Ribbon ties

I’m preparing to teach a weaving class. It’s the first time I’ve done one in a few years – the last big effort was 2017, when I did a class for the DFW Fiber Fest board members, trying to get my brain back into teaching mode. It didn’t really take. Don’t get me wrong – class went well, everybody had a good time, and we got excellent results – but I didn’t feel inspired to keep going and teach. Since then, I’ve done a lot of psychedelic-assisted therapy work, and have fixed a decade of treatment-resistant depression – and I’m ready to teach again. I’m not going to talk about the therapy part here… but if you want to know more, get in touch: wormspit@gmail.com and I’ll share more in private.

These are the ribbons that tie the bundles of tablets together so that they can be handled as a separate warp, carried conveniently, and attached to any support. We use looms in class, but it can just as easily be a pair of posts, or your belt and a doorknob. It’s a very low-tech, portable form of weaving.

These are the packets of tablets, ready for class. This photo is from 2017 – I just today received the tablets from Lacis, ready to get started making the ones for this year’s classes.

I encourage each student to keep the sampler they make in class, to replace the commercial rainbow one that the tablets come wrapped with.

I include an “experienced” tablet of mine, one that I’ve worked with for other projects, in each student warp. I sign them with my mark. I feel like they know what they’re doing. They teach the others. With this group of classes, I have so many students, it makes me cry to think of. All those spider webs, all those silken strand connections, yarn across the world.

And when we’re done with the class, they have this physical record of a day spent figuring things out, making mistakes, going backward, fixing. Most of the time, each student’s work will have a few stitches of my own work mixed in with them. This pleases me. It feels right. My hands guiding their hands. Today in therapy, I cried thinking about it – how people across the country, and a few around the world, have little samplers of their work, with bits of the work of my own hands worked in.

This is an example of the sampler with a lot of elaborations at the end – these are all patterns we cover in class, but this is kind of “variations on a theme.” I love a sampler like this – because you can put your fingers over all but a little window, and hold it up to a garment, and say, “Should we use this pattern with the diamonds for the trim? Or this one with the little bird’s-eyes? Or maybe checkers, like this?” It makes it easy to visualize a whole yard of each pattern, and you can also count and remind yourself how each one is made. It’s more durable and portable than a paper with descriptions and pictures.

So this sampler band, with all its imperfections, I encourage my students to keep to tie their tablets up with, because it reminds us of how we didn’t know, and how we figured out. I learned from Abby about how it’s OK to suck at things, and that if you can get to the frame of mind of understanding that you’re GOING to suck, and then you’re going to suck incrementally less over time, you figure it out. And in the course of usually two feet and some of awkward fabric, we get through it.

The little red and white band at the bottom of the page is MY learning-to-weave sampler. I have to say, I did it the hard way. I couldn’t find anyone to explain, and I was literally going from seeing Sindra Sigmundottir’s display, a partially woven band with a couple of drafts, and some other woven pieces sitting next to the warped loom. She was doing double-face tablet weaving, which is not a beginner technique – but it had the LETTERS and the DESIGNS that I needed, that made my dreams dance. My first inkle-weaving project had letters; my first tablet-weaving one I think did too. It’s been so long. I just remember, it had to be graphs. If memory serves, I took her class like a week after this happened, and I got in trouble for being a smartypants. Sindra, your design sense with color in weave has always humbled me, and I still have the belt you gave me.

I had already been weaving ribbons on inkle for some time, so I knew all about warp, and weft, and how to beat in the shots with the shuttle… and I could see the punched cards, and how they held the warp threads, two dark and two light, and where the weft thread would go. I saw one draft, which was labeled 4F, 4B. Another sheet had a pattern that was something fancy, like 4F, 2B, 2F, 4B. So I knew those were forward and backward, but… this was literally like Crimescene Kitchen. A weaving has been committed. You have to figure out what all these clues mean. So I punched holes in playing cards, and set them up so that they looked like hers, and flipped them this way and that, on varying axes, making a variety of messy non-fabrics until I finally started to see fabric that looked like hers…. at one point, I was literally revolving each tablet on its cord like one of those little bird-in-cage illusion spinners, four times, and then throwing the shuttle once. I finally got to the right ground fabric, and figured out the bizarre-looking picture unit that I could use to graph with, and then I called it done and warped up with more yarn and tried for an actual pattern.

And THIS is that sad, weird little piece of fabric, from 1989? maybe? This is the physical record of when I wrestled tablet weaving to the ground by the ears. I literally left my warp untied in the other room to come take a picture and explain this, but I’ll go put it back because it’s like having the lid off a jar of jam; having my tablets untied feels unsettled, like something will happen to them. When I lost track of my weaving in 2013 after a couple of really bad mental shocks… THIS is what I should have been looking for. I KNOW MY SHIT. Yeah, I went on to get many books, and read up, and took classes, and had awesome exchanges with all these smart tablet-weaving people… but I hammered it out on an inkle loom with playing cards, and built up from there.