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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Conversation with Becky Ashenden of Vävstuga, Part 1

I had the special pleasure of sitting across the room from Becky Ashenden in her New England country home for a personal conversation. After spending five days as a student in her Vävstuga Classics class, I was eager to learn more about this fascinating woman. I hope you can hear Becky’s cheerful enthusiasm. As you read, please imagine Becky’s smiles and laughter gracing our pleasant time together.

Becky Ashenden of Vävstuga

Becky Ashenden wears her handwoven dress and her smile, ready for another full day of teaching. Becky also wove the curtain hanging beside her, of course.

This first part of the conversation discusses Becky’s perspective of handweaving, including her training in Sweden. The second part, coming in my post later this week, continues the conversation by exploring Becky’s teaching philosophy and some new adventures she sees on the horizon.

View from students' quarters at Vävstuga Weaving School.

Autumn morning view from the students’ quarters upstairs at Vävstuga Weaving School.

Where do you find the most enjoyment in weaving?

The way I usually answer that question is that my favorite thing to weave is whatever I’m doing at the moment, as long as it’s going well (chuckle).

You have spent a lot of time at the loom, haven’t you?

I’ve done so much production. There’s something about doing production that’s pretty boring; but it’s also pretty mesmerizing. If it’s plain weave and you’re just going, going, it’s a physical enjoyment. And with a bigger loom with ten shafts and ten treadles, if it’s going rhythmically, it’s a very physical enjoyment. If there’s something that you have to concentrate on, it’s a mental enjoyment, as well as the physical enjoyment.

I really like the variety. And I’ve always done a lot of variety. So, sometimes just two treadles is really fun after ten treadles; and doing something delicate is really fun after doing something really raucous.

It seems like you enjoy a challenge, and the discovery of finding solutions.

That always makes it interesting, yes. I definitely enjoy a challenge–like rearranging heddles if I have to change the threading (laughter). Problem solving is something I’ve always loved.

And one aspect of weaving that I enjoy, too, is taking a project off, seeing the empty beam, putting all the tools away, messing with the tools. I love messing with the tools. I love doing the tie-ups. I love messing around with the equipment!

You sound passionate about enjoying the process!

That wooden equipment, and every little stick and string being in its place, and seeing a newly beamed warp–the processes of it! And the magic-ness of turning thread into fabric. I really enjoy the whole process and the huge variety that there is. Something I’ve always felt, even from a young age, is that when I get bored with one kind of thing in weaving, there’s more than a life’s worth of other things to explore, so I’m never going to run out of things to explore. And I remember thinking, “Some of the little fussy things that I don’t like when I’m young, maybe I’ll like when I’m older,” and I find that I do. So there’s just endless, endless variety, and I love sharing it with others. That’s certainly one of my greatest joys–sharing that enthusiasm that I have with others.

It’s the whole process, and it’s the tools, and it’s having the tools arranged in the studio a certain way.

What else is important to you in the weaving process?

Using the things afterwards, and showing other people how to use them. Not just putting them in a drawer, but having a different table setting three times a day (chuckle). That’s definitely part of the enjoyment, too. Why do it otherwise? You spend all this time making something beautiful; and the things are meant to be part of daily life–not just special occasions, but daily life.

Is there something that sets your teaching approach apart from other weaving instructors?

Being trained at the school that I was trained at, Sätergläntan Hemslöjdens Gård. I really, really appreciated how I was taught to weave, and especially in Sweden.

Why was Sweden important?

Sweden was a place where they had preserved a tremendous amount of their handweaving tradition, which really is a tradition that exists all over the world in its various ways. In many places, the industrial revolution made things easier for people’s lives at home. They didn’t have to do all this grueling labor to produce all the fabric they needed; and it was a blessing for them to be able to buy fabric. It does not take very long, though, once the industrial revolution comes through, to lose all the old hand skills that have been developed over centuries and centuries. You can’t just get it back. Sometimes you have to reinvent, and it’s not the same as this centuries-old knowledge that’s been handed down.

So, how did people in Sweden manage to preserve these traditions and skills?

