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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Keep it Simple Sweetie

A simple solution for keeping the guide string out of the way when winding a warp: Eliminate the guide string! Okay, use a guide string, but not while measuring the warp. After I select the appropriate length guide string, I line it up on the warping reel. And then — this is the simple part — I place a little piece of blue tape (fold under one edge for easy removal) on the inside of each vertical post at the spot where the guide string passes. Remove the guide string and wind the warp, following the little blue tape markers! Simple.

Rag rug warp for Glimakra Ideal loom. Read about simple solution to eliminate guide string.

New rag rug warp for little Glimakra Ideal loom. Little pieces of blue tape mark the winding path for the warp.

It is easy to complicate things. In my efforts to simplify, I occasionaly reach an impasse by trying too hard to get the perfect solution, and lose sight of the main thing.

Talking with our creator is one of the simplest things we can do. When we get caught up with trying to say the right words, we can make it so complicated that we totally miss having the conversation. Simply saying what is on your heart touches our creator. And I’m convinced he bends down to listen …just like a father.

May you find simple words to express your heart.

Simply,
Karen

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  • Barbara Crockett says:

    Thanks, Karen. Sometimes I feel like I don’t know the “right words” to pray for a situation. I tend to look for formulas when I just need to speak what’s on my heart. And keep listening and learning.

    • Karen says:

      That happens with me, too, Barbara. We need to remember that our creator already knows our whole situation, and maybe he’s just waiting for us to talk with him about it.

  • Wen says:

    A great reminder….how often do we make things more complicated than they need to be…including prayer!

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