Tutorial: Making A Mat Board Loom for Weaving

Recently I taught a weaving class at an assisted living center with a delightful group of women, the oldest being 90 years old! My training as an occupational therapist provided some foundation on adapting the weaving project for individuals with some limitations as to memory, vision, and gross and fine motor skills.  I always like to focus on the 3 P’s when I work with seniors: the person, the process and the product.  The person should be interested in being an active participant and thus be in control of creating his/her own work. The process should be somewhat repetitive and yet hold the interest of the creator by employing colorful and tactile materials. The process should also guarantee that the person succeeds at it. And finally the product should be attractive and finished in a way that it can be displayed or given as a gift. Using this methodology, young children and adults with physical or developmental disabilities could also benefit from such a project.

However, this means that a lot of preparation is required by the instructor. For art teachers or others interested in this activity, weaving on mat board looms, I am sharing a brief tutorial on preparing the looms. Teachers with students who are able to do so can also have their students make their own mat board looms in advance of the weaving.

Materials Needed        

IMG_5265 Mat board cut to 6″ W X 9″ H

2 pieces decorative card stock measuring 1″ W X 9″ H

2 pieces heavy cardboard measuring 1″ W X 6″ H**

**I used book board for this, illustration board can also be used

2 pieces decorative card stock measuring 1″ W X 6″ H

Glue Stick

Discarded piece of mat board measuring 1″ W X 6″ H

Pencil and ruler

Small drill or awl

Tapestry needle

Strong yarn for warp, such as cotton carpet warp or perle cotton

Picture frame hook (optional)

Assembly Instructions

With a glue stick, glue the 1″ X 9″ decorative card stock to the long edges of the mat board.  Then glue the 2 pieces of heavy cardboard onto the top and bottom short edges of the mat board. Lastly, glue the shorter pieces of decorative card stock onto the heavy cardboard.

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Now make a template from a piece of discarded mat board measuring 1″ X 6″. Mark and measure a  4″ length in the center of the   template. Within this marked  section, find the  lengthwise halfway point and with a ruler draw a straight line from one end of this 4″ section to the other end. This line will be your guide to make evenly spaced holes across the template. The holes in my loom are roughly spaced 1/4″ apart for a total of 17 holes. I used a small drill like a Dremel stylus to make the holes, but an awl would work just as well.

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Next position the template on top of  the bottom edge of the loom and carefully following  the holes of the template use an awl or other sharp tool to pierce corresponding holes through both the heavy cardboard and the mat board. Do the same for the top edge of the loom.

Warping the Loom

Measure a 4 1/2 yard length of strong warping yarn such as cotton carpet warp or perle cotton. With a tapestry needle, thread the yarn through the holes that you just pierced on the bottom and top edges of the loom. The front of the loom should look like this:

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The back of the loom should look like this:

back of loom

Note that the warp threads are threaded in a vertical direction only at the front of the loom. On the back of the loom, the warp threads are threaded horizontally through consecutive holes. This will prevent the mat board from curving toward the front during the weaving process. A picture frame hook can be glued to the top of the loom if desired.

Now you are ready to weave. I use thick and colorful textured yarn threaded through a wooden weaving needle. A long plastic needle with a large eye will work just as well. A strong comb or pick is used to “beat” each row of weaving.

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The classes at the assisted living center were sponsored by  Creative Aging Midsouth. Miss Eula was one of the participants in the class. Here she is with her finished weaving project. This lovely lady celebrated her 90th birthday during the course of the class!

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Theo’s Journey

This is the time of year that I usually share my excitement about new work and the upcoming holiday events where my art  will be showcased and sold. There will be a time and place for that. But with Thanksgiving and the holiday season creeping toward us, thoughts of family have been heavy on my mind.

I wanted to share this vignette of my brother Theo (pronounced Tay-oh in  Dutch). We were both baby boomers, but to me he represented a generation that knew firsthand about living in a place where he was not wanted. More so than I could ever imagine. It has been forty six years since the last time I saw Theo. But not one day has gone by since then that I have not thought about him.

He was born on an exotic tropical island while I came into the world on a bleak wintry day in Northern Europe. I was jealous that he knew our parents first and that he was a larger part of our family’s journey than I could ever be. Despite a 7 ½ year difference, we forged a bond closer than any brother and sister that we knew.

