Explore Fiber is a collaborative website showcasing and exploring fiber as a fine art material.
Mary Ruth Smith, Instructor
Some of our best fiber art incubators are University fiber programs. Mary Ruth Smith is a professor of fabric design at Baylor University for over 24 years. A noted fiber artist herself, Mary Ruth, leads her students on an exciting exploration of fiber as a fine art material.
Our Independence, by Mary Ruth Smith, fabric, paper and stitching, (9” x 9”), (2011)
“I believe that a successful teacher must be both a practicing artist and an active participant in his/her chosen field of study. It is essential for the teacher to make and exhibit art and, at the same time, to stay abreast of current trends in order to present updated information on tools, materials, techniques and processes to his/her students. Concurrently, it is necessary to stress the importance of content and ideas and to showcase prominent artists, trends and issues.”
Student weaving, woven with pull tabs
As you can see from the degree plan and the written comments about the fabric design concentration, we only offer one weaving course. If a student wishes to pursue additional weaving, then he/she can take an Art 4v90, a special problems course, or he/she can use one of the fabric design problems courses. Most of what I have posted on Instagram are images from the beginning weaving course. The following commentary will explain and highlight some parameters on how I teach the course and/or what my expectations are and how I go about teaching students to weave on looms (table and floor) and to explore off loom possibilities.
Student weaving, loom woven, cotton warp, ghiordes knots, duct tape (folded in half vertically), plastic strips, ribbon
Most students (if not all) come to the class without any weaving experience. They see weavings on the wall display boards in the art building and are intrigued and sign up for the course or by other students’ recommendations. I am sure they have heard about setting up the loom and how labor-intensive it is and how time-consuming it is. But, they prevail. Students get to make something and that is appealing to them. Also, the use of all the yarns – their textures, their colors and how they can be used to create surfaces – have visual appeal for students.
Student weaving, woven cut paper strips, chenille, plain weave, ghiordes knotted, two panels stitched together off loom.
Student work, woven, found colored plastic bags, stripped, tapestry
Catalog description: Introduction to loom weaving through the study of basic weave structures, fiber types and color relationships. Development of technical skill and design competency.
The following information is taken from my syllabus:
Course objectives: This is an introductory course for loom weaving which focuses on the design and construction of art fabrics using a variety of materials, processes and techniques.
Projects are assigned as the semester progresses. Types of projects depend on the direction that develops as students weave. Ideas are generated through processes, materials, and techniques available for exploration. Requirements include using non-conventional materials either as wefts or as supplemental ornamentation. Students are prodded to be on the lookout for something atypical to use in more than one of their projects at the beginning of the semester. In addition, one of the assignments needs to developed using some form of recycled plastic. Most collect and use plastic bags they have gotten during shopping trips.
Student work, woven found colored plastic bags, stripped, tapestry
I leave many of the mechanics for the projects more generic so I can determine the direction for semester assignments as I observe student interests, needs, desires and abilities. My insights into the process are voiced throughout the times we share in the classroom environment.
Since the students are beginning weaving students, they learn about all the necessary processes/procedures in order to begin to weave on a loom, i.e., parts of a loom, warp calculations, preparing the warp, setting up the loom. Looms are set up using plain weave with a black cotton warp, usually sett at 12 ends per inch, 12/13 inches in width and 8 yards in length. I use a black warp because all colors of weft yarns seem to go well with black. Once or twice when I have allowed students choose their own colors for warp, it seems that their choices of colors for wefts are limited to what the warp color is and the finished weaving is not as visually effective/appealing. Once I let them divide the warp into two/three colors (their preference) so they could see how colors reacted on different warp and weft combinations. This was effective in that students could witness how warps and wefts of different colors created a plaid fabric.
Once the loom is set up, the following projects on the loom are required for each student to complete:
Project 1. Sampler (approximately 36 inches) of plain weave and plain weave variations, twill weave and twill weave variations, ghiordes knots, hand manipulated lace weave (Brook’s bouquet, Danish medallion, Spanish lace, leno), tapestry (slit, interlocking, hatching, dovetailing). Students are to focus on color, value, space division, and textural qualities. Also, they can combine yarns of different colors to provide a visual mix and they can combine smaller yarns to create new textures and larger sizes. What they can do with yarns and techniques is only limited by their imagination and ingenuity.
