Saturday, 3 January 2015

Vavstuga Swedish Weaving School

Last summer, I attended the Vavstuga Swedish Weaving School in Shelburne Falls, MA. I took the Vavstuga Basics class, because that's the class that's a prerequisite for most of their other classes. I wasn't sure what to expect, because though I wasn't a brand new weaver (I had been weaving for 7 months by that time and had woven a lot of things), I knew I still had a lot to learn. I figured I had nothing to lose, and heck, I would be weaving for an entire week!

I decided to drive down from Ottawa; it took approximately 4.5 hours, so not a long trip. I opted to stay in the dorms that are on the second floor of the school. I shared a room with two other women. There are two other rooms available, with double occupancy. Two of the other students each had their own room, and three other students, whose husbands accompanied them, chose to stay at a local B&B.

Shelburne Falls is a tiny, but picturesque town. Its claim to fame is the Bridge of Flowers. Here is the view from the back yard of Vavstuga:

The school is conveniently located next door to the Bridge of Flowers (pictured above).

The entire dorm is furnished with IKEA furniture (go figure!), and is decorated with lovely handwoven items, all made by Becky Ashenden, who teaches the classes at Vavstuga. It was inspirational just to be surrounded by all the handwoven items. There was also a small library of weaving books to browse through whenever we had a break. Not that there were many of those...

Staying in the dorms also included all meals. We met for breakfast on the first day, where we finally got to meet Becky and Celeste, her assistant. After that, we were formally introduced to the studio space, full of Swedish looms, mostly Glimakra (pronounced Gleem-oak-ra). These looms are massive, but they are great in that they completely come apart with no tools (they're held together by wedges), into a pile of sticks. The larger ones are also great to work with because you can step into the loom or put the bench inside to sit and thread the heddles.

We started off on Monday by winding warps on the large floor-model Glimakra warping mills. We would be doing 4 projects each: a cotton and tow linen dish towel, a cotton table square, an 8-shaft linen block weave, and a wool throw blanket.

After winding the warps, we started beaming them. It was fun working with other weavers, and the beaming went much faster. We learned to warp the loom using a trapeze, and other techniques that were suitable to the project. Threading the looms with two people went much faster than doing it alone. We took a break every day to learn some drafting. We were drafting using the Swedish way, with the threading along the bottom of the draft, and the tie-up on the bottom right. The treadling sequence starts from the bottom and moves upward, which was very logical to me, since that's the direction that our cloth gets woven!

On Tuesday, we continued threading the projects. Each project had two looms dedicated to it, so we had to warp, thread and tie-on to 8 looms. We learned some new tricks such as a different type of knot at the tie-up and some over shortcuts for more efficient weaving. We also learned how to tie up a Swedish counterbalance loom with horses (I was used to the Leclerc counterbalance looms with rollers), and we learned how to tie up the countermarch looms, using Vavstuga's bead and knitting needle method. I really liked that method. When we finally started weaving, we learned several tips and tricks for fixing threading mistakes and broken warp threads.

Kathy working on her blanket
We were assigned partners. Each project had two colour schemes, except for the linen weave, where the warp was a bleached linen and we were free to choose a weft colour. We were assigned one of the colour schemes for each project, but were free to choose the weft colours.

Becky then showed us how to wind a quill and how to maintain the Swedish quill winder. I really liked using the Swedish winder, which winds at a faster rate than my Leclerc bobbin winder. We also learned some tricks on how to make reusable warp ties using leftover weft from our projects.

My first project was the 8-shaft block weave in 16/2 linen. I found it fairly simple to treadle. We were told to beat hard, but my issue was that I was beating too hard at first. I let up on the beating, and things went fine after that. I found that with the overhead beaters on the Glimakra looms, you don't have to beat as hard as you normally would with an underslung beater, because you have inertia helping you along. I was really starting to like these looms!

Britta working on her block weave

We were doing round-robin weaving, so every pair of weavers had to finish at approximately the same time in order for us to move on to the next project. If someone was way behind, Becky and Celeste would finish the project so that we would stay on schedule.

Krista weaving her towel

On Wednesday, we finished the first project and started the second. My second project was the cotton table square. I had already learned how to use a temple on the linen weave from the first project, so this one was similar, only in cotton. The temple would make holes on the edge of the weaving, but a little flick with your fingernails would remove any traces of holes. It sure helped to prevent draw-in and broken selvedge threads.