Our ancestors were Dutch and in the 1800’s, they settled in Surabaya on the island of Java which was then a colony of the Netherlands known as the Dutch East Indies. Our grandparents and great-grandparents were captains of industry who built railroads and established industrial plantations to manufacture rubber, coffee and sugar. They incorporated company towns employing the local Javanese residents, building schools, and marrying the cultures of East and West.

At the start of World War II, all the men in our family enlisted with the allied forces governed by the Dutch. The women and children remained on the islands under the strict control of Japanese occupation. Many were sent to internment camps and many never returned. Most of the men in our family who served were killed in the horrific ways of death that symbolized times of war. Our own father was held by the Japanese as a prisoner of war for two years. He along with his Australian and British cohorts was forced to march through the mountains of Burma to build the “Death Railroad” leading to the “Bridge over the River Kwai”.

The only mention our father ever made of his wartime experience was to share his memory of Lord Mountbatten, whom British Prime Minister Winston Churchill appointed Supreme Allied Commander of the Southeast Asia Theatre. The British commander addressed the newly freed POWs, of which our father was one, at the time of Japanese surrender.

For our family, freedom did not come easily with the victory of war. Days after the war ended, Indonesia declared independence from imperialism. Our family’s landholdings and businesses were all lost to the new government. Our parents and relatives struggled to reinvent their lives during this period of government reorganization. It was a time of unrest and violence for those Dutch-Indonesians who chose to remain in Java.

The years after 1945 were known as Bersiap, loosely translated as “get ready”. Indonesian revolutionaries were on a mission to eliminate everyone with Dutch-Indonesian or Eurasian heritage. Our father was frequently jailed and beaten by Indonesian militants during this time. And our family was one of the lucky ones. Many families had children or spouses who simply disappeared; while others had family members who were brutally executed in public killings.

It was in the midst of this violence that our parents married and my brother was born in 1948. Along with other Dutch-Indonesian families, they waited several years before receiving visas to leave Java under the Dutch government’s repatriation program. In the Netherlands they were Dutch citizens who shared the same language, culture and religion as the Dutch residents who were born and raised there. However, in the mid 1950’s, there was some anti-immigrant sentiment in the Netherlands and many Dutch-Indonesian families decided to leave their homeland once again, this time as refugees sponsored by various Church service organizations.

Though I was only 3 ½ years old when we arrived in the United States, my brother and I learned to survive together as strangers in a strange land. Together we supported and educated our parents, as immigrant children often do, with the ways of the new world. And as children, we adapted to and fell in love with American culture of the 1960’s. From my brother I learned to love books, the outdoors, and music. It was music that forged our close bond. I remember listening to the tinny sounds of his transistor radio and for the first time hearing the music of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.

My world came crashing down with a phone call in August of 1966. My brother was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident. He lived just a few more days before he died. He was only 18. His death was the last indignity in a series of tragic losses that our family had endured over the years. Anger and heartache swirled in our house for many years after my brother’s death. There were times that no one spoke for days on end. We all seemed to be mired in a silent fiction of what may have been different if any one of our family’s past losses had not occurred.

Over the years, our family’s grief evolved into a lingering sadness. Today, forty six years after my brother’s death, I miss him more than ever. I wonder if my children would have known a loving uncle and a kind aunt. Maybe they would have cousins – age mates with shared interests and adventures.

The answers will never be known. In writing about our family’s history and my brother’s brief life, I wanted to tell the story that my brother never could.

My brother and me when we were living in Holland

Anniversary of an Ear

Yes, you read right.  It was nearly 40 years ago, when my friend Loretta convinced me that I needed to have my ears pierced.  We were overwhelmed freshmen in college going through our first taste of final exams, and somehow Loretta knew that I needed a break. She and I trudged through inches of slushy snow to our school’s infirmary where a kind grandfatherly physician had a small potion of steaming liquid waiting for us. He took out a long shiny needle (it must have been 9″ long) and dipped it into the potion. Then he whisked out a cork from an old wine bottle and placed it behind my ear lobe. I caught his eye in a questioning gaze and I thought I saw  a gleam of merriment in his.  Torture indeed!  Well it was over before I knew it, and I left with two shiny gold studs decorating my ear lobes.

