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 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!


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!

Leno vs. Mock Leno

The weave structure ” leno” shares its name with a popular late night tv talk show host. Of course, there’s the difference in pronunciation, and the fact that woven leno (LEE-no) has been around much longer. Though in my 30 years of weaving, I’ve known few weavers who have actually woven leno.  It probably has to do with the time consuming set up on the loom.  Leno, to those who aren’t familiar with the weave, is an open, lacy weave structure that is produced from two or more warp threads that are twisted around each other. There is a very thorough article in the Winter 2008 issue of that describes the loom set up for leno by using “doups” or yarn loops to wrap around the warp threads and twist them during weaving.

Leno can also be woven on a rigid heddle loom. The leno scarf below was woven on a Schacht rigid  heddle loom.

Leno scarf woven on rigid heddle loom

Leno scarf woven on rigid heddle loom

The warp consisted of two yarns:  a smooth bamboo, Bambu 7 from Woodland Woolworks, and a nubby rayon yarn from my stash.  The weft was the rayon by itself.  I followed Rowena Hart’s instructions in The Ashford Book of Rigid Heddle Weaving to set up the rigid heddle loom for leno lace weaving.  The rigid heddle itself is not used to create the sheds, it is only used to space the warp threads and for beating.  Instead, the sheds are created by using a pick up stick behind the heddle,  and  string heddles  attached to a dowel are used for the alternating shed. The twisting together of the warp threads occur behind the rigid heddle. In this way, the weaving goes a bit slowly, but I really love the open weave and texture of the end result.

Rowena Hart's The Ashford Book of Rigid Heddle Weaving

Rowena Hart's The Ashford Book of Rigid Heddle Weaving

Now I wanted to weave a leno lace on my four harness floor loom, but I didn’t have the time nor patience to try the doup or bead leno technique to twist the warp yarns together.  I saw that in Marguerite Davison’s A Handweaver’s Pattern Book, there was such a thing called “mock leno”.  It is considered a “canvas weave” because the open weave of the fabric resembles needlepoint canvas.  The lacy effect is produced by a combination of treadling sequence and grouped warp threads alternating with empty dents in the reed.

My ancient copy of Davison's A Handweavers Pattern Book

My ancient copy of Davison's A Handweavers Pattern Book

I adapted Davison’s pattern for “Canvas Weave Spots” by grouping three warp threads in one dent in the reed, and threading them through separate heddles in harnesses 2-1-2, then 4-3-4.  There was one empty dent between each group of 3 warp threads.  The tabby structure between the leno “stripes” was threaded in harnesses 2-4.  As for treadling, I followed Davison’s short and sweet pattern of raising these harness in the following sequence:   1-4, 1-2, 1-4 then 2-3, 3-4, 2-3. Easy to remember and made for quick weaving! This is the result — still on my loom!

Mock leno woven on a 4 harness loom

Mock leno woven on a 4 harness loom

The warp here is the same bamboo as the leno scarf, and the weft is the same nubby rayon yarn used in the first scarf. The open areas of the lace are not as open as the true leno woven scarf, but they look more stable.  I also added the tabby sections, because I was afraid that the tension on leno lace stripes would be compromised and become too loose.  I’m almost done weaving this 5 yard warp, and I have had no tension problems at all. The next time I try mock leno I might weave wider leno lace stripes so that the fabric would be more similar to that of the first scarf.

The lacy effect of the mock leno, though not exactly resembling a true leno weave,  does have a comparable look.  The weaving on the 4 harness loom goes very quickly and other than the usual warping process, there is no additional set up while threading the loom.  So for a lacy open weave look, mock leno on a four harness loom is definitely a fast and effective alternative to the more traditional doup or bead leno.

The Girls in Their Summer Scarves

First off, my apologies to Irwin Shaw and Bruce Springsteen.  Shaw, a noted screenwriter, playwright and novelist is the author of the short story “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses” .  Springsteen in his acclaimed album “Magic” produced in 2007, included his lovely poem about youth and longing, “The Girls in Their Summer Clothes”.  Secondly, I’m taking poetic license with the  term “girls” in referring to women of all ages.  At my age, I feel I’ve earned the privilege to be called a “girl” again!

That being said, let’s get on with this post.  Check out this delightful slide show “On the Street/Muffled” by New York Times columnist Bill Cunningham.  In the heat of August, these images show lovely New York City women  (and one lovely man) sporting an array of elegant scarves over their tank tops, tees  and summer dresses.  Some scarves look like they might be cashmere, some silk or rayon and Cunningham describes them all as  “gossa-meer”. I imagine that’s a reference to their soft and flowing nature.  With warm weather approaching, this is the fashion statement of the hour.  Even Memphis’ own newspaper,  “The Commercial Appeal” featured a fashion article proclaiming that scarves are hot – even in hot weather.

