Liz Gipson has threaded together her weaving skills and passion to build a career—from working as a producer on a weaving television show to writing patterns to teaching her own classes in person and online. She teaches a weaving class as part of New Mexico Tech’s community education program and offers online lessons via her website and YouTube channel, Yarnworker. The classes are supported via Patreon.
“When people ask me what I make, I make weavers,” she said.
As a pattern writer, Gipson’s own weaving process doesn’t start when she sits down at the loom. Instead, ideas usually come to her when she’s wondering around doing something else. She swatches the idea to test it out. Then she writes it up on the computer, then comes back to the loom to try something different.
“It’s very circular, so the actual sitting down and doing something, it’s actually a small fraction of how I weave.”
Gipson uses a rigid-heddle loom, which is a smaller loom and simpler to set up. She spends less time on setup than she would on a floor loom, and less of the weaving process is automated by the loom. The rigid-heddle loom is also a good choice for people who live in smaller spaces. But don’t let size fool you, the rigid-heddle loom is still powerful.
“People who come to me from the western European experience love to tell me about their big looms. Looms with shafts, and ‘oh you can’t do that much on that loom.’ And yet, people who come from grand weaving traditions, the Dine weavers, Pueblo weavers, they understand the powerfulness of looms that are seemingly simple.
“I mean you would never say that to a Navajo weaver, ‘your loom is not powerful enough.’ They’ve proven how powerful it is. So, we sort of have this western bias when it comes to tools that if it is simple therefore it’s not powerful.”
Textile technology is the basis for many things, said Gipson. Before Toyota made cars, they made looms and perfected the manufacturing line. Nano technology and smart textiles require an understanding of how cloth is made.
“You can always find a way to connect to someone what they’re interested in through cloth. So they may be an engineer or they may be an archeologist or they may be an educator, or a gardener, there’s a way to work textiles into that passion too.”
Teaching weaving at a technology school makes it easy to connect with students.
“The Jacquard loom which ran on punchcards is what gave rise to modern computing, so when I talk about the structures, those things, those are really the precursors to code. When you make those connections the coders among them, no matter where they’re Tech students or tech geeks, get that relationship instantly and they’re attracted to the loom technology.”
Gipson was first exposed to weaving on the psych ward at the University of Virginia Hospital where her mom was an occupational therapy aid in the 70s. Gipson went to work with her, and there was a woman who offered pottery and weaving to staff and patients there.
“It was all these really large floor looms and she was just my hero. She would let you, she’d throw the shuttle and you’d run around to one side. Throw the shuttle, and I’d nap under the looms.”
Gipson likes living in New Mexico, which has a rich tradition of weaving, that is easy to connect with from the Espanola Fiber Arts Center to the International Folk Art Market. Northern New Mexico has a large contemporary fiber arts scene, with people who are involved in rearing the fiber, and in traditional weaving styles.
“We have a merging of cultures, indigenous and two arrivals – both the Hispanic traditions and the Anglo traditions – and they all kind of converge. Cloth is such a culture bearer. It really carries the culture. Every culture we look at has some kind of cloth that means, whether it’s your grandmother’s table linens or a Navajo rug or a wall hanging from the Rio Grande tradition.”
When it was time to write her own books, Gipson wrote about the things she wished she knew when she was learning.
“This is the way I wish somebody had explained it to me because they tended to make it so mysterious and very technical and not as approachable.”
Every two years, Gipson surveys her audience to see what they most want to learn about weaving. Consistently, the answer has been yarn—how to pick it, what do the labels mean. Gipson has been writing about yarn for 15 years, so she compiled that information into her most recent book: A Weavers Guide to Yarn which she self-published in 2019.