I Just LOVE Teaching Weaving

27 08 2009

There has been a discussion on a weaving group I belong to about weaving becoming one of those skills that folks only see in a historic context which gives the false impression that it’s an archaic skill just when it’s anything but archaic?

Why is handweaving not archaic? Because there’s so much weaving that commercial weaving mills just don’t do. Just as an example, right now, I’m doing shadow weave. You’ll never see a mill doing shadow weave for the same reasons you won’t see a mill doing any number of other really cool weaving patterns.

One reason is that the threading for shadow weave is not that versatile. Mills like versatile threadings because a versatile threading means you can made a bunch of yards of one type of fabric and then a bunch of yards of another type of fabric without rethreading.

Another reason is that the potential for making mistakes in the setting up of the loom and in weaving the fabric is more than for simpler weaves. Mistakes cost mills money. Why not just avoid the potential for them as much as possible.

It all comes down to money, of course. For a mill, the balance between the labor costs of making certain kinds of woven fabric and the potential profit from them just doesn’t balance, particularly in these days of really cheap textiles.

Therefore, learning weaving opens a person’s access to all kinds of fabrics that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise (aside from buying the work of handweavers like me, which I very much encourage.)

I just love it when my students light up. When suddenly, in their minds, they’ve grasped just what the loom does and how it does it, and they can “see”  all the different possibilities they have just gained access to, all the unique and unusual things they can make at such a low cost and have the pleasure of saying “Thanks, I made it myself!” 

Now, I’m not saying that I wouldn’t be glad to do a demonstration of weaving in a historic context. Historical fiber facts stick to me like burrs, friendly burrs that I feel proud to carry and display. (Did you know the last cotton spinnery in the UK closed 8 years ago?) (Could you identify the dye plant alkanet that grows as a weed in the UK and  yield everything from green to purple depending on the conditions?) Someone suggested just yesterday that there might be a demand for me to give lectures on the textile history of the UK, which made me laugh as an American who has only been here 4 years, but gathering the amount of info I feel I would need to not feel like a fraud doing that would be downright fun!

So, go ahead, ask me to teach you weaving. Ask me to give a lecture on the textile history of the UK, on the textile history of the US even. Go ahead! I’ll be weaving the latest shadow weave scarf. (I have a feeling there will be a bunch of them.)


My Business Model is Evolving

19 08 2009

Oh I still have every intention of reviving Norwich’s textile industry in a hi-tech cottage textile industry kind of way. My vision of what I’m building up to never changes, but my ideas of how I might get there, and my ideas of what I’m going to be doing with my time to bring in a living seem to be evolving in front of my eyes.

I’m not really surprised. One problem I’ve always had was with market research. Basically, the only way to know which of the things you want to offer people will actually spend money on is to put your offers out there and see what happens.

So far, I’ve found out that there’s apparently not much demand for bespoke interior textiles locally. At least I haven’t been able to locate it. Nor was there much demand for my handmade goods from the people who came into the Textile Centre, though at least one other person in the Centre seemed to be doing pretty well.

But I’m getting weaving students. And weaving and teaching weaving are probably the things I like doing the best of all the things I know how to do. Sometimes, the world decides to cooperate with you.

Considering the state of the UK’s textile industry, it would seem that setting myself the task of reviving it would be an unlikely career plan. But slow but surely, it just might be working.

So I’m not saying I’d turn down a commission of some sort. I’m just saying it begins to look like I’ll be doing a good deal of teaching (which pleases me mightily since I highly value all these handskills I have and it would be a pity not to pass them on) and some making of the really fine things I want to make (I’ve got a shadow-weave chenille scarf on the loom just now.) and about ten other ideas for how I might be able to bring in a little cash from one way or another.

And, recently, I’m really enjoying my life.

(All the sunshine we’ve had this summer has something to do with it. I make sure I get my hour in the sun every day there’s enough sun and heat for that. But the other things I’m doing have a lot to do with it too.)

My Personal Dress Aesthetic

4 08 2009

In thinking about establishing a clothing company, advice from someone who almost certainly knows (Kathleen Fasanella, author of  the Fashion Incubator blog and The Entrepreneurs Guide to Sewn Product Manufacture) is to first determine who you would hang with, that is, which clothing line appeals to the same person who would buy yours.

I wonder if there is another line with the same aesthetic I would have. (Don’t know whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.) Like most, I would like to make clothes for my type of person. That type of person is a 50+ woman who is militant about never accepting being irrelevant. We appreciate the traditional skills.

I thought about my favorite outfits. Every piece includes expressions of  those “archaic” skills.

My favorite summer tops are either handwoven or handknit or hand crocheted, any decoration provided by weave techniques and textured knit or crochet stitches.

The bottoms, aside from blue jeans, which I don’t plan to attempt, (I have no idea how many different designs of blue jeans I would have to provide in order for most 50+ women to find some that would flatter them.) are woven fabric with any decoration provided by hand embroidery (I am really not fond of machine embroidery. Somehow it always looks cheap to me.) some form of fabric manipulation or some form of fabric painting or dyeing (including screen printing).

My woman hates boring clothing and considers a large part of what is offered in women’s sizes boring. I have this pair of pants (trousers for those of you in the UK) that are made up of patches of bright African, South American, and South Pacific fabrics. The patches are about 5 inches square. Hardly a day passes when someone doesn’t tell me they like those pants. Those pants make me feel like myself, quirky, maybe a bit excentric (I earned my excentricity), interesting. And my customer will be the woman who would like to find a pair of pants like those for herself, and who would have the nerve to wear them as often as she likes.

So I ask you, who do I hang with? Chico’s maybe?

Bringing the Textile Business Back to Norwich

19 07 2009

I have set myself a very large task, and I’m not sure I’m up to the job, but I’m going to give it one heck of a try. Norwich graduates textile students from at least three different schools every year. This means that the skills for a textile-based business are here, just as they were in the 1500’s when Norwich’s textile industries were going strong.

There are sheep being raised all over Norfolk, and the wool can be gotten for free aside from paying for the sheering.Otherwise, it is being burnt. True, by now, these sheep are not bred for the quality of their wool. I’m told that this makes a huge difference. But there is certainly no reason why sheep could not t be raised for fiber in the county, aside from it not being a profitable business. And why not?

Yes, back in the day, the textile industry was a back-breaking industry not known for being a good place of employment. But is there any reason that must be? There are new technologies such as computer controlled dobby looms that make it possible to weave all kinds of patterned fabric quite easily as a cottage industry. There are also new technologies for many of the other textile arts, everything from knitting to embroidery. Why aren’t we buying our clothing made to measure from local makers? Why are we settling for Pri-Mark with all the associated moral weight of abused workers in the far east?

Not that I have any of this high tech equipment. Like the song says, “I’m stuck like a dope with a thing called hope, and I can’t get it out of my mind!” I just know that everything needed is here, and with a little organization and pulling together, it should be possible to identify textile products that can be made profitably in Norwich.

Am I crazy? Am I tilting at windmills? After all, they are available in the area for tilting with, but I think I’ll need a rather tall horse. Where does one go for a grant to start up something like this? Who do I present my vision to? I’ve got all the BizFizz ideas to push me along, and in fact, this post amounts to a first draft of a press release. Would you read the story?