired – that I now have my own drawloom! Becky is an excellent teacher and you have captured her so well in your interview.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Nancy, Thank you for taking time to leave a comment!
      It’s fun to hear of your experience at Vävstuga. Becky’s positive influence has inspired many of us to go further than we would have ventured on our own.
      I appreciate your very kind words.

      Happy Weaving!
      Karen

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