In Sweden there was an organized effort to preserve the tradition, because they said that, while this was getting lost in some places, “We don’t want this to get lost.” There were people that were real movers and shakers who set up schools. They decided to teach weaving to potential teachers. So, even in the 1920’s, or so, there were many handweaving teachers that were professionally trained, with an eye towards keeping this tradition alive. They were all trained in the same way. So, it’s very consistent. Consistent approach, consistent equipment. It was a whole package that went together really well.

Very, very well thought out, and very well developed. And that’s what I was taught. I was taught a complete package of handweaving, beginning to end, with all the same equipment, same approach, same tradition. I think that is different from what a lot of teachers in this country (USA) have available to them. So, I had this training that comes from way, way back. It’s such an honor to have been trained that way, and to put it into practice for so many years. I feel that I really do have something to offer that is different from other teachers. …Maybe not so different from what is offered to people in Sweden.

How would you describe the type of weaving instruction that you offer?

I think that what I offer here at Vävstuga is a little bit more traditional; and, perhaps in some places in Sweden they might say “old-fashioned.” There are a lot of wonderful artists in Sweden that are very contemporary. They’re well-trained, and they do amazing beautiful contemporary work, which isn’t what I do. I’m so attracted to the old-fashioned traditional weaving. And it seems that other people are attracted to it as well, enough to come to do what I have to offer.

…To be continued…

May you integrate laughter into your conversations.

Your friend,

Karen

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Conversation with Jason Collingwood, Part 2

At Jason Collingwood’s Plain Weave Rug Workshop in Waco, Texas last week, I completed a technique sampler. I was not one of the fastest guns in the West, so I have a couple yards (or more…) of that linen warp still on my little loom. One piece of advice Jason gave in class was to use the intricacies of these techniques sparingly–to keep it simple when it comes to rug design. That is what I am aiming for as I finish off this warp, hoping to end up with some miniature rugs (the warp is only 11 1/4″ wide) as design samples.

Jason Collingwood Plain Weave Workshop Sampler

Finished sample of plain weave rug techniques. The sample begins with countered twining that extends past the selvedge with a four-strand braid. My favorite technique is the crossed weft combined with meet and separate, seen at the far end of the sample.

Jason was kind enough to converse with me on topics that would benefit you, my blog friends. You can catch the first part of that conversation, covering Jason’s perspective as a rug weaver and a teacher of rug weaving, here.

Now, enjoy Part 2 of our conversation.

Me: Once someone has mastered the technical aspects, and is producing quality handwoven goods, they may want to sell what they have produced. What advice do you have for someone just starting out?

Jason: You need to be very determined. You have to accept that it’s not going to happen instantly. And you have to be prepared to sacrifice certain things in life that a normal job may give you–be that security, spare income, or, possibly, medical insurance coverage.

Me: It’s challenging to get started, then?

Jason: I look back to my early years, and it’s interesting… And Akiko, my wife, is a very successful ceramicist now, but when she started off, to save money, she would walk across London four or five miles, with a little dolly on wheels. She would buy her bags of clay, put them on the dolly, and wheel them back across London. And you know, there are all these early little sacrifices that you don’t see, when you see the person in the galleries successfully selling their work.

Me: Your father, Peter Collingwood, was well-known as an extraordinary rug weaver. But you still needed to put in a lot of hard work, yourself, for people to associate Jason Collingwood with high quality handwoven rugs. So, if someone aspires to succeed as a weaver, how can they make it work?

Jason: I think you need to have determination, and some amount of grit, and self-discipline. At the end of the day, there’s no one telling you to sit at that loom, and weave again the same things you did yesterday, and again, and again, and again. I think it’s just perseverance. As long as you are producing something of quality, eventually, if you persevere, it’ll pay off.

Me: Okay, that gives hope to someone willing to work hard. If we look beyond the present challenges, and work, with determination, we have something to look forward to.

Jason: You know, those barren early years are almost like an investment in your future life, your weaving life. I mean, I didn’t particularly enjoy those years, but I think they were almost a necessary test of whether I was going to stick it out. I think a lot of people would’ve folded in those early years, and said, Okay, this isn’t working. But, you know, it was kind of a test of my resolve that I carried on.

Me: Thank you for sharing your story! Your insights bring considerable value to weavers, but also to people in other fields interested in improving their craft. I appreciate the encouragement of your example of determination. Thanks again!

