Congratulations to Claire Sparling, one of five recipients of the 2016 MCC Bursary! Claire participated in a week long apprenticeship with master weaver Rob Stone in Kansas City, Missouri. Read below for Claire’s report of the experience.
Project report for blanket making with Robert Stone project
In the five days spent in Robert Stone’s workshop I learned that, despite the “simplicity of the process of blanket making” there are levels of complexity to the process I had not considered.
The first day in the shop, we discussed various styles of blanket and within 45 minutes he had me sitting at the loom working the fly shuttle. The process of weaving is quite simple: step on one pedal, pull the rope, slam the beater, step on the next pedal, push the beater back and repeat. Within a few hours I had woven an entire blanket! This was not the whole process.
The next day my arms were really, really, really sore! I practiced winding the bobbins that would be used for the next blanket. This is a process that requires much precision. I also started warping another loom. This process is the preparation to the weaving process, starting with measuring out all the threads that run the length of the fabric. Then each thread had to be tied on to the loom. This took the rest of the day.
Day 3 was fulling day! We prepped the blankets by stitching them into a doughnut (this insured a more even shrinking). We hauled hot water to an ancient washing machine, put blankets in, two at a time, and ran them through two wash cycles. Every once and a while we stopped the machine, pulled out a corner of the blanket, and observed how the threads started to mat. Once the blankets were sufficiently fulled, we drained the water, set up the rinse cycle, and ran that. When the blankets were all rinsed out we laid them out on the driveway. The cement had enough grip that it allowed us to stretch out the blankets to allow them to dry.
On Thursday we set up a large quilting frame outside, and stretched out the blankets. Then, with a soft cotton comb, proceeded to brush the nap of the blanket. This process is very physically involved, but gives the blanket the soft fuzziness typical of trade blankets. We spent the rest of the afternoon winding the warp on the loom, I had started to set up on Tuesday. This was a 15 yard warp, and every thread had to be kept in check and organized during the process. I learned much about stroking and flicking 1200 threads in order to get them to all lay at the same tension.
On the last day we went and visited an old Wool mill that had been operating from the 1850s to the early part of the 1900s. After a machine accident the whole place was shut down and therefore frozen in time, to be later turned into a museum. It was fascinating to see the differences between an industrial set up, and Robert Stone set up, which is essentially a cottage industry set up similarity to the way weavers worked, before the Industrial Revolution. The rest of that afternoon I spent weaving the second blanket, this time, a 2-2 twill point blanket.
During the whole week I had the opportunity to discuss weaving techniques, and research with Mr. Stone. This apprenticeship allowed me to obtain a greater understanding of how wool moves and behaves, which will allow me to explore this medium further, without having to go through the same pitfalls of experimentation that he did. He has given me a head start. Upon my return I attended the monthly meeting of the Manitoba Weavers and Fibre Artists’ guild, where I showed off the blanket I made during this week. They were all quite intrigued at the fulling technique, and the broad loom weaving, as it is not something that is done within the guild. I intend on building on the knowledge and skills I learned from Mr. Stone, and create a space and legacy where these skills can be taught to others.
Special thank you to the Manitoba craft Council, Manitoba arts Council and the Winnipeg arts Council that provided funding that allowed me to have this great experience.