FOLLOWING THE THREADS

“Being an artist affects how and what I think about during the day and what I dream.
At night I sit in the movie theater of dreams and watch patterns of colors and
designs float by on the screen.” —Sara Hotchkiss, weaver


interview NANCY GORDON  |  photography DENNIS GRIGGS

Weaver Sara Hotchkiss inspecting a warp she has just wound on the loom.
The warp, on the 12’ loom, was for five rugs woven side by side.
Very important to get the color sequences of each of the five correct!
Photo: Wayne Myers
Brunswick, Maine
9 x 12 inches
Bungalow Sun, 36 x 48 inches
Full Moon Over Blankets
32 x 72 inches
Whirled Leaves, 7 x 7 feet
Wool stair runner, Bath, Maine
X, 30 x 50 inches

Tell us about yourself and when you began weaving.

I first wove on a floor loom my junior year of college. Weaving intrigued me because I grew up loving textiles and fiber. My mother taught me
to sew doll clothes from fabric in kindergarten and to knit sweaters
for them a few years later. I made my own clothes and sweaters
through high school as a way to get the expensive clothes I admired
in magazines or fancy stores. I would see them and reproduce them
for myself. I really loved the challenge.

My college choice was based on the strength of their art department and the availability of weaving courses and that it was a liberal arts college. I was shut out of the weaving classes for the first few years and was despondent so I got brave and went directly to the weaving instructor to ask for advice. To my surprise and relief she signed me
up. I launched myself into her weaving classes with a bit too much determination—choosing projects that were too advanced. She had warned me and I didn’t listen. I failed at these beginning projects and announced I was quitting her class. Luckily, she put me in my place and refused to let me quit. She also let me switch gears and choose other projects. I feel much gratitude towards her.

Any words of wisdom from your early career that have stayed
with you?

If doing what you love is of utmost importance then make it work. Lower your overhead, work a zillion hours, give up stuff and fight like hell for health care for everyone.

Do you design on paper first?

Yes and no. I get an idea. It could be a color blend, a color inspiration,
a shape I want to weave, a variation on a previously woven piece—anything, really. Sometimes the design comes first, sometimes the colors. It kicks around in my head for a while and when I feel like I have enough of an idea of how the whole thing will look I draw the design on graph paper with a pencil. This often takes a very long time because all the shapes have to be the right proportions and the colors need to balance. The graph paper design is based on the number of rows per inch and the number of threads per inch.

When I know all that I tweak the graph and then the design part is ready for the loom. I already have an idea of the color blends but sometimes it takes me a long time to find and purchase all the perfect fabrics. Then I choose the warp threads and dress the loom. Then I start weaving. However, I often weave and unravel, weave and unravel for days before
I know the color blends are speaking to me and saying the right thing.
If not, I unravel and start over. Occasionally I will weave a third of the rug and notice one of the colors in the beginning is not right so I unravel again and reweave it. Your readers are probably tearing their hair out reading this, but it’s just part of the process. I don’t fight it.

How large a rug will the looms hold?

My largest loom will weave 11 feet 6 inches in width, any length.

Do you sit or stand to work on the large looms?

I’m five feet tall so I stand on a raised platform to weave. It is very comfortable. I either sit or stand to weave on the smaller looms.

Are there different techniques in weaving or is it about the design and materials used?

Both. Many weavers focus on weaving patterns created by threading and treadling. I love those patterns but my passion is blending colors and graphics in a painterly way so I use tapestry techniques to create shapes, to make “pictures.”

Do you work with cotton and wool? What grades?

For the rugs and wall hangings I use cotton fabric weft and a cabled cotton warp. Both the cotton fabric and the warp are very strong, high-quality materials. Necessary for a product to wear well on the floor.

When clients custom-order rugs and pillows, do they usually know what they want?

Usually, but not always. They are usually familiar with my work so the conversation goes from there.

What do you love about designing and weaving for rugs and pillows?

COLOR! I love how color influences a mood, tells a story, shouts
from the rooftop, slyly pokes us, is dense or breezy, and teases our memories. Color is relative so working with colors to get the right blend and degree of warm/cool or light/dark is a lot of give and take. When I am weaving a specific color area of the overall design I blend between six and 20 or so individual color fabrics to achieve the right color blend,  imagining the environment they will live in, weaving a graphic design
I haven’t tried before and liking what I get.

Does this process allow for spontaneity?

Not really. I am able to change both design and colors once I start weaving but one thing leads to another and it is more efficient to get the design and colors figured out ahead of time. However, no efficiency of time is worth designs or colors that don’t sing.

There are more spontaneous forms of weaving such as tapestry weaving on a summer loom and I plan to do more of that soon.

Where do your design inspirations come from (including the custom orders) for the rugs and pillows?

Everything and anything I see. Colors and shapes in nature, ethnic traditions, old quilts, vintage fabrics, rugs from other cultures, shapes
of buildings and furniture, textiles of all kinds. And color and design suggestions from clients.

What time of day is most productive for working?

The time when I am working. I keep busy all day long but I have never been able to keep myself on a schedule. Every day varies.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

If you want weaving to be your career you need to have a lucrative hobby. Seriously, very few weavers make enough money to support themselves. So practice subsistence living and love what you do.
Weave and design like it’s the last piece you will ever make.

Are all looms created equal?

No. Different looms work for different kinds of textiles. Only very sturdy looms should be used for rugs.

How many pieces do you have going at any one time?

Anywhere from one to four or five or more.

Favorite music while working?

I don’t often listen to music because I can’t sing and weave at the same time. When the weather is warm and the windows are open, the birds and the wildlife are the best music.

Tell us about the workshops you offer.

2020 workshops are canceled out of my desire to help keep everyone safe. The workshops have been small, personal, experiential events
with close instruction and cozy lunches. In the re-invention process,
stay tuned.

Weaving looks like cat heaven. What’s Mister Winky’s special job?

My whole house is cat heaven! Sunroom, big windows, catnip all over the place, piles of fabric, a wood stove and the best hiding places. Mister Winky’s big secret is he doesn’t really like the studio, he prefers to lounge elsewhere. He’s trying to teach me how to nap; so far, he’s disappointed.

Are the pillows woven on a smaller or special loom than the rugs?

Same looms.

Your pillows have a more modern/abstract design than the rugs, which are more traditional. Which is more your personal design sensibility?

I go back and forth between the more modern and traditional influences with the rugs, wall hangings and pillows. I don’t have a favorite.

What does being an artist mean to you?

Being an artist affects how and what I think about during the day and what I dream. At night I sit in the movie theater of dreams and watch patterns of colors and designs float by on the screen. I enjoy making stuff, it grounds me. It also makes me happy to make something for other people to enjoy.

. . .

sarahotchkiss.com


Favorite Maine restaurant?
I
honestly don’t eat out much. But my favorite place to eat
out would be: On a warm rock near the ocean. A picnic with
a friend. We’d have herring in wine sauce, sourdough bread,
local cheese and organic grapes or apples. Simple is just fine
when the air is warm and the friend is special.

 

Previous StoryNext Story