Fast forward to 2011. I think I have allergies to all the earrings I had worn over the years. My not wearing earrings has caused my  ear piercings from so long ago to close.  And this pains me because so many of my fellow artist friends design and create exquisite earrings that I long to have to adorn my ears. This is what I’m talking about.

Handpainted earrings on ostrich egg shells by Ansley Larsson

Ansley Larsson has an etsy shop here. And then there’s this.

Hand fused glass earrings and jewelry by elucido glass

Elucido Glass’s etsy site is here. And this.

Polymer Clay jewelry by Linda Livaudais

At this time, Linda Livaudais does not have an etsy shop. However, if you are in the Memphis area, Linda’s jewelry as well as elucido glass’ and Ansley Larsson’s jewelry can be purchased at WinterArts  Winter Arts is a consortium of elite Memphis artists and craftspeople who sell their work through a retail shop during the holiday season. Please come and visit us at 2055 West Street at Poplar Avenue in Germantown, TN. We are in the Shops of  Saddle Creek South next to Talbot’s. Oh, and did I mention that I will also be selling my handwoven clothing and accessories as well as my handbound books there?

Getting back to Loretta. She had an adventurous spirit that I couldn’t quite capture at 18. Loretta didn’t graduate after 4 years as I and most of our classmates did. Instead she chose to take her senior year off and work as a concert assistant to two of her professors. They were a musician couple that went on a classical concert tour of Europe the year that the rest of us were agonizing over boyfriend angst, graduate school dilemmas, job prospects. Loretta spent the year traveling through Austria, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and other exotic European destinations. I believe she even performed some of the lovely piano pieces that she had become known for in college. And then yes, she did come back to graduate college a year after the rest of us. And as far as anyone knew she spent the rest of her adult life in Austria and Italy studying music and teaching. Such adventure.

Sadly, a few years ago, I received a notice that Loretta had passed away at 51 years of age after a long illness. She and I had not kept up over the years, but I still felt a bit of heartache as I remember that cold wintry day when we both set out for a small challenge. And for Loretta, she chose to take the road less traveled, a road that seemed to have taken many twists and turns and certainly great challenges. So in celebration of Loretta’s life and in memory of the young woman who made beautiful music and didn’t seem to be afraid of anything, this is written for you. And I will get my ears pierced again.

KISS of the Weaver

For five years, I had been teaching weaving to senior citizens through Creative Aging Mid-South. The students I have worked with often express their creativity through their lifelong passions and experiences. Students’ abilities have ranged from the completely independent and self learning individuals to those with dementia who require a fair amount of assistance and guidance toward the completion of their projects.

When I work with individuals demonstrating decreased levels of cognitive functioning due to dementia, disease or other illness, I need to structure the project so that the many steps of weaving are broken down into a limited number of  tasks with a repetitive element. For instance, residents of an Alzheimer’s or dementia program will more easily remember the repeated rhythmic chants of  “under, over, under, over” than trying to remember the many steps of weaving with a frame loom such as “raise the heddle, insert the shuttle, beat, lower the heddle, insert the shuttle, beat” and so on. In fact, many of the individuals with cognitive impairments will remember the under and over motion of weaving on a potholder loom, either from their own childhoods or from teaching their children.

In previous classes  offered to dementia groups, I taught weaving on a simple frame loom, or on a cardboard loom where the finished project had to be removed in order to be displayed or worn, such as a woven pendant or necklace. This meant that the students needed to finish their projects before the piece had to be removed.  More often than not, I was the one who ended up having to finish their projects and then preparing them for display or to be worn. In this way, the art work became a piece woven by me and not by the students! And so I had to remind myself to KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID!

For my current class with a group of residents in an assisted living facility which housed an Alzheimer’s unit, I referred to this book for inspiration.