This is excellent news for weavers!  Though I love the look of the lacy and open felted scarves that are so popular with weavers these days, they are just not appropriate for warm weather climates, and certainly not something you would want next to your skin in 90 degree heat.  In recent weeks, my students and I have been weaving open weave scarves out of cotton, rayon, and bamboo yarn.    These scarves were woven on a rigid heddle loom with a warp and weft of rayon flake yarn.

spaced warp and weft scarf on rigid heddle loom
Open weave rayon scarf

When threading the warp, one inch sections of yarn were separated by 3/4 inch sections of empty slots and holes in the rigid heddle.  When weaving, a 3/4″ wide cardboard spacer was used to separate one inch woven sections. In this scarf, spacing occurred in both the warp and the weft.

The photo of the finished scarf was taken before washing.  A gentle hand washing will allow the woven areas to slightly shift so the open areas will look softer and more delicate.  This rayon scarf will drape beautifully after washing.

warp and weft spaced scarf

warp and weft spaced scarf

A blend of 10/2 perle cotton yarns was threaded for this warp spaced scarf on a 4 harness floor loom.  Random warp threads of gold metallic yarn were placed in the warp.The warp was threaded in a point twill threading.  The weft was dyed bamboo yarn with short  pieces of gold metallic yarn placed in the shed at random intervals.  The weft spacing was determined by the insertion of a satin cord which was removed as the weaving progressed, then inserted into the next “spaced” section. The satin cord used as a spacing device in the weft was recommended in Sharon Alderman’s Book,  A Handweaver’s  Notebook.

Sharon Alderman's "A Handweavers Notebook"

Sharon Alderman's "A Handweaver's Notebook"

I also cut a paper template and used it as a measuring device to be sure that each woven section was equal in length.  Because of the twill threading, I needed to add floating selvages and while weaving, I inserted my shuttle over the floating selvage when entering the shed, and exited under the floating selvage in each row.

floating selvages

floating selvages

To weave a twill without a floating selvage, this is what you will need to remember:  when facing the loom, and this is assuming you have a 4 harness loom, thread the left selvage thread of your warp on an even numbered harness (2 or 4), and thread the right selvage thread of your warp on an odd numbered harness (1 or 3).  Then start weaving by throwing the shuttle from right to left.  But I have discovered that this only works if you are treadling a straight twill.  It does not work for a reverse twill treadling.  So, you’ll probably have to deal with a floating selvage after all.  But when using a floating selvage  all you have to remember is enter over and exit under.  Just a few details to keep in mind!

When these warp and weft spaced scarves are washed and finished with neatly twisted fringes, they will feel soft and silky and give a girl just the right look for a summer scarf.

They call me Ragmamarag

If you’re on, then you know me as ragmamarag.  Beside the fact that I am a child of the 60’s and I still listen to Robbie Robertson and The Band, I also weave with rags.   Mostly I use new fabric, and with my rotary cutter and cutting mat, I cut narrow strips about 1/2″ wide.  With a warp of  5/2 perle cotton sett at 18 epi I weave one shot of fabric strip and then a shot of 5/2 perle cotton in a plain weave pattern.   The alternating shot of 5/2 perle cotton isn’t necessary, it’s a design element that I tend to fancy because to me this additional row makes the weave pattern look more consistent, especially if you are using a busy fabric.  In fact, I like to use fabric that has a lot of colors and shapes.  Once the fabric is cut and compressed within the body of the weaving, the original image of the fabric resembles  Pointillism, the Neo Impressionist painting technique where small distinct points of colors  appear to be blended together.

Fabric salvaged from garbage

Fabric salvaged from garbage

Handwoven sample made from strips cut from fabric at left

Handwoven sample made from strips cut from fabric at left

The fabric to the left  is a  colorful cotton fabric printed in Japan.   I discovered it at an assisted living facility where I was teaching a weaving class.  The fabric was slated to be thrown out as its owner was no longer able to sew.  I happily became its new owner!  The woven sample in the photo on the right  demonstrates the “pointillism” effect of this beautiful fabric.  The way the narrow strips of fabric are compressed into the weaving along with the alternating rows of 5/2 perle cotton radically changes the  original pattern of the fabric.  My thanks to Molly my student intern from Memphis College of Art. This was the first warp that Molly put on the 4-harness loom and the first sample that she wove on it.

Molly’s warp was long enough so I could weave additional fabric.  Once the handwoven fabric was finished I sewed them into purses.  Each purse has a textured ceramic button  with a decorative embellishment of some  glass beads that were yard sale finds.

Rag purses handwoven with fabric strips

Rag purses handwoven with fabric strips

Some years ago, I had written an article for Handwoven magazine  describing how to weave and construct this type of rag purse.   There have been many other contributors to the magazine as well  who have written about  variations on this bag, and Interweave Press  offers some  free pattens of rag purses  in their “Bag of the Month” feature.  This is a great resource for weavers of all levels.

