Four-Shaft Weaving with Laura Fry
This past week, I spent with Laura Fry at her studio in British Columbia, weaving and learning. She and her husband Doug generously hosted me and Kai and we had an absolute blast. (Yes, I got to bring Kai with me on my weaving adventure. He and Doug did fun things during the day while Laura and I wove. How cool is that?)
The things I learned were subtle. Small refinements like: wear thin slippers while weaving to protect your feet from strain, how to wind weft onto a bobbin without leaving a tail you’ll have to cut off later, etc. No single lesson was life-changing; but there were so many little tweaks and improvements, that overall my weaving has taken a leap forward.
One of the most surprising things I learned this past week, was just how satisfying and lovely four-shaft projects can be. In my race to learn all that I can about weaving, I quickly jumped from four shafts, to eight shafts, to sixteen shafts.
So I was a bit disappointed when the first loom Laura sat me down to weave was on a four-shaft LeClerc Fanny counterbalance loom. I’d heard that counterbalance looms were limited to balanced weave structures only, and the pulleys on top looked terribly antiquated and old-school. Laura is known for her wicked-fast weaving on an electronic 16-shaft loom. Why the heck was she starting me with this?
But once I sat down and started weaving (and after the awkwardness of the new finesse Laura added to my weaving motions wore off) I fell in love with four-shaft weaving all over again. The Fanny performed flawlessly, with big sheds and solid and easily adjustable tension. I—a confirmed computer-assisted loom enthusiast—enjoyed the mental exercise of teaching my feet new treadling patterns for each tea towel. By the end of the week, I was day dreaming about whether I had room for a counterbalance loom anywhere in my house. (Verdict: I don’t.)
Kai was with me, and I had a WeaveZine deadline to hit, so I wasn’t able to get to all the various projects Laura had planned. But perhaps that was meant to be. Perhaps I needed to learn that four-shaft weaving was just as lovely and wonderful as it had been when I first started to weave. That even if you can weave more complicated things, you don’t have to. That even simple structures can be satisfying and fulfilling. I’d known that about plain weave and rigid-heddle weaving, why hadn’t I realized it about four-shaft weaving?
Other lessons learned
- The loom is a tool. If it’s not working perfectly, change it. (Doug is a wonderful loom mechanic and showed me many of his inventions and enhancements to Laura’s textile gear.)
- Industry pirn winders are very cool. Imagine loading a bunch of pirns into a cartridge and coming back a while later to find them all perfectly wound. Wowsa.
- British Columbia is a stunningly beautiful province to drive through.
- Kai is a superb car traveler. Fifteen hours in one go with no whining. Few adults could rival that. We listened to The Hobbit audiobook (twice) which helped.
- Weavers, spinners and felters in B.C. are friendly and serve up a killer potluck.
- Tim Hortons is really as good as Canadians say.
- Many little weaving and warping efficiencies, right down to “hold your hand this way, not that, it’s more comfortable and faster.” The kind of coaching you just can’t get from a book or video. Having a live teacher really makes a difference.
And it wasn’t all four-shaft weaving. Laura did let me have a go on the big loom, in all its air-assist, four-fly shuttle, glory.
I’d forgotten that I was wearing my oh-so-lovely big yellow hearing protection when she snapped the photo. But it’s a great opportunity to talk about the importance of protecting your hearing on a noisy loom. Flyshuttles are noisy, so is the air assist on Laura’s loom. Hearing protection, especially one with a high-impact filter, is the smart thing to do. This headset has a built-in MP3 player, so I can even listen to tunes and podcasts while I weave.
A wonderful week, indeed. Getting to spend time with Laura and Doug was every bit as fun as learning to weave.
I came home all fired up about weaving and have already woven off one warp, and beamed on a second. For me, it’s as much about the peace and meditation of weaving as it is about creating textiles.
The biggest lesson I got from Laura and the hours I spent in her studio: I’m a better, happier, less stressed person when I weave.