Sara Lamb: A Modern Pioneer

Sara LambSince I started #weaverwednesday a few short weeks ago, I’ve been thinking of all the weavers who have laid tracks for those of us who have stumbled upon the weavers way. I first met Sara Lamb when I was working on the SOAR staff back in the early aughts. She was the first one to show me how velvet was woven. It was one of those moments that makes your heart skip a beat. Plus, you have to love a weaver who has Lamb for a last name. (SOAR was Spin-Off’s now defunked autumn retreat, that has been partially reborn as Yarn Fest.) 

Sara is widely known for her cut-pile work, her beautiful handspun, hand-dyed silk woven in simple structures, and her love of the bag. She has written for PLY, PieceworkSpin-Off, and Handwoven magazines and is the author of three books, Woven Treasures: One-of-a-Kind Bags with Folk-Weaving Techniques, Spin to Weave, and The Practical Spinners Guide: Silk; and the instructor in two video workshops Spinning Silk and Spin to Weave. 

An early blogging pioneer, she embraced the practice as a way of increasing the amount of weaving knowledge in the world. She recently celebrated her tenth anniversary as a blogger with this post. I asked Sara if she would stop by the Yarnworker blog for Weaver Wednesday to answer a few questions about her weaving life, particularly her relatively recently found admiration for the rigid-heddle loom.

When did you discover the rigid-heddle loom? 

Cut Pile on Cricket
Like many long-time weavers, I resisted using a rigid-heddle loom until pressed to do so by my editor, for my first book Woven Treasures. As soon as I used that first rigid-heddle loom, a Schacht Flip, I knew that the many upgrades to these looms in recent years had made them sturdy, versatile, portable, and quiet. These new looms by Schacht, Ashford, Glimakra, and Kromski are bringing new weavers to the weaving community with their ease of use and portability. New weavers can understand the process of warping easily with direct warping, become familiar with weaving terms and loom function, and many have gone on to investigate table and floor looms as a result.
The loom that I had been using for the techniques in the book was based on Archie Brennan’s copper pipe tapestry loom, which I adjusted slightly for knotted pile. The publisher thought a readily available commercial loom would be more encouraging for beginning weavers, at whom the book was directed.

 

Most of the techniques in the book are worked in front of the rigid-heddle where you are pulling on the threads a lot.  Any tips for maintaining your tension and selvedges?

The newer rigid-heddle loom designs have very fine teeth for adjusting the tension, and I use them a lot. If the warp feels soft or slightly loose after any weaving process, it is an easy step to “click” up one notch and tighten the warp again. I use the loom at a tight tension, tighter than would be expected for weaving fabric, so the sturdiness of the frame along with the ability to hold and adjust tension is key.

 

Cut Pile BagYou are known for your highly inventive bags. What is it that is so attractive about the bag form?

Bags! Hard to say what is so attractive about making them;  I stopped counting ten years ago when I hit fifty-six. I sometimes I think I should move on, but the form is so utilitarian and universal; bags are found in many cultures across time and geography. They are used to hold things, carry things, store things, and are often highly decorative without sacrificing function.  The techniques I use are well suited to bags.  I could wax eloquent about the psychology of bags and women, the vessel form itself, but suffice it to say I just like bags!  And every bag seems to inspire yet another, so it is, alas, an ongoing series.  I’ve tried to stop. Really.

 

Where do you weave?

I have two looms: an upright tapestry loom in our family room, and a floor loom in my studio. The floor loom is noisy, jack style with steel heddles, so I have always had a sequestered studio space where I did not bother the family while I was bangong out fabric. The upright loom, for pile weaving in my case, is quieter in use, with only occasional banging of the beater and a quiet change of sheds, so I can weave in the room while others listen to music, watch TV or read. Plus, the cat likes to sit with me while I weave, and she is not allowed in the studio!

 

What’s on your loom now?

On my floor loom is a length of handspun cotton fabric for a kimono, and on my upright loom is a small square pile piece for a pocket on a leather purse.

 

Any new publishing projects?

Squirrel bagI have a few DVD projects under consideration, and some projects for magazine articles in the works. My new passion, sewing leather bags, means I will have to stay home and practice, practice, practice, in order to become adept at this new-to-me challenging skill.

 

Do you have advice for a new weaver? 

I am taking lessons from a saddle maker, and he gave me the best advice for anyone trying to learn new skills: make lots! Practice is the only way to become adept; not dreaming, not designing on paper, not thinking about it and not buying more materials.  It’s all about buckling down, and getting the work done.