Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts during the 2022 Yarnworker Check-In Survey. Over 700 rigid-heddle weavers responded to the survey. In addition to the numerous multiple choice questions, I asked a number of open-ended ones. This is an act of putting on my active listening ears to let you describe your weaving life in your own terms. All questions were optional and anonymous. For those who’ve left specific questions or requests, I don’t have any way to respond. For those who’ve left their contact information, I’ve sent you an email to follow-up.
This survey was not an act of trying to find the most popular things to create content around, but rather a commitment to check in on a semi-annual basis to get a general feel for the kinds of learners who are in this rigid-heddle, know-how centric space. I am able to look at the response in numerous ways including those who are patrons, i.e. the active supporters of the Yarnworker space—about a third of the respondents—and public users or visitors to the Yarnworker space.
I put this out in the ether as it may be useful to anyone who wants to create rigid-heddle centric content and support rigid-heddle weavers. You might spot a niche you can fill or content you want to uplift. More voices, in more spaces is a grand thing. I also included some general rigid-heddle resources for the most common things that come up that aren’t found readily in the Yarnworker world.
Here is the easy-to-summarize stuff.
How Long Rigid-Heddle Weavers Have Been Weaving on This Loom Style
Both patrons and public users follow the same general bell curve of longevity with about 15% weaving on a RH loom for less than a year and 10% more than 10 years. The majority of weavers have been weaving between 2-5 years.
Of the options—whatever comes before beginner, beginner, advance beginner, intermediate, and heading towards pro—just over 40% of respondents consider their skill level to be advanced beginner. Patrons were more likely to see themselves as intermediate weavers (35% vs. 30%), but also more likely to see themselves as beginners (25% vs. 20%). A smattering of people saw themselves as “whatever comes before beginner” or “heading towards pro”.
Largest Available Width
Interestingly, the majority of weavers have access to a loom that is 25″+ wide, over 59%. Twenty-three percent have access to a 20″ wide loom, and about 15% a 15” wide loom. A few have a loom less than 15” wide. Patrons skew a little bit more toward the wider looms.
Even though a relative few of the respondents have only 15” of available weaving width, in the open-ended comments, there was still a lot of interest in support for looms with this weaving width. Anecdotally, many who teach or support rigid-heddle weavers will likely tell you that most weavers start on this loom size and eventually get a second, wider one. Small projects can be challenging to weave on wide looms and project width can be restricted by narrow looms. It can be really helpful to have both sizes, although we aren’t all able to do so. This is something I try to keep in mind when creating learning events and we spend a lot of time on project modification.
The Kinds of Projects You Have Woven to Date
In order of popularity:
- No-sew wearables (scarves, shawls, wraps) and cloth for kitchen and table received an 80% response rate or higher.
- Household goods and samples got a 40% response rate or higher, with patrons being more likely to sample (50% vs 40%). (Look at all that sampling going on!)
- Minimal sewn or seamed garments and wall hangings received a 20% response rate or higher.
- All the other types of projects, accessories (straps, bags, etc.), charity, yardage, freestyle/Saori, tapestry, weave/knit garments, transparencies, production (multiple items on one warp), fiber art, historical reenactment, and cosplay items got 20% or less response rates. These are listed in order of most-likely-to-have woven to least-likely-to-have woven.
The Kinds of Projects You Want to Weave
Interestingly, the kinds of projects you want to weave look a lot like the projects you have already woven, with a slight reordering.
- Cloth for kitchen and table and household goods came in at the highest with over a 70% or higher positive response rate. These projects are what woven fabric is especially well-suited.
- No-sew wearables and minimal sew or seamed garments, brought in a 50% or higher response rate.
- Yardage for sewing and weave/knit garments received a 40% or higher response rate.
- Wall hangings, a 30% or higher response rate.
- Patrons are more interested in weaving samples and accessories than public users who were more interested in tapestry, freestyle/Saori weaving although both groups showed an interest, just in reverse order of importance with overall a 25% response rate or higher.