Student work, sampler of different weaves
Student weaving, sampler of different weaves made into tubes off loom
Project 2. A wall piece that is composed of mostly ghiordes knots. How and what students do is left open for them to explore and to come up with creative and innovative solutions.
Student work, torn fabric, ghiordes knotted, tags with written messages
Student weaving, woven fabric with ghiordes knots and dyed tea bags (detail)
Project 3. A length of weaving designed around the use of one or more of the hand manipulated techniques. Color and yarn choices are theirs to make.
Student work, weaving hand-manipulated techniques such as leno, Brook’s bouquet, Spanish lace, and Danish medallion
Project 4. A weaving based on tapestry techniques (choices from slit, interlocking, hatching, dovetailing)
Student work, tapestry with added hand stitch
Project 5. Individual project is based on the warp that is left over after weaving the above four assignments. What students plan is based on the amount of remaining warp.
Considerations for contemplation to plan and develop Project 5: Students can further develop something that appealed to them from previous weaving projects. Additional possibilities include: spaced warps, decreasing warp width as the weaving on the loom progresses, unit construction (units can be sewn together in a side by side arrangement and they can be a collection of related parts of single pieces, shaped weaving such as on loom weaving and off loom manipulation (cylinders, pulled warp threads, folding, sewing and stuffing, etc.), weaving with torn strips of black fabric and discharging when the weaving is off the loom. Inspiration is provided through Power Point presentations and having students conduct research using online sources such as Instagram and Pinterest.
Student weaving, individual project with left over warp on loom, woven separately, dyed and assembled
Student weaving, loom woven, discharged
HANDOUT from Fall 2016: Weaving Artists/Topics/Blogs to research: Internet, Instagram, etc.
I always caution students to be aware that not everything they see on these two sites is going to be the quality and type of work I expect from them. However, I do think looking at images on these sites and elsewhere (blogs) will help students develop a discerning eye by being able to be selective in their searches.
Other requirements that students need to include somewhere in their work during the semester include 1) the use of plastic (recycling), 2) inclusion of one or more unusual or nontraditional weaving material in one or more of their projects. Some examples that students have used include pipe cleaners, washers, rolled newspaper, photographs, rolled crepe paper, beads sewn on or attached in some other creative way, pull tables from soft drink cans, monofilament, duct tape, ribbons, etc.
Student work, woven target bags, ghiordes knots
Project 6: Off loom project, usually a frame loom. Possibilities include tapestry, strip weavings that are combined after weaving a sufficient number of strips for idea. This past semester I offered students the possibility of exploring alternative ways to develop a “faux” weaving – a weaving that is not woven but has the “look” of a weaving when finished.
Student work, Wall loom, approximately 9 feet tall
Project 7: This assignment varies from year to year. Possibilities have included:
1) all students weave on a floor loom: black warp and black fabric wefts, discharged off loom; weaving on a woolen warp; or weaving on a mixed yarn warp. Loom is set up by student worker.
2) looms are set up using tie-dyed fabric strips and woven with tie-dyed torn fabric weft strips. We looked at the work of Ann Roth (North Carolina) for inspiration and technique. Fabric is tie-dyed by student worker, washed by me, torn into strips by student worker, and loom is set up by student worker.
3.) weaving on an 8-harness table loom.
Student work, woven, tie-dyed stripped fabric used for both warps and wefts
Student work, woven, tie-dyed stripped fabric used for both warps and wefts
Students do not have time to set up a second loom; thus, I use my student worker to do these activities noted above.
I am more open in my teaching approach – giving students opportunities to express their creative objectives and to seek ways to solve each problem presented through their individuality and experience. This tactic leads to more innovative thinking and varied results. It is my goal for students to seek and develop a wide range of individualized weavings that explore the same set of requirements for the assignment. Happy weaving!