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  • Emelie Weber

If weaving was just about money for me, I would have called it quits a long time ago. This year has been devastating for so many people. I decided to pursue art full-time in November of 2019, just months before the world fell apart. I should probably get at least a part-time job for my own financial peace of mind. There are days that are great and I can exude confidence. There are also days that I'm worried about the future, like a lot of people I know. Weaving is work for me, but there is so much more to it that propels me to keep moving forward.

I stumbled across an article written in 1941 by Mary Meigs Atwater, an influential weaver and one of my biggest weaving heroes. She was calling out Anni Albers' article from a previous issue of 'Weaver,' in which Albers stated the main three reasons for handweaving: to make samples for industrial weaving, a vague educational value, and to make money. At first glance, I felt a wave of defensiveness. I was looking at her recipe book sitting on the window sill, thinking, "she made money weaving, too!" But, she was absolutely correct in her assessment. Yes, money is important if you're selling your work, but there's more to it than making sales. It's definitely not easy work and there's a reason you've never seen a get-rich-quick weaving ad on Facebook. (You know what I'm talking about -- I'm going to share with YOU my quick-guide secret of making 6-figures playing with yarn and bruising your legs!)

Mary Meigs Atwater seated at a floor loom, holding a large shuttle.
Mary M. Atwater (b.1878, d. 1956)

Atwater said, "...some people weave in order to sell their work and make money. This, of course, is true. It is pleasant, and sometimes necessary, to make money... this [is] a minor reason for engaging in handweaving. I have an idea that if making money is the main object, most people would make more money, with less hard work, at some occupation other than handweaving. I am very certain I should... essentially we weave because we like to do it... we like to throw the shuttle; we like to beat the batten; we enjoy combining colors and textures... to make a brave new fabric that will be a pleasure to the eye and that will serve a practical need... Doing these things give us the pleasure of creating -- the artist's pleasure, the craftsman's pleasure."

This resonated with me in a big way. When I decided I wanted to take weaving beyond a hobby in my studio apartment kitchen, I was working full time in a stock transfer agency call center. I was making more money than I ever have in my life, but I was just existing. The job was easy, despite the mounting anxiety and depression that comes with sitting in a cubicle for 8 hours a day. I fought with panic attacks between phone calls and weaved through the late nights when I was too worried about what the next day would bring to sleep. I pondered a lot about growth, as an artist and a human, and found peace in the moonlight gracing my loom. Lunadendron is a flower that grows by the light of the moon.

Double woven fabric on the loom in with a warm gradient block pattern on black.
Handwoven in 2016, in the kitchen of my studio apartment in Old Louisville

If it was just money I was after, I wouldn't be weaving for work. As Atwater said, I could work at a call center with a steady check and the financial security to binge on lone lunch dates at upscale sushi restaurants. Global pandemics certainly make that life more appealing, since beautiful handwoven scarves aren't exactly essential. Despite the hardships that have been presented to nearly everyone in 2020, I'm not going to stop weaving. It's my passion and I truly believe it is what I was meant to do with my life. It's my bird dog trait and I would be doing a disservice to myself, and the weavers who came before me, to throw in the towel (textile pun intended).

Yes, I weave for money, but there's so much more to it than seeing I made a sale and knowing I can buy groceries or pay bills. Weaving is a process I truly enjoy and I'm proud to carry on a long, and often forgotten, tradition of pattern weaving on a floor loom. Even better than the pleasure of the process is being able to provide a piece of art that will be cherished for years to come.

This holiday season, challenge yourself to buy more from artists and craftspeople, and less from big box retail and e-commerce stores. When you shop handmade, you feed bellies and you feed souls. Even just a card from a local artist can warm your favorite maker with a hot cup of coffee and the comfort of knowing they are seen and supported. These are the people taking big risks to persist in putting beautiful things in the world, which becomes more necessary every day as the world seems shrouded in darkness.

To all the creators, makers, and shakers out there: thank you. Thank you for putting yourself out there and showing the world what brings you joy. Your leap of faith may just be what another creative soul needs to see to find the confidence to follow their own path. Keep making, keep sharing, and keep talking, no matter how hard it gets.

A modern weaver working at a floor loom, ready to throw the shuttle.
Me, weaving in my art studio in downtown Frankfort in 2020. Pursue your passions and keep moving forward.

