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  • Sara Nordling

Designing Weavers: Lynn Smetko

Winds of Change scarf, Lynn Smetko

Winds of Change Scarf and photo by Lynn Smetko.

detail of Winds of Change scarf

Detail of Winds of Change Scarf

SN: I first met Lynn when I was living in Texas. I don’t remember the exact year or event that brought us together. I have long admired her work and her overall sense of style. When I began thinking of weavers to include in this series, Lynn was one of the first people I thought of.

LS: Thank you, Sara. I believe we were both at a Contemporary Handweavers of Texas conference. I describe myself as a textile artist, designer and weaver. I am the President, past 1st Vice President, and Secretary of Complex Weavers (CW), and past Editor of the Complex Weavers Journal. My love of technology, photography and fibers all come together with weaving.

SN: How long have you been weaving?

LS: I’ve been interested in working with fibers and textiles all my life: knitting, macramé, clothing construction, even hand-sewn felt troll clothes in elementary school (!); after college I sewed and tailored my wardrobe. Fast forward through jobs and raising two wonderful children to 1999. During a trip to Santa Fe I saw beautiful clothing made from handwoven fabric and thought it would be easy to sew it into clothing if the fabric could be made. I wandered into Weaving Southwest and upon seeing my first loom told my husband I wanted to buy it. He recommended weaving lessons first – good advice! At home I found the Fine Line Creative Arts Center in St. Charles, IL, signed up for weaving classes and the rest is history. Various looms have graced my studio, from an 8-shaft Gilmore to my current and only partner in crime, a 40-shaft AVL with Compu-Dobby 4.

SN: Oh, Lynn, even though I have multiple looms I do get loom envy every time I hear of people with more shafts than I have! Does this ever affect you?

LS: Often I explain that while I have in no way exhausted what can be done with even 4 shafts I need all 40 to weave the types of things I am designing.

SN: Ah, yes, that is the other side of it. It is also one reason I am staying at 16 shafts. I found that more possibilities doesn’t always correlate to better design, better weaving, better “art.”

SN: Do you use weaving software?

LS: Weaving software is a must for how I design. ProWeave is my current favorite. It differs from other weaving software in that it provides a way to record the entire design process on a “desktop” including notes, images, and of course weaving drafts. Note that “drafts” is plural, because in ProWeave it is possible to have multiple drafts on the same desktop and compare and switch elements between them to answer “what if” questions. It is not an easy program to use, but it fits the way I think. Dini Cameron offers an online tutorial for ProWeave which I participated in to gain proficiency. Fiberworks is used occasionally for drafting, to visualize drafts that contain different size yarns in the warp or weft, and as a loom driver.

screenshot of ProWeave desktop

Here is an example of a ProWeave desktop with Lynn’s design in progress.

SN: Where do you look for design inspiration?

LS: Everywhere! I like to capture ideas of color, texture or shapes with my camera and incorporate them into woven art. “There’s a scarf in that!” is a trademark phrase of mine. More recently I am focusing on using motifs with personal meaning to me or others as the basis for design: the CW weaver’s knot logo, anchors for a friend’s sorority, the Tiffany keys I wear that fascinate my grandchildren.

two photos, scarf and its inspiration, lettuce. Lynn Smetko

“There’s a scarf in that!” Quercy Friseé inspired by produce at a French Market.

Scarf and photos by Lynn Smetko.

SN: I have to laugh at your quote “There’s a scarf in that!” I can relate; it isn’t always a scarf though. I do use the scarf format for sampling new weaves or ideas. Are scarves your end product then or are the ever spring boards for larger ideas/projects?

LS: Scarves are generally the end product, although sometimes they fall into the “full size sample” category if I am exploring an idea.

SN: How do you approach designing?

LS: When I design it is for an entire piece: the image, where and how pattern begins and ends, the body of the piece, side borders, selvedges, colors, placement of color changes. Nothing goes on the loom until the last detail has been worked out and documented. I would rather design than weave – I get lost in the design process but find weaving stressful.

Midnight shawl by Lynn Smetko

Espresso Lace Shawl by Lynn Smetko

One warp, two moods. After Midnight (black) and Espresso Lace (brown) by Lynn Smetko.

Photos by Lynn Smetko.

SN: Wow, that’s different than many people for whom the act of weaving is calming!

LS: I know. Part of the reason is because with my loom’s overhead beater and a double fly box weaving is never just an easy “throw the shuttle” – it always involves yanking on that cord to launch the shuttle. The other part is that I put a lot of pressure on myself to have things come out as perfectly as possible.

SN: I suppose there is the option of not using the fly shuttle. But that has its own downsides.

LS: I’ve spent the majority of my weaving life trying to escape the grid and right angles inherent in woven pieces. In 2006 a course from Alice Schlein at Complex Weavers Seminars introduced me to The Woven Pixel, written by Alice and Bhakti Ziek. It totally changed how I approach weave design, which now includes designing in the liftplan and Photoshop. My 40-shaft AVL was purchased a couple of years later to serve as a “mini-jacquard.”

It's My Party scarf by Lynn Smetko

It’s My Party scarf and photo by Lynn Smetko.

SN: Ah, so you are a bit tempted by jacquard weaving then!

LN: What can be accomplished is very intriguing. I have a lot of arguments with myself about whether or not to go the jacquard route – neither side has won yet.

SN: Do you work in a series? And if so, what benefit do you get out of it?

LS: I typically work in limited series which allow me to explore an idea and then move on. Usually there are plans for an entire warp, sometimes just for the first piece or two. New ideas may present themselves while weaving and can be incorporated into the next piece on the warp or the next warp in the series. Alternatively, I’ve begun a series based upon the key motif theme which will probably continue for some time through different warps and different weave structures.

SN: Do you have favorite weave structures?

LS: Yes – the one that best fits the needs of the project at hand. I spent a long time weaving pieces with my painted warps and drafts representative of my photography. For these a 4-end broken twill worked perfectly as the focus was more on the whole than the weave structure. Lately, because I have been focusing on motifs, weave structures are selected to facilitate how the design will appear and in a scale that is appropriate.

SN: Do you have favorite things to weave?

LS: While I have had periods of creating blankets, placemats, rep weave rugs, for now I’m working on scarves, shawls, and towels where the four edges frame a complete design concept.

SN: Anything else you’d like to share?

LS: I encourage weavers to find a group that both supports and helps its members develop. Weaving at the loom is an independent experience, but it is important to communicate ideas with those that share our intrigue and excitement in the process of weaving and design. Guilds are good for this, as are groups of weaving friends with similar interests. For me, Complex Weavers is one of the best.

SN: This is a good reminder, even for weavers who are geographically isolated, they can still find and use a group like Complex Weavers for encouragement, support, and new and challenging ideas. It is also one reason I started writing this blog.

LS: You share a lot of great information on the blog – I always look forward to reading your posts.

SN: Thank you Lynn. I write them as much for myself as for others. You can see more of Lynn’s work at her website.

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