- Charity, fiber art, transparencies, production, historical reenactments and cosplay items got 20% or less response rates. These are listed in order of most-likely-to-have woven to least-likely-to-have woven.
Inspiration and Information
The kinds of places you look to for inspiration are as follows.
- Books, magazines, YouTube, online classes, and social media were in their top five of both groups, mostly in this order with one deviation—no surprise online classes coming in at #1 for patrons and #4 for public users.
- Online weaving supplier, blogs, newsletters, online forums/community, in-person classes, membership communities, loom manufactures, were in the next tier for both groups. Membership community ranked much higher for patrons, while online groups ranked higher for public users.
- Weaving-at-large (cultural events, museums, fiber festivals, etc.), local yarn shops, catalogs or online retailers that sell ready-made goods, and podcasts rounded out the list in the same order for each group.
I forgot, for the second survey in a row to list guilds! (I have to leave myself better notes between surveys.) They did get the largest write-in response. In the “what do you wish there was more of in the rigid-heddle world” a not insignificant number of respondents wished guilds offered rigid-heddle weavers more respect. That was the specific word mentioned, “respect”. Respondents frequently reported that they did not feel welcome and their loom choice was considered lesser than other people’s loom choice. This is not a singular experience of guild life by any means, but it is also not an anomaly. This sentiment was also mentioned in terms of the weaving world at large, not just guilds.
They also frequently mentioned that they aren’t likely to ever get a floor loom because of space constraints, lifestyle choices, and budgets. These weavers are interested in making the most of what they’ve got. Study groups are a great way to make weavers with different loom types feel welcome.
I summed up some of my thoughts about loom types in this post.
Largest Number of Heddles Used
Nearly 50% of the general rigid-heddle weaving respondents reported only having used a single heddle thus far. More patrons reported using two heddles than public user (57% vs. 40%). Twenty percent of patrons have used three heddles, while only 10% of public users have given this a go.
Knowing we want to at least see how all the things are done, as there is joy in the figuring it out process, I asked you where your happy place was: digging deep into weave structures using various threadings and weave orders, using multiple heddles, and/or pick-up sticks and heddle rods OR mostly working with a single heddle, an occasional pick-up stick or hand manipulating weaves.
Here, patrons and the general public differed significantly and not surprisingly so, given how our conversations have meandered over the past six years. Patrons are far more interested in digging deep into weave structures (52% vs. 38%) than sticking with a single heddle (48% vs. 62%). I can surmise based on the open-ended feedback, this difference can be attributed to this is the kind of weaving that folks most often report wanting support around. The Yarnworker space is all about weaving support.
Many people responded that this is their forever loom, and they are interested in making the most of it. Some also stated that they would rather focus on as one weaver stated, “celebrating the rigid-heddle loom for what it is and not trying to make it in’t something it is not.” Some weavers have more than one loom type, so it is easier to focus on each loom’s strengths. There is room for all of these things!
For the subjective questions, I used both word clouds and read, sorted, and summarized your answers into general themes.
I asked two-open ended questions: What projects or techniques are you interested in where you could use a little bit of extra support and what do you wish there was more of in the rigid-heddle weaving world. I sorted through over 500 individual responses to arrive at some generalized trends.
Where You Are Looking for Extra Support
I see four main areas where respondents would like more support. I also include a couple of honorable mentions.
Overall, I have seen a general shift over the past ten years, from the conundrum of yarn to the conundrum of the heddles and sticks. As a weaving community, our skills have grown. This feedback still looks like a bell curve with many folks spread out on the curve from “I’m just starting to wrap my head around selecting yarns and weaving plain weave” (I see you!), to those at the other end who are chomping at the bit for three heddle information. In the middle, is this very large group of people who are interested in using two heddles to weave a variety of weave structures. Specifically, you want to know how to translate those shaft-centric structures to your rigid-heddle world, not just each specific structure’s draft or how to read a draft, but the deeper, broader picture. This makes perfect sense that this is something you would want support figuring out.
