FIBERuary is a celebration of all things fiber. I myself participate in a wide variety of fiber-related activities as a production weaver and a knitting teacher. I’m also a lazy spinner, an occasional felter and have dabbled in dyeing. Across all these fiberful activities the thing I love most is the community of other fabulous fiber fiends that make working with fiber so much fun. I could write about any of these communities, the spinning group that I have am lucky to be a part of, or of the wonderful dye party I attended last summer or about the joy of watching my knitting students learning not just from me, but from one another. But instead I am going to write about my weaving community, and in particular, about a wonderful, magical week-long collaboration I did with another young weaver, Kira Frech.
People often think of weaving as a solitary activity, and of course, it can be. But it needn’t be, and historically weaving would have been a community affair. I learned (in my time as an apprentice at the Vävstuga Weaving School) that in Sweden each village would have had a loom or looms in a sort of community center. Weavers would spend the winter cutting up rags which they would then weave on the community looms in spring (or whenever it was their turn). Weavers helped one another dress the loom and so many hands made light(er) work. Because of this Scandinavian tradition of cooperative weaving, students at Vävstuga learn to dress looms in teams.
Kira and I became friends when I was an apprentice and she came to Vävstiga for Basics, the pre-requisite for most other weaving courses there. Later, she returned for the Väv Immersion program, a 15-week course inspired by the weaving course Becky Ashenden had taken nearly 35 years ago at the Sätergläntan School in Sweden. We stay in touch thanks to the internet and earlier this year decided to create our own weaving mini-retreat and collaboration at my studio in Shelburne Falls. In 5 days we wound, beamed, threaded, sleyed and wove a 10-shaft satin damask block design and an 8 shaft pinwheel draft.
We each chose a project that was somewhat outside of our weaving norm and which allowed us to take advantage of each others expertise. I designed the pinwheel project in wool (for pillows!) with the knowledge that any troubles I had could be helped by Kira’s greater expertise in weaving wool. She designed the 10-shaft satin damask project in cotton and linen knowing that I spend a lot of time weaving similar block structures. We were thus able to support one another and felt encouraged to try new things.
Because we are trained, literally, in the same school of weaving, Kira and I were able to almost seamlessly move through the steps of setting up the looms together. It was truly magical. We worked together to solve problems along the way and accomplished more as a team than we could have flying solo. Here are some photos of us setting up the damask piece together.
Threading together and laughing:
Taking a break from sleying:
Once the weaving began our looms were booming and shuttles were flying and the studio just felt more alive. A few days later we were cutting off and packing things up so Kira could escape before a snowstorm hit. When she was gone the studio felt empty and I found myself wishing I could have a weaving buddy with me every day!
The bottom line is that weaving in community is so much better than weaving on your own. In fact, even Kira and I together could not have done this by ourselves! And that’s because we borrowed a pair of damask pulleys for this project from another local weaver, Elaine Palmer! It was only by all our powers combined that so much amazing weaving happened that week. I feel so grateful for my wonderful weaving community.
Emily F. Gwynn is a handweaver based in Shelburne Falls, MA. She specializes in weaving heirloom-quality textiles for the home. Visit her website atwww.handstoworktextiles.com
Kira Frech is a handweaver and natural dyer based in Harrisburg, PA. Visit her website at www.kirafrech.com
The Vävstuga Weaving School is located in Shelburne Falls, MA. While the apprenticeship program no longer exists, the 15-week Väv Immersion program is going strong and applications are being accepted now. For more information visit www.vavstuga.com