An Interview with Syne Mitchell

An Interview with Syne Mitchell

Posted by Syne Mitchell on Feb 9th 2016


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, 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 Loom

What 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.

Schacht Cricket Loom - available with or without a copy of Inventive Weaving on a Little Loom. 

Schacht Cricket Loom

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.

Rosie's Silk Weaving Yarn, 20/2 and 60/2

Bluegrass Mills Silk Weaving Yarn, 20/2 and 60/2

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!