Friday, February 19, 2010

The Efficient Weaver

next 11 meter warp for placemats

When I chose weaving as a career in 1975 I immediately ran afoul of some of the attitudes of the time in the weaving world.

To wit:

#1 When pricing, figure out how much you paid for your materials and multiply by 3 (or 4 if you were feeling cocky)

#2 Do not under any circumstances use any equipment more efficient than a standard floor loom

I rejected #1 out of hand because it does not recognize one's labour - the largest investment in any hand woven textile - nor overhead costs - all those expenses that continue regardless of production or actual sales.

Other weavers were aghast at my temerity. Some told me to my face - trying to be kind I suppose - that I'd never sell my textiles because my prices were way too high.

But I persisted and lo and behold, my textiles sold. And sold well, thank you very much.

The next brick wall of attitude I ran into was when I bought my AVL with dobby, fly shuttle and auto-cloth advance.

A chorus of "You can't label your textiles hand woven any more!" arose. Which perplexed me enormously. That attitude came with a sub-text: How can you do that? Don't you get bored?

The truth is I didn't get bored with it. I did get tired, but not bored.

Then came the introduction of computers and computer dobby's. Once again a chorus of "You can't call your textiles handwoven" arose again. I bought one anyway.

During all of the years of my career, I have sought out and learned from people who weave efficiently. I bought books, initially, because that was the technology of the day and took workshops. As many workshops as I could afford. Along the way I picked up nuggets of information that I incorporated as best I could when I saw that they would improve my performance.

I continually analyzed what I did and where the bottle necks were. If it was an equipment issue, I saved up enough money to buy more efficient equipment. If it was a physical issue, I tried to figure out how to make my body work more ergonmically, more efficiently.

The goal was always to do what I do faster and/or better. Speed that introduces error is not efficient. But when learning a new process, one must also allow for time at the slippery end of the learning curve. Eventually I decided that if I couldn't make the process work for me after 6 warps, it probably wasn't for me.

I have tried over the years to share what I do. When teaching workshops I offer to demo how I hold and throw a shuttle and talk about other efficiencies. So often I hear muttering in the background "I could never do that".

I know it's hard to unlearn something. Muscle memory is stubborn! But it can be done. It just takes conscious effort - purposeful study.

Over the past few years I have seen a growing interest in the weaving community in weavers wanting to learn more efficient methods. Conferences are now booking me to present seminars and workshops to address efficient methods. Since I started accepting private students, there has been some interest in that, too. When I teach beginning weaving classes, I now teach my methods, not the ones I was taught lo these many years ago.

I'm still waiting for the contract from NEWS, but I think I can go ahead and announce that I will be doing a couple of seminars there next year on issues of efficiency. And it's official with the John C. Campbell Folk School. I returned the contract to them last week. The workshop there will be January 9-15, 2011.

For this year I'll be teaching a beginning weaving class at the Folk School in Joplin, MO. Contact info is on the schedule page on my website. I'll be listing the 2011 events once I get the NEWS contract.


Silky said...

I get immensely irritated with people my age(70) who mutter I could never learn that. Yes you can! Ok I'm not about to take up snow boarding, but anything that will teach me to weave more efficently and produce a better product. I'm all for that. Thanks for share your knowledge

Anonymous said...

I was with a group of U.S. weavers in 1972 who took a series of workshops in Canterbury, England. Both before and after we toured the U.K. While in Dublin we visited an establishment where a room-full of weavers all had fly shuttles going, weaving scarves for Bloomingdales (or similar). It was remarked then that, due to U.S. law, their work couldn't be labeled 'handwoven.' I never knew the truth of that remark, but it is perhaps the genesis of some of the same remarks you encountered, even though the intent was quite different. --Sue in MA