Tammy, you are known as a fiber artist and weaver primarily working with the rigid heddle loom. Can you tell us about weaving as a form of fiber art, how you were drawn to it, and what its appeal is for you?
Weaving is the foundation of fiber arts. I've read that evidence of interlacing thread on thread can be traced as far back as the Paleolithic era, 27,000 years ago. It surged as an art form in our time, from the 1950s onward, finding its way from a functional to an aesthetic purpose.
For those sensitive to fiber then, I think there is a primal call to express ourselves with this medium. As a knitter from age five onward, I can't remember a time when a skein of yarn didn't excite me. As a painter and a weaver, working with fibers allows me to respond to the materials differently than painting does. Weaving is another way of getting your hands dirty with yarn – it's a unique form of therapy.
One of my favorite (true) stories of "fiber therapy" was of a young man who bought eight knitting needle sets from his local yarn shop. When the shop owner asked what he needed eight sets for, he answered, "I'm buying them for my study group. We found that when one person reads the material, and the others knit, we get better scores on our tests!" As fiber passes through our hands in repetition, it quiets the everyday buzz in the back of our minds for multiple benefits.
So, it is the process that lured me in. I was a floor loom weaver in my art school days. As a wholesale yarn representative many years later, I saw a rising demand for the portability, accessibility, and quick results of the little loom. I devoured everything I could find to learn the rigid heddle from multiple perspectives, then developed some quirky little tricks of my own and taught 100's of new weavers from there. I taught in yarn shops throughout five states of the eastern time zone where I could see, close-up, what my new weavers struggled with and what they wanted. I never thought I would be writing patterns – writing books was just a joke I started. I would have to say that my students dragged me into this, and my network of loyal weavers internationally is what drives me onward.
With book three, I wanted to change course a bit. I am known, since book one, as the designer who takes rigid heddle weaving beyond the traditional path to a more contemporary approach. My readers write me to say that they didn't realize that their simple weaving tool has so much potential. I wanted to continue that, but with a twist. I felt my weavers deserved inspiration to go further "beyond the rectangle," as my tag line implies.
Additionally, I wanted to pack more of what I value into this more expansive work – more creativity from diverse sources, more connection to our community, and more concern for our planet's future. So I researched and reached out to the eight national and international artists whose amazingly generous and inspiring response is the cornerstone of this book.
One of the strengths of this book, in addition to gorgeous illustrations and instructional material, are the interviews with several artists working in this medium. What did you hope to achieve by giving these different artists' perspectives?
The celebrity interview format to encourage new ideas has been available to most other seekers - authors, painters, sports lovers, and so on. I found a hole in what was available to inspire my weavers similarly.
I did not know at the onset, however, how much the genius of the artists interviewed would change my own direction. I feel like the patterns in this book are some of my best work because the pieces had to be worthy of the artist who inspired them.
My end game here was to light a little firecracker under my readers to get going, keep going, and try something new – something outside their comfort zone with more of their own genius involved. The response from my early readers has been overwhelming with all of the new ideas they are generating. In that sense, mission accomplished. I also hope to inspire weavers to think hard about their materials - what we are contributing to the planet and the community. Weaving uses a lot of yarn with a certain amount of waste. It's tempting to fall for synthetics due to the cost. Finally, we are beginning to understand the cost to our environment when we use these petroleum products, and we are finding affordable answers to that.
You have devoted considerable space to instructional material, including diagrams, charts patterns, and techniques. Do you see yourself as much a teacher as an artist?
Well, my undergraduate degree is in Art Education. For mere survival, I spent decades in business instead. I feel like I've returned to my roots now. I didn't think I wanted to teach back then. I wanted to paint, so my graduate work was in fine arts, painting. My students seem to respond favorably to my teaching style. So apparently, that remains my calling, and I find that gratifying. I do want to build in some painting time, though.
I really loved all the great quotes that are tucked away in the text. Do you have a favorite?
My favorite is from Sophia Loren: "There is a fountain of youth; it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to life, to the lives of the people you love."
To me, this summarizes our reason for being. If I am remembered only for that, I am satisfied.
The chapter on Move Forward-Give Back is especially inspiring. Tell us about that, and in particular, the Linus Project.
As we feed our creativity, we generate a lot of stuff – stuff full of love, as I like to think of it. The process is a big part of the reward, and we can add to that reward by helping others in need.
I joined a knitting group here in Tucson that used to meet before the pandemic slowed us down. A chance to have a cup of coffee with other handcrafters feeds the soul. The group's organizer, Bev, is also the local coordinator for Project Linus. This national organization exists to donate handmade blankets of various sizes to comfort children in need.
I started by knitting a few blankets and sewing together a quilt. Then I realized that I didn't see anything about weavers in the requests. I thought this would be a perfect project for us. The challenge was to find fibers that would be soft, washable, natural, and affordable for weavers with a budget. I was excited to find some low-cost bamboo and lyocell yarns that work beautifully for my patterns.
First, we must acknowledge that almost everything we do has an environmental impact. The other day I read that even a little text from our phones has a discernible cost to the eco-system. Each step toward a zero-carbon effect, while not perfect, is progress in giving this planet a longer life, not only for future generations but for the remainder of our lives as we see global warming effects in real-time.
Acrylic, nylon, and polyester have a considerable presence in the fiber world. These are plastics manufactured from petroleum that gained status in our mothers’ generation for their low cost, softness, and washability. We now know that they break down in the wash and in landfills and find their way into our bodies to destroy our health. As I say in the book, "Do we really want to wrap a baby in a petroleum product in the first place?"
Opting for natural fibers like cotton and wool appears to be a step forward. Still, the former is associated with excess water usage, toxic fertilizers, and pesticides, and the latter with methane contamination, animal cruelty, and poisonous chemicals in preparation.
Transforming plant material into rayons like bamboo and Tencel (brand name for lyocell) appears to be the answer for the future as these fibers are robustly sustainable and grown with very little toxic intervention. Alas, these too, have had a bad chemical footprint when we turn them into yarn.
Not to despair, weavers should give some serious thought to prioritizing natural fibers as a growing number of farmers join the movement of sustainable agriculture. Additionally, there are new manufacturing processes called closed-loop that reduce waste production and contamination. It's all about consciously taking steps in the right direction.
As I mentioned, this book has kind of changed my direction. I have so many colleagues who do a great job of teaching new weavers how to use the rigid heddle, make a scarf, make a placemat, and all the basics.
While I'll always have the beginner in mind (I have an online course for beginners at weavingwithpoffstudio.com), the next big chapter in my life's book will probably be more deeply dedicated to this concept of finding inspiration for the weaver. I'm thinking about an online membership site for that purpose. And I want to get a little painting time in, too!
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