Small Loom and Free Form Weaving by Barbara Matthiessen

The book is Small Loom and Freeform Weaving: Five Ways to Weave by Barbara Matthiessen.  It is available here at Amazon.com. And specifically, I was interested in adapting this altered book project by Ms. Matthiessen and present it to the members of the Alzheimer’s group:

Altered book weaving project idea from “Small Loom and Freeform Weaving”

The author of  Small Loom and Freeform Weaving used the discarded cover of an old book as a loom to weave a non-traditional piece with open spaces in the weaving. In my own studio, I have many sheets of mat board as well as scraps of decorative paper, and so I designed my own mat board looms for the residents of the assisted living facility.

 

Mat board looms in various stages of completion

The looms were made from rectangles of mat board with a decorative frame of scrapbooking paper around the four edges. Carpet tacks were inserted at the top and the bottom of the boards and cotton carpet warp was wound around the tacks. Students used a large wooden weaving needle and bulky novelty yarns in a variety of colors and textures to weave under and over the cotton warp threads.

 

Mat board loom with a wooden weaving needle and bulky weft yarn

For some residents, I needed to begin the first row or two so that they could have a visual image of what their weaving would look like. Once they began  a rhythm of  weaving  “under, over, under, over”, the class was well underway.

 

Selection of some of the yarns students used for weaving

Students most appeared to enjoy the various textures and weights of the yarns, and the brightest and softest yarns were the most popular choices.

 

Weaving on Mat Board Looms at Table I

Weaving on Mat Board Looms at Table II

Ten students joined me in this class and will continue to meet weekly for three more weeks. Many will be able to complete their projects by the end of this time. And the mat board loom will become part of their art creation, because their weaving will not have to be removed from it in order for their work to be displayed! Whether or not they finish weaving, all will have a frame with a woven picture that they can proudly display, and know that they wove it themselves!

October Scenes

November 1st already, and I haven’t entered a post for October.  It has been a busy month. Some of the things that I have been doing this past month include teaching a weaving class at the Lewis Senior Center in Midtown Memphis, a three day art show and sale held in a private home in Germantown, a mini-reunion with a college classmate whom I haven’t seen in over ten years, a short break for R & R to the National Shrimp Festival in Orange Beach, AL, going to the season opener of the Memphis Grizzlies, and celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary.

And here are a few photos of what went on in October.

 

2010 National Shrimp Festival - Alabama Gulf Coast

View from our hotel room, Orange Beach, AL

Sea of Art and Craft Booths at the National Shrimp Festival

Some of the food offerings at the festival

Boardwalk at the National Shrimp Festival

One of the many shrimp platters we enjoyed

Surrounded by Parrot Heads

Back to work at home, weaving a bamboo scarf

Display of my handwoven scarves and purses at "Kaleidoscope" an annual art show and sale in a private home in Germantown, TN.

My college classmate, Betty visited me from the Washington, DC area and we spent a day at the Memphis Botanic Garden.

Irene, my weaving student at the Lewis Senior Center with two of her handwoven scarves woven on a rigid heddle loom.

Bertha, my weaving student at the Lewis Senior Center with her handwoven vest woven on a rigid heddle loom.

Katherine, my weaving student at the Lewis Senior Center with her handwoven scarf and purse woven on a rigid heddle loom.

10th season opener of the Memphis Grizzlies at the FedEx Forum on October 27th which coincided with the 10th anniversary of our family's move to Memphis!

 

The Bar-Kays another Memphis institution performed at halftime.

And we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary at Restaurant Iris in Memphis!

More weaving classes and more shows to come in the months ahead.  And also of course, more music, food, reunions, celebrations and winning games ahead as well. As the t-shirt says, “Life is Good”.

The Merry Weavers of Memphis

Fifteen students were registered to take the “Beginning Rigid Heddle Weaving” class I was teaching at the Lewis Senior Center of the Memphis Parks and Recreation Department. This class is funded by Creative Aging Midsouth, a non profit organization providing entertainment and arts workshops to senior citizens living in the communities of West Tennessee.  Many of the students had never woven before, but everyone completed at least one project which ranged from scarves to tote bags to mini purses to handbags made from rags or fabric strips. Students used both Beka and Schacht rigid heddle looms, and one student had her own Kromski “Fiddle”.

