In August 2011, I took a one-day class on a cricket loom. My intention was to learn if I had any interest in weaving although I already knew I had a keen interest in weavings; I’d collected some Nepalese, Mexican and Peruvian weavings over the years and knew that I liked but couldn’t afford the weavings of the American Southwest (Spanish and American Indian weavers). Some important things happened in that one-day class: I learned some weaving vocabulary – warp, weft, heddles, beat, shed; I learned how to warp and weave on a cricket loom (enough so that at the end of the day I bought the loom to do other weaving experiments on at home); and that I enjoyed being a maker. I applied something of my background to the design of my class project – my scarf was a plain weave, with the stripes in two colors (earth tones of green and brown) and widths being progressively longer along the length of the scarf; as I was making it, I thought it would be fun to make the widths according to a Fibonacci series (a mathematical series in which each number is the sum of the previous two numbers; for the scarf, the first stripe was an inch wide, the second stripe was of the same width, and then 2 inches wide, 3 inches, 5 inches, 8 inches, 13 inches, etc.) but it was only approximately of that pattern because I didn’t know about how the yarn is compressed by the beating and the need for making regular measurements or even counting the number of rows.
At home, I began to experiment with different weave patterns on my cricket loom (pick and pick, wavy lines, and even some tapestry). When I mistakenly thought I had figured it all out, I built an upright loom (Navajo style loom) at home out of 2x4s, 2x6s, and dowels of various sizes, based on plans in the book Navajo Weaving. I began to weave on this loom, but because I began with a pretty complicated design and maybe because of uneven warp tension I was never happy with the results (my horizontal lines were rarely straight, my tapestry joins were irregular, and even my yarn didn’t feel as good as the scarf I’d woven before, etc.). It was at about this time that I thought it might be good to take some more classes. In May 2012 I took a 3-day class from Teresa Loveless at Weaving Southwest in Taos NM (before she moved her shop to Arroyo Seco) on vertical loom tapestry. Although only a small sampler rug emerged from the effort, I learned a lot and was re-energized when I returned home to my larger vertical loom. Then, in June, 2012, I took a week-long class at Tierra Wools in Los Ojos, NM.
When I decided to sign up for a weaving class at Tierra Wools, I called for advice on which class to sign up for since I would have already had two introductory classes (on different looms, the cricket loom and the vertical loom) when the class at Tierra Wools began, and I wanted to include some tapestry in my class weaving. Although I signed up for a beginner’s class, I was really hoping to include some tapestry (changing yarn across the width of the rug) – they were honest in saying that I probably wouldn’t have the time to include tapestry and preferred to have me do a standard striped rug in the Rio Grande style. We reached a compromise of sorts, in that I would do stripes for the first part of the weaving, and then I’d do a tapestry section in the middle of the rug if it looked like I would have enough time to finish. For the stripes part of the design, I used a Fibonacci mathematical series to set the relative widths of the stripes in the rug. Whether or not I had time to do the middle tapestry section (or just a wide stripe), it was going to be 8 units wide, and then the rest of the rug would be the opposite of the first half of the rug (with stripes of different relative widths in descending order — 5,3,2,1,1 – to finish the rug (each unit was 2”). As it turned out, the instructor Mary Valesquez was very good and the weaving was very easy on the Rio Grande walking loom. Weaving the first stripes (2”, 2”, 4”, 6”, and 10”, according to the Fibonacci series) went well and I was ready to continue with stripes or insert my tapestry section (8 units width). I reached this mid-section late in the second day of class (out of 5 class days in all), so I started the tapestry section in indigo and white (a beautiful contrast to the light and dark grey used in the stripes). Although the tapestry section took almost a full day to complete (half as fast as weaving the stripes), I was able to finish the rug with about a day of class time to spare. After taking the rug off the loom, it took another hour to steam and finish. The length of each unit was 2”, so the finished rug was 64” long and 36” wide. The Churro wool was beautiful (three natural shades of Churro wool – white, light grey and dark grey — and some that had been dyed to indigo) and thick and the rug is still among my favorites – the design is now my weaving studio’s trademark.
I’ve never been quite sure why it’s called a walking loom, but there are two obvious explanations. First, from the action of the beater bar, they do tend to slide (walk) on wooden floors (every so often, you have to pull them back into line with other looms in the room or you’ll be in someone else’s space or even out the door). A second obvious explanation for the name is that you stand and walk on the treadles while you’re weaving (like being on an elliptical exercise machine, but without the weaving in front of you).
The Tierra Wools weaving studio is a wonderful place, with lots of folks around to give ideas about colors and technqiues (Molly Manzanares daughter Lara was home from school on break and weaving on the loom next to mine, and she was so patient with all my questions, and Toni Broaddus was there working on a rug based on colors from a photograph of a ground squirrel). The colors were beautiful and the lesson, of course, is that the most beautiful color combinations are sometimes obvious in nature if only we care to look. All that said, I was also amused by and continue to ponder the story I heard of a color-blind weaver whose rugs were always so beautiful and whose color combinations were so bold, clearly evidence that color intensity and hue are not always seen by everyone the same.