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Teachers Gotta Teach or How to Become One

The past few months, I’ve had a number of sporadic conversations with weavers who would like to teach. For those who are interested in teaching others to weave, I thought I’d share my path and some tips for budding teachers.

How I Became a Weaving Teacher

My desire to teach was spurred on while I was working at Interweave. We were in constant discussions about how we could encourage more people to take up weaving—teaching being at the top of the list. A magazine’s role isn’t exactly to teach, it is to inspire. Books play more of a role and some of the press’s best authors were teachers. There were lots of initiatives, both internal and external, that the company supported.

One goal was to increase weaving knowledge in the company, so I started doing demonstrations at lunch. (First time I did this, I warped my loom backwards. It happens.) It was around that time that I decided to teach locally. We didn’t have a yarn shop in town, so I pitched a class to the local rec center.

Chances are, if you were interested in learning to weave, you weren’t going to make an investment in the loom before trying it out, so I took a leap and sold my electric guitar and bought five old-school style 15” rigid-heddle looms from Schacht. The Flip and Cricket were still a few years off and the Ashford Knitters Loom was in the development stage.

These first classes were held on Saturdays, four hours a week for four weeks. I warped the looms for the students and the students wove off a set of coasters, similar to the Cozy Coasters in the first edition of Weaving Made Easy. (They got left out in favor of making room for more kitchen items in the new edition.) Then the students warped the loom on their own for a scarf, a project that eventually became the Fully Loaded Scarf in Weaving Made Easy.

I had no idea that these projects would end up published. I was just trying to develop projects where folks with no weaving expereince could have success with easy-to-find yarn. Fulled projects hide all the messiness of learning. I only taught the indirect, warping-board method in these early classes because in my head it was the most versatile method, although it was not the easiest or quickest. I really wasn’t sure what I knew when I started teaching. I taught the students what I was taught and what I had taught myself. What I learned is that I knew more than I thought I did and that there was room for improvement if I really wanted my students to succeed. This was not about learning rules, it was about building skills.

The rigid-heddle loom allowed me to peel back the layers of what weaving is and bring it down to a common core. These skills are universal to all weaving—project planning, yarn selection, loom set-up, winding shuttles, managing selvedges, managing your beat, starting and stopping wefts, removing the cloth from the loom, and finishing techniques. No matter the loom type, these are the common skills all weavers need to know.

I spent the first five years of my teaching career, teaching what I had learned, and then I started to teach what my students taught me to teach.  That’s when I became a teacher.

How to Become a Weaving Teacher

host_weaving_meet_upsStart teaching exactly where you are. There is no need to become a master of all things. Many excellent teachers are only one or two steps ahead of their students. Be honest with your students. Tell them you are there to teach them what you know. Your fees can scale with your experience. I charged a modest fee for my first few classes; after all they were paying me to learn to teach them. I do believe in charging something for workshops as you will get more committed students.

There are ways to start gaining experience before you offer a formal class. Start by teaching a friend, or offer to do a demo, or host a meet-up at a local venue—your LYS, public festivals and fairs, libraries, schools, place of worship, or local recreation, senior, or youth centers. Your local coffee shop, wine bar, or brewery are also options, any place people gather.

Get creative with your venues. Amy McKnight, MsLoomWeaver on Instagram, recently started offering “Ask Me Anything” forums in her Instagram stories to encourage potential weavers to ask questions. She also holds periodic informal meet-ups in her community.

Find a way to get equipment. This may seen like a big barrier, but there are a lot of ways to provide looms for folks who want to learn. Use DIY frame looms to teach the basics, then end the class with a demonstration on a rigid-heddle or other loom to show how the mechanical action and warp storage can help either speed up the work or work differently. If you do this a few times, enough folks will buy the kind of loom you want to teach on, and you can offer a beginning class.

Google “DIY Looms” and you will see lots of ideas for making looms. This week, I spent some time with a class of local eighth graders. Their teacher helped them make looms by zip-tying branches together. I think the fact that they got to know weaving basics from this experience made them way more eager to explore the rigid-heddle looms I brought to class. It may be that frame loom weaving is also a means to an end. The recent popularity of wall hangings has proven that, and it has also developed a thirst for exploring the many ways to make woven cloth.

There are a few grant programs available for educators. TNNA has a limited supply of spinning and weaving kits available for educators. Schacht Spindle Company has a bunch of teaching resources they have generously made available on their website, including an annual grant for equipment for educators. Purl & Loop offers a monthly give-away of 25 Wee Weavers to educational programs. If you have a loom that you like to use, contact the maker and see if they have a program for educators. Loom manufactuers are sometimes willing to offer a discount to teachers. You may have to have developed a track record before you can take advantage of these types of programs.

Use a Thing to Teach a Thing. Project-based learning means that folks can fulfill their desire to make something, while also learning skills that will help them grow as a weaver. The most popular classes are ones that offer the student the opportunity to complete a project, start to finish, in a single day.

Develop Your Own Thing. There is a whole complex issue of copyright and teaching that’s important, but they shouldn’t stop you from teaching. For the most part, cloth itself isn’t copyrightable, but the written pattern to make the cloth is. For instance, twill is not copyrighted, but the color choices, yarn selection, and techniques used to make a thing in twill may be.

There are also ethical issues with using other peoples ideas, if you feel like you might be using someone else’s work, then you probably are and need to be upfront about it. Ask for permission, or keep working with the technique until you feel like you have made it your own. The best teachers have spent a good about of time at their loom being deeply curious about how it works. We all end up at some universal ways of doing things. In the vastness of cloth making, there are actually a finite way of interlacing threads.

You can teach students how to weave a published pattern, but either you or the student will need to buy the pattern—one for every student in the class. It is still a good idea to contact the publisher or author and let them know. Always credit the source if you use their materials and tell the students you are using them with permission.

Because developing a workshop-friendly pattern can be a barrier to getting started, I wrote up those first coasters that I used to started my teaching career. They can be warped and woven in a day.

FREE WORKSHOP PATTERN: FULL ON COASTERS

Provide Everything They Need There are three bits of information I always provide my students: basic vocabulary, resources for future exploration, and a pattern. Some of these may take the shape of links on the pattern itself. I also often provide the yarn. This will ensure that they have the right materials to succeed and eliminate any stress they have in choosing the right yarns.

Follow the Enthusiasm. Sometimes we get ideas in our head that this person or that person should be a weaver, or this is the place weavers hang out. Test your assumptions and follow the enthusiasm you find. If your chosen venue says no to your ideas, keep looking. Your tribe is waiting for you and we need more weaving teachers.

Heddles Up!

Liz

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