Friday, April 1, 2011

In Her Own Words...Deborah Livingston-Lowe

My first visit to study with Kate Smith at the Marshfield School of Weaving was in 2006. She was recommended by the most knowledgeable and skilled weaver I know, Rabbit Goody. I attended a workshop by Rabbit on 19th century textiles at Camilla Valley Farms, just north of Orangeville, Ontario. When I expressed an interest in learning more about weaving using 19th century techniques, Rabbit told me about Kate. I was so thrilled to learn about Kate’s work with 19th century barn frame looms and made plans to journey to Vermont from my home in Toronto. I was particularly interested in becoming more knowledgeable about the workings of the barn frame loom.

I learned more about weaving with Kate in those three days than I had learned in my entire experience weaving, which went back to 1983. The foundation that I had in handweaving was slow and inefficient. Kate taught me, in addition to many things, how to use multiple threads when warping, threading, and sleying. All of these techniques, while ideal for the barn frame loom are easily transferrable to a modern loom, which I use at home. Now using Kate’s techniques, I think nothing of setting up a warp because it is so efficient. I felt so welcomed and enriched by Kate and Kate’s teacher, the multi-talented Norman Kennedy. Norman is so generous with his knowledge. I felt like I was getting two courses simultaneously from Kate and Norman. That year, I did a floatwork sampler from "Keep Me Warm One Night" and a rag rug sampler. I learned the proper proportion of warp to binder and pattern, making my work more consistent with 19th century examples.

The next year, I was ready for more. This year my focus was linen weaves, linen singles and warping multiple colour setts such as plaids and checks. We picked a linen pattern from "Keep Me Warm One Night" and I wove a 6’ runner. I also learned how to size singles linen using a historic method. The sizing of linen is essential when using singles, otherwise the linen shreds as you weave. The look and feel of woven singles linen is incomparable and worth the bother. Kate had some beautiful indigo dyed linen which I used with a natural linen. She taught me to warp a plaid pattern using the 15 threads of the repeat in proper sequence. This has been a technique that I have used often since that time. I took that warp home and wove it on my loom.

M's and O's linen

singles linen

In 2008, I wanted to learn the countermarche system. Kate and I set up the treadles and the lamms from start to finish. Kate is a wonderful instructor. She provides just enough guidance while allowing you to have your own hands-on experience. That summer, I also wanted to examine different styles of old drafts. Kate has a wonderful collection that we studied. I settled on an 8-harness twill diaper which I wove on the countermarche loom. Kate has many local students who work on study pieces. They had been investigating double weave when I arrived. There was a little warp left over and I was able to weave a piece for myself.

double weave

twill diaper

The next year, I was interested in reproducing an ikat Venetian carpet and a fine woollen shawl from "Keep Me Warm One Night". The ikat carpet required quite a bit of planning. We had to determine the colours and the width of each stripe. Although the Burnham book is in black and white, the colours are provided in the description. This carpet had several ikat stripes: one set in red and white and the other in green and yellow. Kate has a great dye facility where we dyed the ikat stripes and some of the other colours in the carpet. After dyeing the wool, we set up the complex array of colours and warped. The colours were fabulous and looked amazing on the loom. As I wove the carpet, I felt that I was recreating a bit of 19th century textile history. Ambitious me, I also planned to do an amazing blue and white shawl. I was able to warp it, but didn’t manage to weave it. It is still a project that I have to finish.

ikat carpet on loom

ikat carpet detail

In 2010, I was so enraptured by the wonderful ikat Venetians in "Keep Me Warm", that I planned another project. This time the ikat technique required the ikat to be done after warping. I wound the warp for the borders separately and then the ikat warp for the middle. We wound the warp on and it looked absolutely fabulous. In one week, I dyed, warped and wove 13 yds. Of course, I can’t take all of the credit. Kate’s knowledge and direction really speeded things along. I must also give credit to the kind fairy folk who would slip in after I had left and fill my shuttles, so they were ready to go when I arrived at the break of dawn (Thanks again, Norman. Mòran taing, a Thormoid).

ikat venetian carpet on loom

ikat venetian carpet detail

I have learned so much and have done so many amazing textiles under the expert teaching and care of Kate Smith. I can definitely say, that I wouldn’t be as confident and skilled if I had not had the good fortune to have studied with her. I also have benefitted enormously from Norman, who can hardly utter a word without it being useful and sage.

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