An Interview with Syne Mitchell

syneheadshot2On today’s post, we’re pleased to share an interview with Syne Mitchell, author of one of our favorite new books here at the Woolery, Inventive Weaving on a Little Loom. In addition to being an author, Syne also teaches, blogs, and hosts a podcast. Today, she talks about weaving and other crafts, sharing some of her best advice along the way. Enjoy! 

How did you learn to weave? Do you do any other crafts?

I learned to weave at a week-long weaving workshop with Judith MacKenzie. I was 8-1/2 months pregnant at the time and saw it as my last great hurrah before motherhood. Little did I know that I was embarking on a craft journey that would change my life.

Having Judith MacKenzie as my first teacher was a stroke of luck. Not only did she teach me good weaving practices, but she taught me how to continue learning about weaving after the class ended.

She pointed me at Marguerite Davison’s Handweaver’s Pattern Book and Peggy Osterkamp’s first three books, among others.

But the best advice she gave me was this: Keep records of what you weave. Samples of the yarn, samples of the fabric off the loom and after washing, details about sett, warp length, shrinkage after washing. By doing so, you can learn from yourself, the loom, and the weaving.

Other crafts? Bwah-ha-ha! Yes. Before I learned to weave, I had a tendency to have the craft of the month. I’d get excited about polymer clay, or jewelry, or glass bead making. I’d get all the equipment and supplies, do it enough to get proficient, and then move on to another craft the following month.

I used to feel bad about this, but after a while, I realized that my true passion was learning. Once I’d gotten good at something, the steep learning curve was over, and I’d start to get bored.

When I got bitten by the weaving bug, my focus turned to the fiber arts. The great thing about weaving, is that there’s more there than you could learn in a lifetime. There are so many variables that affect the cloth: weave structure, yarn, twist, sett, finishing, humidity, etc.

It also cuts down on the amount of equipment and supplies you bring into the house. Yarn can be used for knitting, crochet, and weaving.

But to answer your question, and limiting it to the fiber arts to keep things from getting out of hand, I’ve learned the following crafts (in order): crochet, needlepoint, spinning, basketry, knitting, weaving, dyeing, lucet, kumihimo, temari, sprang, and bobbin lace. I’m currently teaching myself to sew. In the past I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to learn tatting–though I will try again.

The only fiber art that I have not clicked with yet is quilting, though I imagine I’ll get around to that someday.

The great thing about learning several different crafts is that eventually you start creating projects that combine them. For example, learning to sew help you make bindings for your blankets. You can crochet a lace border on a handwoven silk handkerchief, etc.

Instead of feeling bad about “not being able to settle down to one thing”, I now think of it as fiber arts cross-training.

Inventive Weaving on a Little LoomWhat was the process like for writing Inventive Weaving on a Little Loom? What inspired you to focus on this area of weaving?

I began teaching on the Rigid Heddle loom several years ago as a way to introduce new people to weaving. Jumping in with a multi-shaft loom that can cost a thousand dollars or more — before you even know if weaving is something you want to do — isn’t for most people. With a rigid heddle loom, the investment is small. Also, as a teacher, I can bring my own rigid heddle looms for students to learn on.

That said, I love all kinds of weaving, I can get as excited about a color-and-weave pattern on a potholder loom as on a 24-shaft loom.

I’d never written a non-fiction book before, so it was a learning experience. When writing a novel, it takes about a year, but after the words are done, you’re done. With Inventive Weaving, finishing the words was just the beginning, then there was all of the weaving to do.

Fortunately, my editor, Gwen Steege, and all of the other talented people associated with Storey, helped me through the process.

Which loom(s) do you have in your craft room?

No one could learn all there is to learn about weaving in one lifetime, but I’m giving it a good try. Since I love learning new things, and have applied this to weaving, I’ve amassed quite a collection of looms.

In the center of my studio is an AVL 16-shaft Production Dobby loom (mechanical dobby). Around the edges of the studio are an 8-shaft Schacht Baby Wolf and a 24-shaft AVL Workshop loom (computerized dobby.) I also have a Robyn Spady inkle loom, a Mirrix tapestry loom, a Schacht tapestry loom, a hand-made Navajo loom, several Weave-It and Hazel Rose peg looms, a Harrisville potholder loom, six Schacht Flip rigid heddle looms, a Schacht Cricket rigid heddle loom, an Ashford knitters loom (also rigid heddle), and an unusual rigid heddle loom from Clover with a square heddle that rotates.

Um yeah, I have some looms.

What are the weaving yarns and tools that you can’t live without?

I am a big fan of wool and silk. Both are so versatile.

Wool can be soft and lush, or shiny and strong. It can felt, and is warm even when wet, a useful feature in the Pacific Northwest. I love that it’s a renewable resource and a natural fiber. It’s also very rewarding to go to a wool festival, pick your own fleece, wash it, spin it, and weave it into cloth. I used to have Shetland sheep and working with wool brings back good memories.