 

Please visit Jason Collingwood’s website, here, to see the stunning rugs he weaves and sells, as well as descriptions of his workshops. You can also enjoy the artistry of Jason’s wife, Akiko, at her website, here.

May your determination and perseverence pay off.

With some amount of grit,
Karen

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Conversation with Jason Collingwood, Part 1

Last week I had the privilege to sit down with Jason Collingwood, internationally acclaimed rug weaver, for an interesting conversation, covering several topics. This, the first of two parts, focuses on Jason’s experience as a rug weaver and a teacher of rug weaving. The second part, in my next post, focuses on Jason’s views of what it takes to become a successful artisan.

Jason Collingwood Plain Weave Rug Workshop

Jason Collingwood, at my little loom, demonstrates a selvedge technique used for plain weave rugs. I am watching every move.

Me: Your father, Peter Collingwood, wrote the comprehensive book, The Techniques of Rug Weaving. Just how important is technical skill for creating handwoven rugs?

Jason: I’m passionate about technical competence. That is number one, because if you don’t get that part right, what you are producing is not going to be satisfactory.

Me: Is it possible to look at a rug and tell if it was woven with technical competence?

Jason: One of the defining parts of a good rug is the selvedge. Always check out people’s selvedges. If they’ve got a neat selvedge, then it’s a sign of a good rug weaver.

Me: What is it that sets you apart from other rug weavers?

Jason: Well, there aren’t many rug weavers to set me apart from. I remember when I started weaving–and I did endless shows–there would be maybe five or six rug weavers in the same show. And for the past fifteen years, or so, when I’ve done shows in London, I am the only rug weaver. So, whether that’s survival of the fittest, or they went on and got proper jobs (with a grin)

Me: You have excelled in producing high quality handwoven rugs, even though few people have been able to do that. How do you account for your success?

Jason: I think what possibly sets me apart is that I’ve just done this one thing for twenty-six years now. Most weavers, be they rug weavers, or other, probably have other strings to their bow, and do other things. By just concentrating on one thing, your name perhaps becomes associated with that product, and that helps you in the long run.

Me: Have you considered weaving other items besides rugs–like scarves, for instance?

Jason: I don’t think there’d be any benefit for me, suddenly trying to weave scarves, and sell scarves. I don’t think I’d be adding anything to the world of weaving scarves.

Me: You teach in your studio in England; and you travel around the world teaching rug weaving. Is there any piece of advice that you want your students to grasp?

Jason: One overlooked bit of advice is that you have to accept that the technique that we’re weaving in, and the looms that we’re using, place limitations upon you. You need to work within those limitations. Do not try to make the loom or technique do things that it doesn’t want to do. I think too many people have preconceived ideas of what they want to produce from a workshop; and then they try and make the structure achieve these ideas. Sometimes it just technically doesn’t produce the design they want, and they get frustrated.

Me: How can a student get the best results, then?

Jason: I think you need to understand the structure, and work in harmony with the structure. And then you will be much happier with your finished product, because you are not fighting the structure.

…To be continued…

Please visit Jason Collingwood’s website to see the beautiful rugs he creates and sells, and descriptions of the classes he teaches. I was fortunate to take Jason’s Plain Weave workshop last week at Homestead Fiber Crafts in Waco, Texas, where my little Glimåkra Ideal had her maiden voyage. It was an excellent class that I would recommend to anyone interested in learning basic rug weaving techniques.

May you find your one thing, and grow in expertise.

Still learning,

Karen

 

2 Comments

  • Doug Gagnon says:

    I have taken 2 classes with Jason. He covers a lot of material in his classes.
    One finishing technique he covered was a method to finishe without fringes. I believe he had a red sample. I am trying to use this technique but cannot remember how to do it nor can I find it in my notes.
    Is there someone that can explain the technique?

    Thanks

    Doug Gagnon

    • Karen says:

      Hi Doug,
      I do remember seeing Jason demonstrate a few finishing techniques. I’m not positive which one you are referring to, but I will go take a look in my notes from the workshop and see if I find something that answers your question.
      In the meantime, I have a short video on tapestry edging that is very similar to one of the edgings that Jason described. Besides the “braided” edge that I show in my video, Jason also showed us how to weave each of the ends back into the rug using a sacking needle.

      I hope this helps,
      Karen

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