Design Trumps Function

"Weavers are more at ease, more laid back maybe, and very patient -- warping a loom can take four to six hours," says Palomar Handweavers' Guild member Lynn Ely. "Everyone is so hypered out now in today's times; our lifestyle is so hurried. Everything has to happen at a moment's notice; everyone's walking around with a cell phone stuck to their ear. Weaving is relaxing and contemplative and very therapeutic. You're creating something with your own hands that you designed with your own mind, and the finished product is rewarding." On Saturday, October 27, the Palomar Handweavers' Guild will host a weaving and spinning demonstration at Rancho Buena Vista Adobe Gallery, where work created by guild members has been on exhibit since early September. According to Mimi Loutrel, the guild's program chair, it's not speed, but creativity, that makes a great weaver.

"Creativity is a very general term -- it might include use of color and use of new ideas, like maybe taking an old idea and giving it a new twist," says Loutrel. For some woven objects, design trumps function. "We have members who are basketmakers. When you think of a basket, you think of a round object with a handle that you can put things in. But basketry goes way beyond that -- there are some that are not functional at all." One member created a basket without working handles, "but handle-like straps that go from one side to the other, and it wasn't even closed at the bottom." Loutrel liked this design because it was "different."

"There's a lot of math and a lot of planning ahead before anyone weaves," says Ely. She has recently begun to weave small tapestries using beads. For one recent two-inch-by-eight-inch beaded project, Ely began by drawing an abstract shape onto graph paper. "I used colored pencils that matched the colors of beads I had chosen, then changed my drawing into digital form, so to speak, by putting it on bead graphic paper, or graphic paper that matches the [size of the] beads. You can relate the bead-weaving to pixels on a screen -- when a weaver plans out a design or pattern to be woven, they are doing it on graph paper, blocking it all out in colors they've chosen. Each little block in there [represents] a space of yarn."

"We can take fleece that's been shorn off a sheep, wash it, spin it to make yarn to knit with or weave with, and felt it," says Loutrel. After knitting a basic bag, such as a purse, Loutrel "tossed it in the washing machine to shrink it up," or felt it. "When you felt it, it becomes a much denser fiber," she explains. "People don't always realize where yarn comes from or where cloth comes from. That shirt or dress worn out of woven cloth, before they had machines to do this, this was done on a loom by somebody. I talked to one gentleman who explained that when he was a boy, if the children in his family wanted a pair of socks they had to knit one. This was in the '20s or '30s, not that long ago. Kids these days think, New pair of socks, go to Wal-Mart."

Bill Rafnel, a resident of Oceanside, has been weaving rugs as art for over 30 years. One of his creations, a red-and-gold rug, is hanging at the exhibition. In an interview with KPBS in 1997, Rafnel said, "I don't believe weaving's just for women. It's for anyone." Loutrel agrees. "If you look at our membership, there are more women than men, but our current president is a skilled weaver, and he has been weaving all his life. It may be socially easier [for women] because it's cultural. Mothers taught their daughters to knit and told their sons to go out and Dad will teach you how to run the farm."

Ely uses a small bead loom (a wooden frame with small bowls built in to hold beads), which range from 6 inches by 10 inches for around $30 to 12 inches by 18 inches for around $60. Table looms and tapestry looms can run upwards of $1000.

All looms, Ely explains, have the same basic construction. "I've come across adults who don't realize that any loom -- it can be a small loom, a large loom, or a floor loom -- they all have warp and weft. The weft [horizontal threads also known as 'woof'] crosses the warp [vertical threads] under-over-under-over, and that's what holds the whole thing together." -- Barbarella

Weaving and Spinning Demonstration Saturday, October 27 Noon to 3 p.m. Rancho Buena Vista Adobe Gallery 651 E. Vista Way (parking in the Wildwood Community Center parking lot) Vista Cost: Free Info: 760-726-1340, x1522

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