Silk is amazingly strong, even when it’s ridiculously fine. It usually is smooth and shiny, but in raw silk form is wonderfully soft and subtle. It’s expensive by the pound, but if you purchase it in 60/2 or 140/2 form, a pound can go a long way. I’ve not raised silk worms, but I have reeled silk from cocoons and spun yarn from matawa.

As for tools, it depends. The shuttle that works well for a large fly shuttle loom is not the shuttle you want to use for a loom with a narrow shed. The threading hook that works wonderfully on one loom might not fit through the holes on another loom. With that caveat, here are the minimal set of tools I like to have on hand when weaving.

  • Solid and strong loom.
  • Threading hook long and fine enough to reach the heddles.
  • Shuttle that feels good in the hand and weaves well in the warp.
  • Sturdy warping board / peg / or warping wheel
  • Sharp embroidery scissors
  • Tapestry needle, sized to the yarn
  • 4-lb neoprene coated dumbbells
  • 50-gram brass weights with hooks on the end
  • Cotton carpet warp

What is the best advice you have for new weavers? Intermediate weavers? Advanced weavers?

I’ll pass on a few bits of advice which work for all weavers:

Weave. There is no teacher, no book or video, that will teach you as much as your loom.

Keep records of what you weave. Note down the yarn and sett, the picks per inch you wove it at, the pattern. The measurements of the cloth before and after washing. Keeping records will let you look back and predict how new projects will turn out, and let you repeat projects you especially liked.

Design your own projects. Push yourself to try new patterns, colors, and yarns. You may discover that things you didn’t like in one project positively sing in another one.

Happy weaving!

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15 responses to “An Interview with Syne Mitchell

  1. This is a great interview! Thank you!

    >

  2. Ms Mitchell’s book is absolutely invaluable for me. I am a very new weaver.

  3. HI!I enjoyed the interview with Syne Mitchell. Thank you.

    I thought I would bring one problem to your attention. I followed the link to Rosie’s silk and found a mention of additional colors, but no color sample with names anywhere other than clicking slowly through the list. Could you post a single picture with all the colors so I can compare values and shades at a single glance? I’m sure I’m not the only one asking for this.

    Thanks!!!Helen

    From: thewooleryguy To: hmbressler@yahoo.com Sent: Tuesday, February 9, 2016 7:03 AM Subject: [New post] An Interview with Syne Mitchell #yiv1383404957 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv1383404957 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv1383404957 a.yiv1383404957primaryactionlink:link, #yiv1383404957 a.yiv1383404957primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv1383404957 a.yiv1383404957primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv1383404957 a.yiv1383404957primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv1383404957 WordPress.com | thewooleryguy posted: “On today’s post, we’re pleased to share an interview with Syne Mitchell, author of one of our favorite new books here at the Woolery, Inventive Weaving on a Little Loom. In addition to being an author, Syne also teaches, blogs, and hosts a podcast. Today,” | |

    • Thanks for the feedback! We are working to improve and upgrade our website so that viewing color options are easier. In the meantime, we will put together a PDF that shows the colors and make that available in short order.

  4. I really liked this discussion and interview

  5. I so enjoyed this interview. I will have to share it with my husband, so he can see I’m not the only one with multiple craft interests (and more than one loom). Thanks!

  6. thanks for the interview! I’m a new rigid heddle weaver, inspired to start by your fabulous book! Lots to learn, but loving it already

  7. I bought the book in December, and it is my new favorite book for rigid heddle weaving. It is not just full of clear and precise instructions, but also full of inspiring ideas. Many topics are covered, enough to get a solid basic understanding … and then the tease to want to explore and learn more. The interview totally reflects this character!

    My favorite two encouragements to take away from the interview are (1) to keep good records (I wish I’d done it when I started, since now I often try to remember what exactly I did two years ago), and (2) doing more exploration in the huge realm of multi-disciplinary fiber arts, I like her term “fiber arts cross-training”!

    Keep up the wonderful inspiration, Syne, and thank you, Woolery, for the interview!

  8. I really love this interview. Syne Mitchell is many steps ahead of where I am on my weaving journey, but i am definitely on the path that she describes so well!.. I am curious as to how the 4 pound neoprene covered dumbbells are used.

  9. Great interview! And perfect timing- my copy of Inventive Weaving should be delivered today!

  10. I am new to weaving and this sounds like the perfect book to get me started! Thank you!

  11. I bought this book when it first came out and I can not tell you how much I have learned and enjoyed it. It is an invaluable source and Syne is most generous with her advice, help and expertise. Thanks for this interview it was extremely interesting and reinforced my desire to weave and to also keep invaluable records.

  12. Anna Zinsmeister

    I’ve recommended Syne’s book to all my students. Very clear with a lot of information.

  13. Lovely interview, had no idea Ms. Mitchell also wrote fiction, so talented! What are the 4 lb. Dumbbells for?

  14. Nice interview…I can practically hear her voice in her responses. This is a wonderful book, suitable for a beginner, but also inspiring for someone who has been weaving for some time. I am curious about something though – under “tools that she can’t live without”, Syne mentions 4 lb. dumbbells. I have to know why and what she uses them for.

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