The weave-alongs are on pause while I work on a resource for this conundrum, including a new guide and class. It is slow, slow work, but I’m all in at this point and I thank the patrons for their patience and support as I muddle through a rigid-heddle centric resource to these questions. This is slowing down the publicly available free content I’ll release this year. I’m continuing to blog and send out the newsletter. The patrons and I are continuing to enjoy Q&A sessions, weave-ins, past weave-alongs, and the occasional guest lecture.
It is also worth mentioning here that within this general feedback for general knowledge, specific weave structures that often, but not all require, multiple heddles were mentioned frequently including: doubleweave in all its forms was way out in front. Also mentioned were twill, overshot, Krokbragd, Theo Moorman, and multiple forms of lace.
Schacht Spindle just announced an innovative accessory to transform your Cricket into a 4-shaft table loom! Contact your favorite Schacht dealer for more information.
Sewing came up a lot, including tips for cutting fabric and tailored garments made from narrow widths. This is content that can take a lot of development work and there is a real thirst for it.
If you haven’t already discovered her, Sarah Howard has devoted her entire weaving career to constructing garments from rigid-heddle fabrics. Her lifelong goal is to replace her entire wardrobe with her own handwoven garments. These are infinitely wearable garments made to be worn everyday. Her Etsy shop has a number of patterns, her book Get Weaving Clothing From Your Rigid Heddle Loom, and booklets on Cutting Without Fear and Making a Mock Up For Your Hand Woven Garment. I invited Sarah to have a conversation with me and the Yarnworker School Patrons last month, and to say it was illuminating would be an understatement. I am in awe of the lightness and deep subject matter expertise Sarah brings to this big topic. (This is part of the summer lecture series, my way of saying thank you to patrons for their support.)
Freedom, Pictorial, and Art Weaving
Freestyle/Saori weaving also came up a lot. Saori is a philosophical approach to weaving founded by Misao Jo. There is a specific Saori loom, although the ideas can be easily translated to any two-shed loom. This style of weaving features a lot of yarn textures, randomized colors, and inlay and clasped-weft techniques. These kinds of techniques are often referred to as “freestyle” weaving, although this style of weaving owes a huge debt to Misao Jo and the Saori movement.
There are rigid-heddle weavers who create content around these ideas, including Amy D. McKnight’s YouTube playlist, Playing with Yarn (she has lots of other videos on her channel, including 2 and 3 heddle techniques) and Esther Rogers of Jazzturtle Creations, who offers creative expression classes. Esther is also a spinner, known for art yarn, which was also mentioned quite a bit in this context.
Within this desire for freeform weaving, there were a number of mentions for a desire to focus more on the technique aspect of clasped weft and inlay, with an eye towards skill building.
Generally, art weaving was mentioned numerous times, and tapestry weaving came up quite a bit.
You might hear that the rigid-heddle loom isn’t thought of a “good” for tapestry. While it is true that the tension and shedding devices differ between a classic tapestry loom and a rigid-heddle loom, relatively small pictorial tapestries and larger, more graphic, tapestries are more than feasible on a rigid-heddle loom.
One drawback I find is loom positioning. You may need to lean over the work differently, which can lead to “tech neck”. (This is something that weavers are prone to.) For those who weave on an Ashford loom, their tabletop stand is an excellent option for rigid-heddle weavers who want to weave tapestry.
There were lots of mentions of the desire for more support around general weaving best practices—yarn selection and substitution, sett studies, color theory, selvedge management, fundamentals of warp and weft management, troubleshooting, indirect warping, heddle rods, loom mechanics, tension, economics, using a sample, cramming and spacing for sett selection. There can never be too many of these fundamentals, and different approaches to best practices speak to different weavers.
This is one of my happy places to teach. I don’t have all the answers, but I may have a good first answer. If you are looking for some general content around these topics, check out the Yarnworker Geeking Out and general technique blog posts.
There were project specific-requests for more support around weaving multiples—towels and placemats along with blankets including doublewidth and seamed, bags, and interiors such as rugs and wall hangings. Bags were a stand out. Someone out there needs to do a rigid-heddle bag collection!
