An introduction to weaving


Spools of dyed wool at the ready for a weaving class at the Textile Center.

This weekend, I’m rather embarrassed to admit, I paid my first-ever visit to the Textile Center in Minneapolis. Just as Open Book is a center for all things literary, the Textile Center is a hub for all activity that involves thread, yarn and fabric. That includes weaving, quilting, knitting, sewing, needlework, lace making, basketry and beading.


The center is home to dozens of organizations, including the Weavers Guild, the Knitters Guild, and Minnesota Contemporary Quilters. The building includes a gallery, store, library, lecture hall and several classrooms. One classroom is dedicated to the art of dying fiber.

What brought me to the Textile Center was a class called “Try It! Weave on a floor loom.” For the next year I’m attempting to try a new craft each month (see previous entries on paper marbling and making mosaics), and this class seemed like a perfect fit.


A typical floor loom.

So there’s my loom – or at least the loom I got to use for the class. Over the course of six hours I learned how to wind bobbins, throw and catch the shuttle, tromp on treadles, and develop a (somewhat) consistent beat. I also learned that tension is key in a good weave.

But here’s what else I learned. The ancient Egyptians and Chinese used looms as early as 4000 BC. Looms are actually the foundation for computer programming. Which may be why people who tend to like weaving (and are good at it) have an affinity for math (our weaving instructor works as an accountant during the week). In many societies, men are the weavers, while the women spin the thread.


“Homage to Jean Nodlund” by Paul O’Connor

In the main hall of the Textile Center is a retrospective of the weaving of Paul O’Connor. O’Connor was for many years a chemistry professor at the University of Minnesota, and his work took him to India for five years, where he explored his interest in weaving. When he retired from chemistry in the 1970s, he pursued his weaving interest with a passion, and now is considered an expert in the art of “double-weaving.” His work is incredibly fine, and often uses sewing thread.


Look! I made something!

Here’s my scarf – or at least a section of it. I still need to wash it and do some finishing work, but overall I’m feeling pretty pleased that in six hours I was able to pull this off. Now I should mention that for this class the instructor had our looms set up ahead of time, and just learning how to warp your loom is another class entirely. I’ll report back on how well I pick up those skills in a month or two. And I’ll post a picture of the scarf in its entirety once I’ve cleaned it up.