Read "It's pretty -- but is it art?" by Mary Meigs Atwater here.

  • Emelie Weber

Hello! My name is Emelie. I'm a weaver in Kentucky specializing in wearable art made with natural materials. Weaving on a floor loom is a long process with a deep and winding history in the bluegrass state. I'm proud to have the opportunity to carry on this incredible tradition of using a loom to produce beautiful fabric to be enjoyed for many years. Setting up the loom to weave requires a lot of time and knowledge about loom mechanics and woven structure. It typically takes 6-10 hours of loom set up before I can start the fun part of throwing the shuttle and actually weaving fabric. There are ten essential steps to weaving fabric on a floor loom.

Step one: Materials

I only use natural materials in my handwoven goods. My favorite fibers are Tencel, hemp, organic cotton, linen, alpaca and handspun wools. I never use synthetic fibers, like polyester or nylon. Our products are made to last, but they're also biodegradable!

I choose my colors based on what I think will create a striking color pattern in the woven fabric. I tend to use a lot of earthy oranges and cool blues because I look to nature for inspiration.

Step two: Pattern Design

After I've chosen the fibers and colors I plan to weave with, I start designing a pattern and planning set up. It's important to go into the loom set up with a solid plan of action. The pattern shows which shafts need to be threaded, how the treadles are tied to the shafts and the order the treadles should be pressed to achieve a specific weaving structure.

I like to sketch out a general idea on paper, then plot out the pattern using an app on my phone. I often use a combination of traditional twill structures in my handwoven goods. At this point, I also decide the number of threads per inch and the width of the warp. I typically weave at 15 threads per inch and the width varies depending on what I plan to make with the finished fabric. I typically wind a warp 15-30" wide, but my loom can weave fabric up to 36" wide.

Step three: Winding the warp

I use a warping reel to measure out several yards of threads from cones. I tie the end of a thread to a peg, wind it over and under two more pegs, and rotate the reel while keep tension on the thread. The reel is rotated until I reach a peg on the top of the reel, and I wind in a downward motion. A consistent tension helps reduce loom waste, which we'll talk about later.

The over and under action on the pegs is a very important step. It's called the cross and it keeps my threads in order so they don't tangle winding on the loom.

This part of the process typically takes an hour or two, depending on the number of color changes and how wide the warp is. The reel can comfortably wind 10 yards of warp and can get moving pretty quickly.

After I've wound the number of threads I need to reach a certain width, the warp has to come off the reel. I tie a series of knots to secure my cross and keep the threads tight at one yard intervals. I pull the warp off the top of the reel, and as I wind the reel the opposite way, I grab the warp with the same hand and pull it through the loop. It's called a chain and it's just like giant crochet. It helps keep the threads neat and orderly. I nicely chained warp is shorter and much easier to work with than an unchained warp.

Step four: Sleying the reed

Looms can be dressed front to back or back to front. I dress my loom from front to back. I personally find it easier and faster to use this method with the type of loom I weave on. I start dressing the loom by sleying the reed on the beater bar. The reed helps keep my threads an even distance apart. I typically weave at 15 ends per inch, so my reed has 15 slots in every inch. I suspend my beaters bar with a few scraps threads so it doesn't move around on me too much while I'm sleying the reed.

I use two lease sticks to secure the cross I made while I was winding the warp. The sticks are also suspended and tied to the loom, which makes it easier to grab the threads in the order they were wound.This is part of why the warp threads don't really get tangled. I find the middle of my threads and pull each individual thread through a slot on the reed with a special tool. This part of the process takes 1-2 hours.

Step five: Threading the heddles

After the reed is sleyed, I have to thread each heddle. The heddles are attached to harnesses. The harnesses are what raise and lower when I press my feet on the treadles. Sound good?

I have eight harnesses on my loom. The more harnesses you have, the more complex patterns you can set up. On my loom, if I want to thread for a straight twill structure, I pull the first thread through the heddle on harness one, the second through harness two, the third through harness three, all the way up to eight and repeat.

Each thread has to be going through a heddle in order to be raised. This part of the process is very tedious and requires a lot of focus and patience. The threading pattern has to be 100% correct to capture the full beauty of the woven design. Threading errors stand out and can cause structural issues within the fabric itself. I double check my threading every inch so I don't lose time rethreading errors.