Students threading their warps on rigid heddle looms

Tommie weaving with fabric strips, or rags to make a handbag

Marty and Irene showing off their handwoven scarves

Dorotha and Frances wearing their scarves woven with Peaches and Cream cotton yarn

Marty's third class project on her Kromski "Fiddle"

Senorita with the two small purses and her scarf woven with peaches and cream yarn

Bea weaving fabric for mini purses

Kathryn with her cotton/linen/rayon scarf just cut off the loom

Ola was only able to attend two classes, but she managed to warp her loom, weave a scarf, and cut it off the loom

Everyone seemed to enjoy the class and they all were pleased with their finished projects.  Several decided to purchase their own looms,  and they all have requested another rigid heddle weaving class for early Spring.  It really was a pleasure to weave with these ladies!

The China Closet Syndrome

My mother had a morbid way of looking at life.  Basically she didn’t believe that life should be lived at all.  We should all be locked up in china closets she would say to spare us the pain, hurt and humiliation that life has to offer.  I guess for her the glass was always half empty.  That also explains my youthful rebelliousness which thankfully continued into my adulthood.  The rebelliousness, I mean, not necessarily the youth part.

I can’t admit to ever living in a china closet, but some of my earliest handwoven clothes did, and still seem to be in residence there.  Because the world seems to be shifting on its axis, or maybe it’s just me reaching a certain age, I decided to open the china closet and let these clothes live.  I’m past the point of being mindful of what others think of me, so I won’t mind wearing some of these handwoven creations from the 1980’s!  Only thing is, I live in a different climate now than I did thirty years ago!  Almost everything I wove then was created with wool yarn – practical if one is living where temperatures were routinely below the freezing mark!  But here in Memphis it rarely gets that cold! So, laugh if you must, but here are a few examples of my early work in weaving.

Handwoven cotton huipil, 1980

The huipil was one of the first pieces I ever wove.  A huipil (wee-peel) is a traditional Guatemalan blouse usually woven on a back strap loom.  My huipil was woven on a rigid heddle loom threaded with cotton carpet warp and the weft was a nubby cotton slub yarn.  The pattern was woven with a pick up stick.  This is actually one of the few early handwoven pieces of clothing I can still wear in Memphis.

handwoven overshot sweater, 1981

Oy, what a geek I must have been to actually have worn this!  This was woven on my first floor loom – a Harrisville 40″ wide four harness loom that I built from a kit. The warp and weft are both wool, the warp being a Harrisville Design single ply yarn, and the pattern weft was a beautiful 2 ply wool from Borg’s of Lund in Sweden.

handwoven lined wool jacket, 1981

I remember how I loved wearing this jacket!  It was woven with 2 ply Harrisville wool yarns and sett at 8 epi.  I remember walking on the finished fabric in a bathtub full of lukewarm soapy water to get it to felt the slightest bit! Since then, I’ve learned a little more about lining finished handwoven items!  I can probably still wear this today – it resembles the swing sweaters that seem to be coming back into style.

handwoven plaid cardigan, 1983

Another geeky sweater.  Woven in a twill plaid pattern with Harrisville Designs 2 ply wool.  The cuffs, collar, buttoned front and bottom of this sweater as well as the overshot sweater above were hand knit by me as well.

handwoven twill vest, 1985

I wove this for the MAFA – Mid-Atlantic Fiber Association – Conference that was held in Glassboro, NJ in 1985.  It was included in the fashion show which was presided over by Linda Ligon, the founder and creative director  of Interweave Press.

vest handwoven with handspun wool/silk, 1988

I learned to spin in 1988, and I remember splurging on this gorgeous batt of dyed burgundy wool blended with tussah silk noils.  At the time I used to visit Linda Berry Walker’s farm, Wood’s Edge Wool Farm along the Delaware River in Stockton, NJ to purchase wool and batts for spinning.  After spinning the yarn, I wove the front panels, then with an imported silk yarn, I knit the back, cuffs, front and bottom edges of the vest.  This was finished in 1988 and as far as I can remember, the last major start to finish project I tackled.  My first child was born in 1989! But today, I can probably wear the vest even in Memphis weather!  So yes, I think it’s time that these vintage handwoven clothes come out of their china closet and start living again!

As for my mother. She is 85 years old and living it up.  Apparently she emerged from her own china closet about the time I left home when I was 18!  I guess kids can do that to you.