The above purses will be sold in my booth, MemphisWeaver, at the upcoming Celebration of Fine Craft featuring artists from Memphis Association of Craft Artists (MACA).  The fair  will  be held at Christian Brothers University on April 17, 18, and 19.  Since the purses came from fabric and beads that were destined for the landfill, they will be sold under my “Rethreads” label which includes handwoven items made from recycled (or upcycled) material.

Rethreads labels

Rethreads labels

I have another warp on the loom now and hope to use up the rest of these fabric strips and plan to make more “rag bags”.  I like to mix and match colors and patterns to really make a funky finished product.  Each bag is pretty unique, and they look nothing like your  grandmother’s rag rugs!

Basket of fabric strips

Basket of fabric strips

Weavers Need to Eat Too!

I’m going to take a detour from my usual posts about weaving, fiber and book arts.  There’s a restaurant in the Memphis area that makes me feel like I’ve been transported into Chinatown of a city like New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia or Boston.  I’ve eaten in Chinese restaurants in those cities, and New Asia in Exeter Village Center at Exeter and Poplar in Germantown  feels like it belongs in one of those cities.  But  it belongs here in the Memphis area and it certainly looks like it’s here to stay.  We’ve eaten there many times in the last few months.  The restaurant is one huge room with several large tables, bright lights and lots of noise.  The wait staff welcomes everyone with friendly smiles and quick and efficient service.

What you will need to know to make you feel like you’ve been transported into Chinatown is that there are two menus to choose from.  The red menu is the one to go with — this is the “authentic” Chinese cuisine menu.  The other menu, the green one is for Cantonese and Szechuan cuisine.  The green menu has many  lovely offerings, but is not very different from menus of other top notch Asian restuarants in Memphis, eg. Mosa and Asian Grill. The authentic menu includes more traditional Asian food offerings without any “Americanization”.  They are unusual, richly flavored, and have a characteristic feel of Asian “comfort food”.  It’s really hard to explain other than that the food is wonderfully delicious.

Seafood hot and sour soup

Seafood hot and sour soup

To begin with, the seafood hot and sour soup is an adventure for those who love to experience texture.  (Keep in mind this is a weaver talking!) Not too spicy and not to sweet, your taste buds will be surprised by the velvety texture of tofu and shrimp, then followed by the crunchiness of a bit of octopus or squid, all of which are generously ladled in the soup.  Another soup that has a more overall velvety texture is the crab meat with cream corn soup.  This is  more subtle than the hot and sour but still has a great deal of character.

There are few places in Memphis where you can find fresh and well prepared seafood.  New Asia is one of them.  The chef’s special –the whole braised cod in spicy tomato sauce is excellent.

Whole braised cod in spicy tomato sauce

Whole braised cod in spicy tomato sauce

It is beautifully presented, the meat comes off of the bones cleanly and the tomato sauce adds a smooth and sweetly powerful flavor to an otherwise tasteless fish.  The fish itself is huge — plenty for two with enough to take home in your “doggie” bag.

Other highly recommended seafood dishes are the Hot Braised Filet of Sole (served in a sauce similar to the tomato sauce of the braised cod) and the Scallops with Black Bean Sauce. Ordinarily black bean sauce may leave a strange aftertaste, but this sauce is prepared in such a way that you’ll be smacking your lips for more!

Scallops with black bean sauce

Scallops with black bean sauce

Sizzling dishes are always fun to order at Asian restaurants, and New Asia aims to please in this department.  My favorite is the Sizzling Chicken with Black Pepper.  It has a strong pepper flavor complemented by such  tender chicken pieces that they melt in your mouth like “buttah”.  The Sizzling Beef with Satay Sauce surprised me, in that the “satay” sauce was not what I expected.   I was looking for the more traditional satay sauce of Indonesian and Thai origin.  The satay sauce at New Asia was more like a mild black bean sauce — still tasty nonetheless.

Sizzling beef with satay sauce

Sizzling beef with satay sauce

The sizzling dishes are beautifully presented on a hot skillet with a wooden board.

As far as vegetables, pea plant with garlic seems to be a staple of authentic cuisine.  It is steamed with whole cloves of garlic and is similar to escarole with a major kick.  The fragrant eggplant is another crowd pleaser.  Not at all bitter or tough, the strips of eggplant are prepared in a mild pepper sauce with slices of chile pepper.  For the less adventurous, the green menu for Cantonese and Szechuan Cuisine has a milder version of this dish.

The atmosphere of  New Asia is a definite down home type of experience.  Many of the large round tables are filled with families, and groups of people both young and old.  It seems that it is a favorite of  Asian families.  To have an experience like New Asia here in the Memphis area is truly special.  If you don’t have a chance to visit the restaurants of Chinatown in a major U.S. city, then take a short trip down Poplar, you’ll find the same experience there.