Step six: Winding on

After the heddles are threaded, I tie the threads in groups and attach them to the back beam. I hold onto my warp with one hand to give it tension and use my other hand to wind the back beam, all while pressing on a break when I want the beam to roll. I know, it sounds crazy, and it kind of is. I can only describe it as weaving yoga. If I'm lucky I can rope someone else into winding the back beam while I hold onto the warp. Even tension is important in this step. I hold the yarns as consistently as possible and wind a layer of paper in each rotation of the back beam to keep the layers of warp threads separate. This helps prevent threads from overlapping and stretching out or breaking. Uneven tension in the warp can cause fabric that is loose in some areas, and tight in others. It also makes it more likely for threads to snap, which take time to mend.

Step 7: Final prep

It's almost time to weave! Almost! After the warp is winded on the loom, the threads are tied in groups to a bar attached to the cloth beam. I begin weaving with scrap material to bring the threads together.

At this time, I also tie my treadles to the harnesses and make sure my pattern is correct. I weave an inch or two with a contrasting color, then carefully look to make sure no threads are out of place. It's easier and less time consuming to fix threading errors before the actual weaving begins. After putting in 6-10 hours of work, it's important to me that the pattern reads the way I intended it to. Errors like crossed threads can also cause tension issues and broken threads.

Step 8: Weave!

After many long hours of set up, we're ready to weave! This part of the process is truly enjoyable and can be a very meditative art form. I use my feet to press on the treadles, which raise the harnesses. A group of threads is raised, and I throw a boat shuttle through the opening in the threads. I bring the beater bar to the fell line to beat the yarn into the fabric. While my beater bar is touching the fabric, I press on the next treadle in my pattern sequence and a new set of threads is raised. This helps lock the thread into the woven fabric. I repeat this process in a sequential order thousands of times, until there is no warp left to weave.

How long the actual weaving takes depends on the length of the warp, the number of color changes and how complicated the pattern is. The thickness of the yarn also makes a big difference. Chunky, thick yarn weaves up much faster than a very delicate silk thread.

Operating a loom is a lot like riding a bike. There are a lot of moving parts and it takes a bit of learned coordination to keep it weaving smoothly and efficiently. It can take a while to get used to it, but once you have the mechanics down it becomes muscle memory. Once I get into a rhythm on my loom, it can get moving pretty quickly. I weave an average of 30" an hour. I can go faster, but mindfulness is an important aspect of my process and pushing through too quickly can lead to broken threads and treadling errors. I do my best to avoid these types of errors, because it takes much longer to fix them than it would to just weave at a reasonable pace.

Step nine: Cutting off and finishing

When the weaving is done, the fabric is cut off the loom for finishing. It's not as scary as it looks, I promise! Once the fabric is off the loom, I mend any broken threads, then I sew each end and give it a wash. I wash my fabric in a washing machine with a free & clear detergent, like Seventh Generation or a comparable alternative. I then let the fabric air dry and start prepping for sewing the final products.

Step ten: Final product

After the handwoven fabric is dried, it's ironed and cut to length for the end product. I use a heavy duty sewing machine to sew all my products, so they're durable and will last for generations to come.

Our Aviator Scarves are the only exception, as they are not sewn at all. I hand twist or hand knot the fringe for those. Once I'm satisfied, the product is washed, dried and ironed again. I want any surprises to happen to me, and not the person wearing the product.

While our handwoven goods will survive in a washer or dryer, I recommend washing by hand in cool water and hanging to dry. It's better for the environment and will help the longevity of the handwoven fabric. If you do have to use a commercial machine to wash our products, try to avoid washing with anything that has zippers, buttons or hooks that can snag the fabric and pull threads.

Weaving is a very time consuming process and requires a lot of patience, but it's an art form I am truly passionate about. While it may seem like an overwhelming process, having to pay attention to so many different factors at once provides me with a strange sense of calm. Every warp comes with its own challenges and an opportunity to grow as an artist, weaver, designer and human. The end result of many hours of problem solving, patience and gratitude for this amazing craft is beautiful, wearable art made to last a lifetime. I hope you enjoy your handwoven Lunadendron wares as much as I enjoyed weaving them!

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