The Zen of the Single Heddle
There is still plenty of desire for “simple” single-heddle techniques. Pick-up, hand-manipulated weaves, and color-and-weave, were frequently mentioned in this context (you can use these techniques with more than one heddle, too).
I want to recognize those who mentioned they are doing community-based work and looking for inventive low-cost ways to offer weaving classes in their communities, particularly to underserved populations.
One rigid-heddle-like weaving technique that is fairly low cost and creative is to use a rigid-heddle reed in a backstrap set-up. If you start Googling you will find examples of this kind of set-up. If you can’t get rigid-heddles, they can be made with popsicle sticks. You can also cut them from stiff cardboard or multiple layers of cardboard that are glued together. Cardboard also works well for DIY shuttles, as do modified paint sticks.
Local guilds or other craft groups are often full of folks with overflowing stashes that love to pass along their excess yarn to a good cause. A well-placed notice on a library or community bulletin board can generate donations of tools and yarn and connect your programs to other weavers.
If you want to see some examples of these kinds of programs in action, I have long admired the work of Weaving Hand and their community-based programs.
What You Wish There Was More Of
The things weavers wished there was more of included pretty much everything, and reflect some of the content already mentioned.
These are the things that were wished for the most: respect for loom choice, beginner content and beyond the basics; yarn mixing, finding, setting, substituting, stash busting/building; garment creation and sewing content; kits; boat shuttles designed for narrow sheds (check out Handywoman!); projects for 15″ looms; online classes and videos, books, rigid-heddle specific magazines; more weaving-specific online retail, finishing information; small patterns/large patterns; guidance on the learning curve (what to learn first, then second, this is essentially how and why I developed the Yarnworker curriculum); free stuff; freeform no-rules content and/or art weaving ideas; and time.
There was also a lot of mention that either the respondent was “too new to know” or there is so much out there it is hard to choose.
One way to keep these resources flowing is to support and engage with folks who are already supplying this content. If you are looking for rigid-heddle centric information, I keep a robust list of general rigid-heddle resources on my website. If I’ve missed any, please reach out!
The second part of the survey was specific to the Yarnworker experience and a little bit of personal information.
I appreciate your thoughtful comments about your experience with the Yarnworker space. The things you appreciated in no particular order were the advocacy and focus on the rigid-heddle loom; project-based learning; deep, multifaceted content; self-paced education; focus on short to-the-point video lessons, amplifying other rigid-heddle content; sharing content that broadens the scope of what weaving is, the newsletter; teaching style and the community around it; seeing all the different variations weavers make from a single springboard; swatch makers and sampling content; easily accessible free information; inclusive of all learning styles; troubleshooting and mistake friendly, and general enthusiasm for the rigid-heddle loom.
There were a few mentions of the kind of quirky landscape within which I teach. It is a reflection of my own quirky mind map. The Yarnworker space has evolved like additions to an old house. I’m probably due for a complete remodel. If you have questions about what lives where, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A couple of people noted that they missed the Patron and Alumni Facebook Group. Since 50% of patrons don’t use Facebook, I opted for a centralized Patron Student Union that all patrons have access to. This was both a way to give folks who actively support this space access to a centralized, community space and a way for me to streamline my operations. I just don’t enjoy social media like I used to, and not checking into Facebook everyday has been good for my mental health. While weave-alongs are active, everyone still has access to the discussion areas.
It was mentioned a few times that folks would rather purchase a la carte than sign up for Patreon. This is an option. Any previous weave-along or class is available for individual purchase via the Yarnworker School. Weave-Alongs are free to everyone while they are active. Patrons are “renting” these items based on their pledge level and also get access to more support. I strive to keep the entry level to these resources low and robust and I greatly appreciate those who are able to commit to more. I could not do what I do without patrons. The development time it takes to create these learning events is not feasible on a purely transactional basis—I make stuff, you buy stuff. Rather, it takes a mutual relationship where I commit to supporting your skill building, and you commit to mine.