Linda working her her table square

I finished that project early, and Becky showed me how to use the Glimakra Band loom, to weave the towel tabs for for our dish towels. I had fun with that loom. The mantra when you use it is "STUFF, TUG, CHANGE, WHACK". You stuff the weft that's on a quill through the shed, tug it so it's taut, change the shed, then whack with the band loom knife. Repeat as necessary. Over the next couple of days, when I had extra time, I wove the bands for our towels.

Stuff, tug, change, whack!

The next day, my partner and I moved on to the dish towel. Using tow linen as weft was quite nice. It wasn't quite as springy as the 16/2 linen was had used on the block weave, so it was a bit easier to use, though I didn't really have any problems with the 16/2 linen. I had fun playing with colours and weaving short samples to see how it would turn out.

Pam weaving her blanket

We started on the blanket late Thursday, and I managed to finish mine on Thursday early afternoon. We twisted the fringes and Becky showed those of us who finished how to wet-finish the blankets by doing them for us. All of our other projects were cut off and Becky serged the raw edges. We wet finished the cotton and linen projects at home.

Lucia working on her table square

Every day that week, we did a drafting exercise for an hour, and we had homework! Class was from 9 until 12:30, then lunch was an hour, and class would run from 1:30 until 7. Dinner was served then, and we were free to do whatever we liked (like homework!). There was a larger library of weaving books in the studio, but the studio would close at 7, so we only had access to it during studio hours.

We took some time one afternoon to tour the draw loom studio. I didn't know what a draw loom was until Becky explained it to us. Essentially, a draw loom allows you to weave either a repetitive pattern or a single pattern onto a ground weave of any sort. The type of draw loom determines what you can weave on it. It's attached to the top of an existing loom. Anything that can be drawn on graph paper can be reproduced, depending on how many shafts your draw loom supports. We saw some beautiful work that Becky had woven, and also some examples of items that we could weave if we decided to someday take the draw loom class.

All the ladies in our class were super-nice and friendly, and we all got along well. Some of us suggested taking another class together next year, and I would definitely be willing to do that. The week was so much fun, and you definitely get a feeling of accomplishment when you can finish 4 projects in one week! These are all the items our class created:

Our handwoven creations!

As for the class itself, I found it very enlightening. Before that class, I only knew how to warp front-to-back, with no cross. After that class, I switched to back-to-front, with a cross. I've applied a lot of the methods used on the Glimakra to my own looms, with slight modifications due to loom structure. It all works much better for me now. The biggest thing I learned in the class was not to worry about my selvedges, and just weave! It really does work! I learned how to correctly hold a shuttle (Becky would come around occasionally and remind me of my shuttle handling). It was just a gentle suggestion, and it worked, because I haven't reverted back to my old bad habit of shuttle mishandling. I learned a lot in this class, and I've made some great friends, too! Overall, I became a more efficient weaver.

I would add a caveat, though. Even though this class is billed as a beginning weaver's class, I would say it is too fast-paced for a true beginner to learn to weave, unless that person is a VERY quick learner. The long days and fast pace may also preclude older weavers, or weavers with joint issues.

Vavstuga also has a nice shop, full of Swedish weaving yarns, accessories and books. During the class, you get a 10% discount, which is nice because those yarns are quite expensive.

Even looms bought during the class are discounted. I decided not to buy any looms at that time, but I vowed to start looking for a large used Glimakra loom. Little did I know that only a few weeks later, a 53" Glimakra would show up on Craigslist and fall into my lap. A few months later, I purchased the fantastic heavy-duty ball winder that we used in class, made by Nancy's Knit Knacks. I didn't think it was worth the money at the time, but after winding a few skeins of lace weight into balls on my old ball winder, it became apparent that it actually was worth it. Finally, in November, after unsuccessfully trying to find a used one, I bought myself the Swedish Band Loom.

Our class with all of our handwovens. Left to right: me, Cathy, Krista, Pam, Lucia, Britta, Laura, Celeste, Linda and Becky. 
See more photos of my Vavstuga experience here. More photos of Shelburne Falls here.