Working with independent artist is one of our favorite parts of our business. Deb Essen of DJE Handwovens holds a special place in our hearts. Deb makes absolutely fantastic weaving kits for looms of all types from rigid heddle to 8 shafts. She even designs the completely adorable Swatch Critter Kits for the Schacht Zoom Loom.
What was your journey to becoming a weaver?
When I was about 9 years old and attended a St Lucia Day celebration at our church. There was a lady who was demonstrating spinning and weaving and I was absolutely fascinated. Fast forward to 1993 and we decided to move to Montana from Minneapolis. I still hadn’t learned to spin or weave and I was more than a little nervous that I wouldn’t be able to find teachers in Montana. So I jumped in with both feet and took two spinning classes, a rigid heddle class and a floor loom class at the Minnesota Weavers Guild within one year. Little did I know at the time, turned out that where I live in Montana you can’t swing a purse without hitting a fiber artist! (I knew the place felt right!)
Where do you draw inspiration from for new kits and projects?
I take a lot of color inspiration from photographs of nature/landscapes—magazine photos, photos shared on Facebook (very helpful). I like to offer a variety of weave structures so I’ll create a series of samples in yarns that work with the design idea and play with combinations to see what sings to me. Sometimes, inspiration comes from conversations with yarns of “what do you want to be?”
How do you plan out your kits? Do you start with a sketch or start from the yarn?
Generally speaking, an idea will pop into my head (usually when I’m winding warps for kit orders) and I’ll do a quick draft on my computer to play with the idea and design. Then I have a “discussion” with the yarns that I feel will play well in the design. Sampling ensues to find successful combinations of color and design.
Do you have a kit that you are particularly proud of? (If so, why?)
Wow, that almost feels like picking your favorite child! I don’t think of it as being proud of a particular design, as much as continuously delighted that the idea in my head now has a physical form. That tickles me to no end.
But, thinking more about this, I’d have to say I’m particularly proud of the Swatch Critter kits. These kits are my answer to what to do with the little squares woven on the Zoom Loom. In 2013, Schacht introduced their reconfiguration of the pin loom and asked if I’d design kits for the Zoom Loom. Of course, I said “Yes!” but what to create? One day I was weaving a dark green square and thought, “I wonder if I can make a turtle?” A little experimenting (the first attempt looked more like an armadillo) and VOILA!—I made a turtle and the Swatch Critters line was born.
Is there an element of owning your own business that you particularly enjoy?
The idea of designing weaving kits rattled around in my brain for years—literally. When I finally took the plunge in 2010, my first show was Convergence in Albuquerque, NM. I found out that I LOVE interacting with other weavers, bringing new weavers into “the fold” and delight in seeing the finished pieces made from my kits. It makes my heart sing and there aren’t many jobs out there that make me say that!
What is your most valued tool? (What could you absolutely not live without in your studio?)
I had to think on this for a while—but the tool I would be lost without is my computer weaving program (I use Fiberworks PCW.) I get cranky coloring in little squares by hand on graph paper and the program really lets me have fun playing with designs and colors.
What is your most precious handmade possession?
I’d have to say my collection of handwoven pieces made by fiber artists both in the U.S. and in other countries. When we travel, I purchase handwoven textiles (as often as possible directly from the weaver) that are examples of the local weaving traditions. The pieces I’ve collected bring back a lovely rush of memories each time I look at them displayed in my house.
Any tips for new weavers just starting out?
Don’t get frustrated by mistakes-those are learning opportunities (and I’ve had my share of those).
Don’t ever be afraid to try something new.
Sample, sample, sample. Keep your collection of samples for future reference.
Keep good records including what yarns you use in a project, a picture of the finished project and all warp/weft calculations. I keep mine in a 3-ring binder with dividers by textile type (scarves, runners, etc.)
Put on shorter, one project warps (samples are great for that) to become comfortable warping your loom.
Keep on practicing! Your first projects won’t be perfect, but YOU made it and that’s a fabulous feeling!
What new and exciting things do you have on the horizon?
I’m teaching weaving more often all over the country at guilds, conferences, festivals, which is a passion of mine. I’ve also been asked by several yarn companies to do designs with their yarns, which is such an honor. For 2019, I’m working on kits that use the new Bluegrass Mills (The Woolery’s new house yarn label) silk and hemp yarns plus kits for Lunatic Fringe Yarns in their new colors based on Tints and Shades of their Tubular Spectrum Yarns. I am so excited to have the opportunity to work with the different yarns and companies as a team effort.
And since we’re The Woolery, what is your favorite fiber to work with?
Oh, that’s a hard one! How can I pick just one? If I really think about it, I have to say Wool. Wool is such a versatile fiber. I can use a fine, worsted spun Merino wool yarn and make a lacey, “float on the breeze” scarf or shawl. A heavier wool yarn can make a table runner or a rug that will last for years. And then there are all the different sizes of yarn and the different sheep breeds yield different fleece/fiber, and wool blends with other fibers so well! Yep, if I could only play with one fiber (gulp) wool would be it.
Deb Essen is the author of “Easy Weaving with Supplemental Warps” (Interweave Press 2016). Deb completed HGA’s Certificate of Excellence, Level 1 (2004) and is an inducted member of the Montana Circle of American Masters in Folk and Traditional Arts (2011). Her passion is teaching the wonders of weaving.