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  • Sara Nordling

Oh the fun we had!

Sara teaching class.

I am back from teaching at MAFA (Mid-Atlantic Fiber Association) conference in Millersville, PA. What a great time! First of all, a shout out to my wonderful students. I had a class of 16 enthusiastic weaver/designers.

It was great to work in person on weaving design exercises in depth. To date my longest workshop on the subject had been one day. The three day format of MAFA lent itself very well for students to learn about the elements and principles of design, do some designing and then begin to realize their designs into weaving drafts.

Designs on paper

Designs by Nancy Everham

One thing my students learned is that it’s one thing to read about designing and it’s another thing altogether to do it. Working through the exercises gave them a better appreciation of the tools of design. At first it is hard to get away from thinking, “how will this become a weaving?” Once the students were able to put that thought aside for a while the design exercises became fun. Everyone was given the same parameters but everyone had a different answer. The next step was, at first, the most frustrating, to chose a design and convert it into a weaving. Again, there were many ways to meet that challenge as well. Some of the original designs needed a bit of tweaking to become actual weavings but students were surprised just how many of their designs could actually be woven on 8 shafts or less without having to do inlay, pick-up or other manipulations! Lastly we switched things up by having student pick items out of a bag. One was a thing to weave, another an element of design and the third a design principle. They were to design the item focusing on the element and the principle chose as main design features. So many different possibilities developed through this exercise. Now I wish we’d had a week to work on these things!

Designs by Ruth Quah

Another great experience of the class was the joy of the “hive mind.” What do I mean by that term? It refers to the energy in the room. When students get excited and work hard there is energy in the room that is contagious and builds. Students look at what others are designing and up their game to have a different solution to the challenge. Students talk to each other, discuss and share ideas. Collectively they come up with better solutions than any of them working along probably would have. That is the beauty of the classroom setting and the hive mind.

A comment I heard more than once was that the method I was teaching was a new way of thinking, to design first with little to no thought of weaving and then convert to a weaving, was something that they hadn’t really thought to do before. In the early stages of my weaving life I hadn’t either. I thought, “What is it I want to make? What structure do I want to explore? What sort of fabric do I need to have in the end?” I gave little thought to design aside from choosing colors. That has changed dramatically for me over the years. Art school will do that to you. But, that is the reason I went, to find my weaving voice; to find a way to weave cloth that is unique and worth the effort to make. I can’t undersell Walmart. But I can out-design them.

Designs by Nancie Picinich Johnson

Lastly, I loved seeing all the exciting and fresh designs the students came up with, designs that were uniquely theirs. I told them that I would not be surprised to see any of their names on an article for a project in Handwoven. It was inspiring to me to see all these new ideas and designs they had made by following the process. Sure, none were actually woven yet. However, they will be and they will be great. The students were so excited to share their finished projects with each other that we have started a Facebook group from the students so they can show the resulting weavings from their designs and continue to share new designs as well.

All in all, it was a great workshop. Now I am traveling to the other side of the country to do a weeklong weaving retreat. It won’t be as design intensive as MAFA was, I will have several very new weavers. Still, it will be great to see what these students will invent when we explore textures, inlay and some basic manipulated weaves.

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