Post #3158: Making samples

(A photo of my latest make – a new shift dress for spring).

I’ve always been averse to making samples on the loom. So much work to thread, wind-up and tie on the whole thing without having “something” to show for it at the end. But I’ve realized this week that if I want to improve both my technique and my understanding of fabric, I should *only* be weaving samples. Although I learned the basics of weaving three years ago, I have simply not woven enough to become proficient at it – and I believe part of the reason for that is my tendency for project-based thinking as opposed to a mindful approach to developing technique.

Sewing lends itself to project-based thinking and ever since I started to sew I’ve had an eye towards “useful” objects – quilts, household items, bags and clothing. There is nothing more satisfying to me than finishing a dress or pair of pants on the machine and then immediately putting them on or into my drawer for circulation. The very first garment I ever made (a woven skirt with an elastic waist) I wore to work the very next day! While that hasn’t been true for every garment I’ve made – some never do get worn because of mistakes in fitting or fabric choice – my skills have improved with each make, and it’s unusual now to end up with something I can’t wear.

But with weaving it’s a whole different story. While it’s true that I will use even the most error-ridden piece of cloth that I weave – simply warping project after project isn’t helping me improve my understanding of my loom or my fabric production. There’s a few reasons for this I think:

  • putting long warps on (for multiple tea towels or a long scarf for example) means that it takes forever to weave them off
  • because I make errors repeatedly in weaving, I lose interest in my long warps and then they sit for months at a time before I finish or take them off the loom
  • this means that I’m only getting 3 or 4 warps on my loom in a year, which doesn’t help me perfect the warping process
  • limited warps don’t allow for a diversity of projects to help build my skill and knowledge repertoire

When I leaf through weaving magazines or books, I see so many things that I want to make, but rather than sampling a pattern, colour choice, or treadle pattern to see how it works – I have a tendency to put the whole project on at once whether or not I have the skill level to execute the finished look. This has lead to disappointment on a number of fronts.

The currently weaving project on my loom is underway (about halfway woven) and I believe I’ll have it off the loom by early next week. It’s a plainweave rug (of dubious quality since I haven’t woven in months) which I put it on in order to get weaving again. Once that comes off I’m going to set up all 8 shafts on my loom again and go through my books and magazines and pick one sample at a time and get it on and off the loom. I have lots of material to sample with – and I’ve recently figured out a better tie up method for my Julia countermarch – so really, no excuses.

I was listening to an interview with Tien Chu the other day in which she expressed the need to reject the idea that some people are born with creative eye or creative talent. Instead, she says, it’s all about practice. We practice combining colours and we improve our ability to understand how it works. We practice how to weave and we make more consistent cloth. We practice weave patterns and textures and we become more able to design our own projects.

In my younger life (pre-thirty) I believed that I did not have visual creative talents – when really, I did not have exposure to the tools and techniques that would interest me enough to develop them further. Looking back now, I feel so lucky to have stumbled on a book of Celtic cross stitch designs in my mid-twenties, a door that opened unexpectedly and has lead me twenty years later to a textile studio in which to practice, practice, practice.

So practice I will – by sampling. Let’s see if that helps improve things by this time next year!

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