The content I create is accessed by thousands of weavers every year. For the most part, I only interact with a relative few. I have wondered what this online space I’ve created looks like from a demographic point of view, things such as age, ethnicity, gender, geographic location, a very narrow slice of all that we are, so I asked. From a bird’s eye view the weavers in this space are a lot like me with some variability on each of the individual touchstones.
Demographics can be reductive, but also insightful. Perhaps these questions felt irrelevant (something I can’t get behind) or intrusive (something I can get behind). I tried to focus on open-ended questions that allowed you to describe yourself in your own terms, although some questions just lent themselves to a multiple choice question.
There is very little I do in this space lightly. If you could only see the inside of my head! I took some training and sought feedback to get some guidance on how to approach these questions. This doesn’t mean I did it right, but it was important to me personally to ask. To look at the weaver and not just the weaving.
As I have often stated, weaving is not something to be narrowly defined, rather it embraces all of the human experience. There are lots of motivations for learning to weave. Who we are and who we love can have everything to do with this motivation. Personal identity, which is quantified in demographics, is the warp and weft of life.
We constantly talk about weaving for the ones we love—birthdays, weddings, and other special occasions. Cloth bears tiding of goodwill from the maker to the recipient. We adorn our bodies with cloth we weave based on how we want to express our individuality. We speak of ethnicity and weaving all the time. Scottish Tartans, Scandinavian linens, and Navajo rugs, are just a few examples of woven cloth we reference that are grounded in ethnic traditions. This offers rich opportunities for us to explore our heritage and respectfully connect with others through our mutual love of the loom. To have more visibility of people teaching, designing, mentoring, and exploring the craft who don’t have the same demographic touchstones as I do makes the weaving world richer.
I consider the flip side of these tidings of cloth. I bear in mind that there is also negative feelings and historical trauma associated with textiles. Not everyone who weaves has this same kind of joyous connection to warp and weft. We are also not weaving in a vacuum separate from current events. How does it feel if you are a weaver whose marriage rights may feel threatened, to weave through these times? Weaving is a way to work out our angst as well as celebrate our joy.
As I read through the hundreds of ways respondents described their ethnicity, being human felt really expensive. Along with those who have a strong sense of your ancestry, there were out-of-the-box responses like “eclectic including chosen family” and many that made me chuckle “a nice mix.” I suppose one of my goals was to give respondents an opportunity to be seen in this space as you want to be seen.
A few dozen of the 600+ respondents to this questioned the relevance in the world of weaving. I heard things like “they are tired of race being an issue” or “this has nothing to do with weaving”. While it is true we are all part of the human race, our ethnicity and ancestry informs how we experience the world. We bring these experiences to our weaving life and into the classroom. I see how students connect their identity to their weaving life and to what extent the community that surrounds it resonates with them or doesn’t. It is certainly not the only factor, but it is a factor.
I think about these things because weaving for me is deeply personal and to not look at all aspects of weaving and weavers feels sterile. For me this adds to my weaving life. This may not be the way you want to weave, so perhaps this is not the kind of weaving experience you are looking for. This is something I value and informs my teaching practice.
My motivation to create this space was to provide more access to rigid-heddle centric content for personal skill development for those who do not have these resources in their communities, not necessarily to create community, although that is a byproduct of what I do. Access, however, is also a result of feeling a sense of belonging. Some weavers have no need for this community aspect of learning, they simply want the know-how. I have more thinking to do here.
The final question allowing you to share anything you wanted was filled with helpful feedback and overall gratitude and the feeling is mutual. One weaver’s response really resonated with me, “My life is so stressful and chaotic at the moment that I can’t settle down to make things. Your posts at least let me weave in my head.” This is what keeps me going, to offer some positive activities for the head, and when you can get to it, the hands, too. To speak from inside my crowded head space, I’m feeling the mental drain of the past four or five years. If you are feeling this, too, you are not alone. We don’t always get the luxury of care, so take those care moments, for yourself and others, where you can. Our future depends on cultivating a habit of care.
I thank you for your overwhelmingly constructive thoughts about rigid-heddle weaving and Yarnworker. In a world that is seemingly filled with so much negativity, I felt very little of that here.
Thank you for giving me a lot of food for thought.