The Vavstuga Way

 

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My husband and I spent last week at a most special weaving school and were introduced to the Vavstuga Way. Vavstuga was founded on the Swedish and Scandinavian styles of weaving and teaching, and offers a number of really cool workshops each year. We were there for Weaving Basics.

What is the Vavstuga Way? Well, by the numbers:

One excellent school, in two locations, in one small town in rural Massachusetts. One pretty river runs through the town.

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One incredible teacher, Becky Ashenden. Becky is the founder and the heart, the soul, the electricity, the flame—choose your favorite metaphor to convey “life force”—of Vavstuga.

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Eight students in a Weaving Basics course. Six women, two men, some very experienced, some completely new to the craft. All congenial and happy to be sharing the week together.

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photo by Bettie Zakon-Anderson

Five days of weaving, for 10 hours a day.

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Eights looms. Four projects for each of us to finish—two towels, a small tablecloth, a wool throw.

 

Three times a day the bell rang, to announce yummy meals provided for us.

Swedish fiddlers—two; dancers—several.

 

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Almost too many to count:

  • Lovely handwoven items to use and learn from
  • Choices of colors in threads of cotton, linen, and wool
  • Tools and gadgets to purchase
  • Books to peruse and inspire

Innumerable

  • Mistakes made by students and fixed by Becky
  • Confused looks during drafting lessons
  • Laughs
  • Aches and pains
  • Doubts about finishing
  • Sighs of relief at finishing
  • Thrills at bringing our work home

The Vavstuga Way, by the impressions:

Maybe there are really two aspects of the Vavstuga Way. One is based on the use of a specific kind of Swedish loom and the details of using them—setting them up, adjusting them for ergonomics, weaving on them successfully.

My husband and I don’t have this kind of loom at home so some of what we learned will go unused.

But far more important than the specifics of looms and loom dressing is the other aspect of the Vavstuga Way. I see it as an attitude toward weaving.

I brought these lessons home:

  • The equipment and materials should be treated with respect but not awe. We learned to be less obsessive about each tiny detail of weaving and to focus on the larger process—good technique, quality materials, solving problems in ways that work for each of us, and our individual styles.
  • Natural is better. We used only the sorts of natural fibers that have been used for millennia—cotton, linen, wool—and to fully appreciate the qualities that have guaranteed that longevity.
  • Simple is beautiful. We did some of the most straightforward kinds of weaving possible and used color and thoughtful, consistent weaving to make lovely items.
  • Upbeat and energetic saves the day. Becky, our instructor, taught by example. Nothing fazes her; no mistake can’t be fixed; no frustration can’t be leavened with a quick joke and positive action.
  • I will worry less in the future about weaving the “right way” and using my loom the “right way.” I feel much more willing to re-think my system, to see what works for me, and be creative about what doesn’t.
  • What we make is meant to be used. We slept under handwoven coverlets, wiped our hands on handwoven towels and napkins. Every meal featured different handwoven table settings, each lovelier than the last. The curtains at the windows, as well as the tieback ribbons, the cushions on the benches, the rugs, our teacher’s clothing . . . all woven by hand, all being used with respect and enthusiasm.

Our intense week at Vavstuga is over and neither my husband nor I have touched a loom since we got home. But we spent much of the drive home and our time since talking about weaving, thinking about it, planning for more. And we’ve admired our work repeatedly!

And, of course, we are already thinking ahead, looking at the course listings for more advanced weeklong workshops, to continue our exploration of the Vavstuga Way.


For more information about the Vavstuga Way, visit their website and the blog Tammy Weaves, written by a member of the inaugural session of the Vavstuga Immersion program.

 

Weaving Hands

Just look at these busy, happy hands!

As one of the people behind these hands, learning the most basic techniques of weaving, I can tell you that the hands often felt awkward, inept even. The hands faltered but did not fail. And the inexpert, novice hands were guided by the expert, experienced hands to a place of satisfaction.

I told you about a month ago that I’d been meaning to learn to weave (IBMTD) and that I’d found a workshop to take.

It had been a long time since I had taken a course. I like to think I can learn things on my own, by doing research and reading. I’m often stubborn about seeking guidance and asking for help. I tend to flap about and try to teach myself and make a lot of mistakes and get frustrated.

But, having just finished the workshop, with my husband and two other weaving newbies, I’m reporting back and also want to encourage you to take a course the next time you want to learn a new skill. And, P.S., weaving is a wonderful route to go, if you haven’t tried it before.

The workshop was perfect. Run by our local arts council, we had a teacher who is both an expert weaver and passionate about introducing new people to a craft she loves. As a bonus, she is also a retired teacher, so she actually knows how to teach!

Examples of our instructor's work

Examples of our instructor’s work

The workshop was limited to only four students so we got to know each other well and got lots of specialized help. None of us had any background at all in the craft so we learned together and from each other.

We learned on very simple frame looms; basically these were made of four pieces of wood and some nails to wrap string (the warp) around.IMG_5973

At first I thought I’d hate these looms—I wanted to learn on a big, fancy floor loom! I wanted to make shawls and blankets and twills and tweeds.

But we all learned to love our small, portable frame looms.

With the guidance of our teacher, we each made a small tapestry, incorporating many basic weaving techniques. We learned a new vocabulary, along with the skills—warp and weft, of course, but also sumac and tabby and rya.

The neatest thing about this kind of weaving is that it could be almost entirely improvisational and encouraged experimentation and creativity. Whereas loom weaving, as I understand it, relies heavily on following patterns and being very precise, our weaving evolved mostly without plan.

We chose colors as we went. We added different textured yarns and string and other fibers. We were shown how to incorporate shells and metals and stones and beads.

It was as if we couldn’t make mistakes and that is a wonderful, liberating way to learn!

We had our final class yesterday, put the finishing touches on our masterpieces, and sat back and appreciated them.

As the final session of class wound down, we got great news! Our instructor has arranged with the arts council to allow three of us to continue to the next level. In two weeks, we’ll start a new workshop to learn to use harness looms and to thread the heddles and sley the reed (whatever that means)!

I’m excited about this new venture but I know I’ll miss my homely little frame loom.

When I looked at our finished tapestries, the best part was seeing how different they were. Four people started at the same place, with access to the same materials and techniques, and created four entirely unique tapestries.

I’m sure there’s a profound metaphor for life here somewhere . . .

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