Making weavers, and sharing a passion for fiber arts

Liz Gipson has found a variety of ways to share her passion for weaving and fiber arts, including teaching in New Mexico Tech’s community education classes and teaching via online video lessons.
Catherine Cook | Photos of Chef El Defensor

Liz Gipson has combined her skills and passion for weaving to build a career, from working as a producer on a weaving TV show to writing patterns to teaching her own in-person and online classes. She teaches a weaving class as part of New Mexico Tech’s community education program and offers online classes through her website and YouTube channel, Yarnworker. Classes are supported through Patreon.

“When people ask me what I do, I do weavers,” she said.

As a patternmaker, Gipson’s own weaving process doesn’t begin when she sits down at the loom. Instead, the ideas usually come to her when she’s wondering what else to do. She swatches the idea to test it. Then she writes it down on the computer, then comes back to the loom to try something different.

“It’s very circular, so sitting down and doing something is actually a small fraction of how I weave.”

Gipson uses a stiff heddle loom, which is a smaller loom and easier to set up. She spends less time setting up than she would on a floor loom, and less of the weaving process is automated by the loom. The stiff heddle loom is also a good choice for people who live in smaller spaces. But don’t let the size fool you, the stiff heddle loom is still powerful.

Gipson worked with Angela Smith, formerly of Purl & Loop, to create sample looms, which allow weavers to easily sample ideas before starting a project.

“People who come to me from Western European experience love to tell me about their great looms. Looms with handles, and ‘oh, there’s not much you can do on this loom’ And yet people who come from great weaving traditions, Dine weavers, Pueblo weavers, they understand the power of crafts that seem simple.

“I mean you would never say that to a Navajo weaver, ‘your loom is not strong enough.’ They’ve proven how powerful it is, so we kind of have this western bias with tools that if they’re simple, then they’re not powerful.

Textile technology is the foundation of many things, Gipson said. Before Toyota made cars, they made looms and perfected the production line. Nanotechnology and smart textiles require an understanding of fabric manufacturing.

“You can always find a way to communicate to someone what interests them through fabric. So they can be an engineer or an archaeologist or an educator or a gardener, there is also a way to integrate textiles into this passion.

Teaching weaving at a tech school makes it easier to connect with students.

“The Jacquard loom that ran on punched cards is what gave birth to modern computing, so when I talk about the structures, those things, those are really the precursors to code. When you make those connections between coders, what whether they’re tech students or tech geeks, get that relationship instantly and they’re drawn to loom technology.

Gipson was first exposed to weaving in the psychiatric ward at the University of Virginia Hospital, where her mother was an occupational therapy aide 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 big looms and she was just my hero. She would let you, she would throw the shuttle and you would run to one side. Throw the shuttle and I’d take a nap under the looms.

Gipson loves living in New Mexico, which has a rich weaving tradition it’s 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 involved in fiber farming and traditional weaving styles.

“We have a fusion of cultures, natives and two arrivals – both Hispanic traditions and Anglo-Saxon traditions – and they all kind of converge. Fabric is such a carrier of culture. He really carries the culture. Every culture we look at has some kind of fabric meaning, whether it’s your grandmother’s table linens or a Navajo rug or wall hanging from the Rio Grande tradition.

When it was time to write her own books, Gipson wrote about the things she wished she had known when she was learning.

“That’s how I wish someone had explained it to me, because they tended to make it so mysterious and very technical and not as approachable.”

Every two years, Gipson polls his audience to see what they most want to know about weaving. Constantly the answer was yarn – how to choose it, what the labels mean. Gipson has been writing about yarn for 15 years, so she compiled this information into her most recent book: A Weavers Guide to Yarn which she self-published in 2019.