a chat with Liz Gipson

A few weeks ago, I sat down (over email) with weaver and teacher Liz Gipson. At TNNA this year I had a chance to meet Liz in person and wish we had more time to spend together as she is a wonderful person. Her book, Weaving Made Easy Revised: 17 Projects Using a Rigid-Heddle Loom is now available in a revised and updated edition. Look for my complete review next week.

little acorn:
What led you to the rigid heddle? What makes this loom magical for you?
Liz:
How to make a long story short…I was dragged to the rigid heddle. In my day, it was considered a toy not a real loom. There are still some weavers that believe this to be true, but they haven’t met today’s loom. Advances in manufacturing technology and consumer demand led all the major loom manufactures to revamp their rigid heddle looms. These are highly sophisticated tools with an affordable price tag.

I digress though, I was working weekends on an Alpaca farm in Estes Park, Colorado, having just graduated from Colorado State University and mourning the loss of the beautiful weaving studio at the school. I was broke and there was no way I could afford a loom. Chris Switzer, the owner of the ranch talked me into buying a rigid heddle. I wove like crazy on it until I could afford to buy a floor loom and the rigid heddle went in the closet. Years later, I found myself toiling away in my studio frustrated that I couldn’t keep up with all the ideas in my head. The floor loom took so long to set up and it seems to be ages before I could finish a project. Out came the rigid heddle and I have never looked back. I don’t even own a floor loom anymore.

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I can make so much cloth quickly on the rigid heddle that I can almost keep up with my ideas. The loom is portable, so I can take it with me. I can use more kinds of yarns and create less loom waste. I meet so many rigid-heddle weavers that look longingly at the big looms and wish they could have one. Folks you aren’t missing much—you have one powerful loom in your hands right now.

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little acorn:
Yes, I am additional proof! I took a diversion to a big loom and wove on it once in four years. I’ve had lots of fun so far with my new rigid heddle. I still want to get in the workshop and build a stand to make it more comfortable for me to work yet already I find scattered minutes throughout the day to weave that I could never find before. I don’t understand why I thought I needed a bigger loom!

When a new weaver first approaches a loom, what is one thing you wish they’d really stop doing (or start doing)?
Liz:
Beginners by their very nature worry about everything because they don’t know what to worry about. What they need to is just weave. Make mistakes and then weave again. The rigid heddle is so easy to set up you can make another project while the whoopsies are still fresh. (Don’t believe me? Watch me warp a rigid heddle loom in three minutes.) Last year I wrote a short blog post for beginners and I’ve beefed up the Yarnworker resources including an FAQ and Terms to Know. I am writing a new weaving for knitters column for Knitty called Get Warped. The first column was on setting up the loom and the second was on yarn selection. Next up we tackle design.
little acorn:
When not weaving, you can be found…
Liz:
My husband likes to say our hobbies are our jobbies. We both feel like we work all the time and play all the time. We recently moved to a small town in New Mexico where he took up a job “professing” in environmental engineering. His passion is air—particularly clean air. We bought a decommissioned Spanish Baptist church built in the mission style in the fifties. Slowly we have been fixing it up, although we bought it from a painter who used the chapel space as a studio. He did some amazing things with the interior.

This year, I am weaving a project for every room in the house. I also signed for a new book with Interweave on weaving for the home, and that has me seriously tied to my looms—I have over twenty. Luckily my self-imposed challenge and the book are on the same topic!

little acorn:
I love all I learned in Weaving Made Easy Revised, I look forward to this next book and weaving more for our home (we moved six years ago and are also still slowly fixing it up.)

Please tell me a bit about how your background in community development and fiber arts well… weave together.
Liz:
I first learned to weave in a community setting. My mom was an occupational therapy aid in the 1970s when OT and weaving were pretty synonymous. I adored the woman who ran the program and she let me go to work with my mom that was on the psychiatric ward of the University of Virginia hospital. That would never happen today! That experience stuck with me and I like to joke that I like crazy people as much as I like weaving.

I didn’t however get into OT school when it was time to go to college, which was fortunate since OT and weaving don’t really play well together in the medical model anymore. Luckily I was able to seek out a hodge podge of opportunities at the Colorado State University where I was studying. I spent a year in New Zealand studying wool science. A lot of the work was breeding analysis. I recently uncovered some of my coursework, and I can’t believe I did all that math! I took a semester off to work with a group of Navajo weavers in Arizona that were facing forced relocation. That was eyeopening.

I ended up in the social science department with a concentration in economics looking at value added agriculture. I thought I would go into the Peace Corps or work with the wool board, something like that. Colorado State also had a weaving program in the fine arts department. I was one of the last classes to be able to take a minor in fiber arts although I never did all the art history to have it officially attached to my degree. Studying under Tom Lundberg, I met some of my closest lifelong friends. It was one of those friends, Amy Clarke Moore, that encouraged me to join her at Interweave when she was promoted to editor of Spin-Off and the rest is history.

That doesn’t really answer your question though. I view weaving as a means of not only creating beautiful things, but also creating identity and what it means to be human. Social networking is really just good old-fashioned community development—the same principles apply. Although I’m a weaver, I spend most of my time working with the weaving community more than sitting at my loom. I teach, blog, tweet, and do other kinds of traditionally thought of social activities around crafting and first world problems of stress, time pressures, and the high-tech life. Some of my work involves more grassroots issues, working with weavers here and around the world for whom weaving is a means to feed their family and preserve their cultural identity.

I do a fair amount of work with The National NeedleArts Trade Association‘s Spinning and Weaving Group, helping them organize Spinzilla and other projects. I recently worked with Weave A Real Peace (WARP), an organization I very much respect, helping them put together better back office communication systems and beef up their marketing. I’ve always enjoyed the role as a facilitator, helping people make connections to the things that matter to them. I do a smattering of video production helping businesses and organizations tell their story. You can see some of that work on my Liz Gipson YouTube channel. I love video production and would like to do more of it in the Yarnworker space, which is where I house my rigid-heddle life.

little acorn:
Wow. Thank you! I’ve been trying to find something coherent to respond with and thank you is inadequate but the best I can come up with.

Kitten or puppy snuggles?
Liz:
Goats! I miss my goats! I left them behind in care of some friends who bought my house in Colorado. We are taking it year by year, but the hot New Mexican desert is no place for a cashmere-bearing goat. I do have Buster the dog; Buford, a large white rabbit we found walking home from the plaza one night; and Henrietta and Pearl, two Silke chickens.

Thank you Liz!

weaving-made-easy-coverWeaving Made Easy Revised and Updated: 17 Projects Using a Rigid-Heddle Loom
by Liz Gipson
Interweave/F+W; $24.99

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