Your Weaving Story: Jan Miller

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Jan Miller 

16" loom

I've always been an artist and can remember having my first urge to weave already before the age of seven.  My parents represented a local toy company at the New York City Toy Fair each year so I often got cool toys (including LEGO's before they were available in America).  One of my Christmas presents when I was seven was a little loom I've never seen anywhere else. It was modeled on a floor loom complete with a pivoting beater and reed but made of cheap red plastic and a bit too small to really use--only about 8 inches on any dimension.  Even my child-size fingers had difficulty threading reeds without tools that didn’t come with the kit. They actually expected young beginning weavers (who probably didn't have weaving parents) to figure out how to warp the darn thing from the totally opaque instructions.  The whole thing was a snarled mess of K-Mart yarn in less than a frustrating afternoon. I tried going back to it several times with no more success but the desire to weave still intact. If the loom had come pre-warped it would have been a completely different story but I was left without any way to scratch my itch.  

School included the occasional construction paper weaving project.  Coming from an area of the U.S. with a serious Colonial era history it’s amazing I didn’t get to see more working looms when I was growing up.  The one time I saw a floor loom in a neighbor’s home the owner swatted me away presuming I would do something terrible to the enchanting pattern of threads ensconced therein.   I did a tapestry weaving on a cardboard loom as part of my master’s degree in art education, mostly by experimentation. Finally, when visiting a particularly good magazine stand I found a copy of Handwoven.  Eureka!! I looked up the list of dealers for Schacht looms and found one only an additional half hour north. In this pre-cell phone time I had to go home to call for directions but headed straight there at the first opportunity.  My first purchase soon after was an inkle loom for my classroom. It was still quite a while before I figured out the very different method of warping “up” and “down” threads. I finally took a weaving class at that store and promptly fell down the rabbit hole.

My introduction was at the height of the “back to nature” boom in weaving in the 1980’s.  Weavers had several monthly magazines in print and even in my new state where most people opted for the beach rather than the studio to spend leisure hours there was a guild, a club and several stores.  Today we don’t have that boom and many brick-and-mortar stores, magazines, guilds and school programs have ceased operation. But we do have videos for learning as well as digital platforms and cell phone cameras to share both our bugaboos and triumphs.  And I have founded two Facebooks groups on weaving for sharing, one of which has 2550 members--my way of giving back.

My story highlights two of the most important factors for success in almost any endeavor--proper instruction and the proper tools.  My collection over the years has included several table and floor looms as well as a variety of inkle looms, small format looms and a variety of bead and tapestry looms.  My Mirrix Big Sister with the side extensions and that miraculous shedding device holds pride of place. Fortunately the best loom manufacturers understand that smoothly finished component parts not only avoid snags with fibers but they make our tools such a pleasure to use.  Even strangers who watch me demonstrate spinning on my Schacht Matchless are amazed at the two-toned bentwood construction and can’t help touching that cute little mushroom knob on top which happens to be the “fine tuning” control (often requiring a reboot after they’ve done the deed).  Mirrix solves the whole smooth loom components in a completely different way with metal construction including copper parts that makes their looms positively sexy. They work so well under high tension. Another attraction for the Mirrix was that I could do beads or fiber or a mix of both. Plus, I really appreciate a manufacturer who builds value rather than obsolescence into their product by expanding the capabilities of their original models rather than reinventing the wheel every few years.  Proper tools, proper instruction coupled with my desire have given me much satisfaction over the years in this craft which has held my attention longer than almost any of the others in my experience. I look forward to many more years of weaving pleasure.

Click here to join Jan's Weaving Arts Resource Pages (WARP) on Facebook!