I’m honored to have been profiled by BostonVoyager as one of their “Boston’s Most Inspiring Stories” series! Take a read to learn more about the lady behind the Wool Works!
I recycle a lot of sweaters. A LOT. Just in the past few days I took five of them from being wearable men’s cotton garments to washed skeins of cotton yarn, which I will use to weave towels for sale. I also recycle sweaters made from wool, cashmere, silk, and other materials to sell as yarn, remanufacture into pieces for sale, and use in personal projects. It is wicked fun to transform these often boring and certainly unloved sweaters into freshly-freed, beautiful yarn, and the fun aspect keeps me going despite sometimes significant obstacles and surprises. Using recycled materials is a mission of mine, but even the most fervent can have their faith tested on a regular basis.
In my Intro to Traditional Weaving class last week, some of my students were experimenting with the “clasped weft” technique, and it occurred to me that I had some great examples of this technique in a traditional context hanging in my house. Unfortunately I realized this too late to show them to my students in person, but it prompted me to write this post and show this technique in action in a beautiful traditional piece.
I had recycled a bunch of brightly-colored cotton sweaters, and after doing some “weaving math” I realized I had enough yarn to do really thorough test… and still have enough yarn left over to make multiple warps of the same thing. The nice thing about weaving (as opposed to knitting, for example) is that you can set up one long warp (the yarn you put on the loom before you weave) to make multiple pieces.
So I thought I’d put this yarn through its paces and see what how it wanted to be woven. Since the yarn was all cotton (some of it organic! What a treat!), I decided I wanted to try some kitchen towels, having done a few sample variations in the last few months, and loving the feel and the warmth of handwoven towels in my kitchen. The nice thing, too, is that often a sweater will say “hand wash only” but since it’s 100% cotton I felt pretty sure I could machine wash them. Or at least it wouldn’t kill me to find out with a few sample pieces.
I’ve been thinking about getting a floor loom for a while (I’d been using a few rigid heddle looms, and my mom taught me on her Schacht floor loom), but when I was visiting weavers in Ireland, I finally crossed the line and decided it was time to get one. Also I had done a massive clean-up job in my basement and finally had room for one! I did my research toward the end of my trip (on the Spinners’, Weavers’, and Knitters’ Housecleaning pages, amongst other places) and communicated with a weaver who was retiring and was within a reasonable driving range from my home.
So, a few days after I returned from Boston, a friend of mine who has a pickup truck (tip: a key piece of equipment for transporting a floor loom!) drove me to upstate New York to retrieve the loom. We got plenty of practice tying knots and arranging tarps in the borderline-harrowing drive home, but the loom arrived in one piece and is now living in my basement, below a ceiling festooned with Christmas lights!
I was lucky enough this fall to visit Ireland for the third time in three years, and especially to spend a significant amount of time in Donegal. I’m very drawn to this region, in part because of its rich weaving history, but as a New Englander, the cheery self-reliance of the people despite a sometimes unforgiving landscape feels very familiar. While I was there, I was fortunate to spend some good hours with a few of the wonderful weavers and craftspeople keeping the tradition of Donegal weaving alive and, importantly, living. I was impressed in both the fiber crafts and in the traditional music to find a wonderful harmony between the traditions and a growing, thriving, creative force rooted very much in the present. This is truly how traditions survive and don’t just become museum pieces.
This Saturday, December 6, from 10-1 I’ll be demonstrating rigid heddle weaving (on my 32″ Kromski Harp) at the Institute of Contemporary Art on Boston’s South Boston waterfront (more recently known as the “Innovation District”). Other members of the Weavers’ Guild of Boston will be demonstrating carding, spinning, and weaving on a variety of equipment — all part of the Fiber Sculpture 1960-present exhibition that’s up through early January. It should be lots of fun, and this is a great little museum to visit any time.