How did it all begin?
Born and raised in the United States, I descend from a long line of spinners, weaver and knitters. My mother’s family were immigrants from Austria and I have always felt a strong connection to these bygone fiber arts.
In 1982, I met my future husband, a Québécois who introduced me to fingerweaving. Together, we wove our very first sash, which he would wear on the wedding day. Though the technique came easily to me, it didn’t occur to me at the time that I would one day write a book about fingerweaving.
When I moved to St. Boniface in 1990, I was surprised to discover that fingerwoven sashes, known as the ceinture fléchée, figured prominently in the local French-Canadian heritage. Once again, I was drawn to this fascinating art form. I felt the need to weave sashes for my sons, to be worn during the Festival du Voyageur. Soon enough, I received an invitation into Winnipeg’s historic re-enactment community and it wasn’t long before I found my niche as the sash weaver. Not only was this an opportunity to refine my weaving technique but I was also given the chance to teach this art to others.
By 2006, I had been teaching fingerweaving classes for several years and, class after class, students would recommend that I put everything that I had learned together and publish a book. “Fingerweaving Untangled” was published in March of 2008 and has since sold over 4000 copies across North America.
Researching the subject of sprang, one book stands out among all the others. This is Peter Collingwood’s ‘Techniques of Sprang’. This is an encyclopedic treatment of the subject, a vast resource (although overwhelming for beginners). In the back of the book there are several plates, images of sprang. One particularly stunning example is a sash that belonged to George Washington. Gazing at this image I began a quest to study the original. Correspondence with staff at George Washington’s Mount Vernon eventually resulted in me being accorded time with the sash. As part of the deal I agreed to make a replica for George Washington’s Mount Vernon for public display.
What projects have you been focusing on more recently?
Sprang is another cloth making technique that I have taught myself over the years. Military re-enactors are especially keen on this technique because officers have been wearing sprang sashes since the 1700s. While there is a large amount of literature available on the subject of fingerweaving, I found myself without any comprehensive material concerning sprang. In early 2010, I resolved that I would simply have to write the book myself.
After a year of tireless weaving and research, “Sprang Unsprung” was complete and ready for sale in August of 2011.
What is fingerweaving?
Fingerweaving is done entirely by hand and requires no other material than the yarn to weave and a hook on the wall. The weaver works each thread individually from top to bottom, stopping every once in a while to untangle the false weave that builds up at the bottom. When making a sash, the average weaver is able to weave about one inch per hour. Fingerweaving yields a strong cloth with little stretch and can include a large number of different coloured patterns.
What is sprang?
Sprang is an ancient method for producing cloth, yielding an end result quite different from fingerweaving. It can either be worked in a backstrap-loom method or with a rigid frame. In either case, the threads are attached at both ends and are manipulated by the weaver. Two rows of cloth, one the mirror image of the other, result from each row of work.Techniques can include interlinking, interlacing or intertwining. The resulting cloth will have a large amount of sideways stretch. Sprang sashes and clothing are often adorned with lace-like or coloured patterns.
Do you take custom orders?
I am often asked this question when giving demonstrations to the public. Initially, my answer was always “no”. I refused to believe that anyone was willing to pay the artist a reasonable price. Soon enough, however, I discovered a small market for sashes, especially within the historic community. Over the years, I have sold dozens of fingerwoven and sprang sashes, both to hardcore re-enactors and to folks who are just looking for something different.
How much do these sashes cost?
An average fingerwoven sash takes more than 70 hours to complete. Depending on the type of yarn used, these unique pieces can sell for well over $500.00 per foot. Keep in mind that these prices are set to reflect the large amount of time invested in each and every piece and conform to those of fingerweavers from Québec.
Sprang sashes take less time to weave because both halves are woven simultaneously on a frame. A plain sash with twisted fringes will cost $36.00 per foot.
The custom order page contains several examples of sashes with prices listed in the description.
Why would anyone want to spend that much time making a sash?
Once you have learned the technique, weaving becomes an amazing meditative process. From 2006 to 2009, I worked on various fingerweaving projects in the St-Boniface General Hospital as part of their Artists in Healthcare program. Weaving creates an atmosphere of calm and harmony in a place where these feelings are hard to come by. This aura is not limited to the artist; the casual observer is also able to find mental respite, cultural awareness, and healing through this art.
Do you teach classes or workshops?
Seasonally, I teach fingerweaving classes at the Musée de St-Boniface Museum. More information about them can be found here.
I deliver school workshops about fingerweaving and other fiber arts. They include an audiovisual presentation and two activities. This page contains more information.
Adult groups or artists guilds can sign up for a weekend fingerweaving intensive. This is a great opportunity for several people to learn to make a sash. There is a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 10 participants and all the details can be found here.
Finally, I also appear at various fiber arts conventions and festivals. You can check out my home page for more information.
What kind of yarn do you use?
Any smooth yarn can be used. Avoid the bumpy yarns, or ones that have those fuzzy bits, eyelash yarns. A good tight twist is desirable, so that the yarn will withstand the weaving and unweaving. Beginners are encouraged to start with small projects using bits of yarn they have around the house, or else cheap yarn, just to get the idea of the method. It will take a while for your hands to settle in and come to create a nice even-tensioned cloth.
For a larger or more serious project select a hard-wearing yarn. Worsted yarn is created for wear, not warmth. Generally true worsted yarn has a slippery feel and shiny look. It is dense, tightly packed, and not at all fluffy or soft. True worsted yarn is very hard to find these days. I have been using 100% wool, and favor a type that wears well, does not pill or get fuzzy with use. A yarn called Quebecoise from LeMieux Spinning has been my favorite. Also quite worthy is 'Heritage' from Briggs and Little Spinning.
Yes, I have to admit, a few errors have crept into my books.
At the bottom of the page
At the end of each row, check that you have 6 threads in front, and 6 threads in back.
Weave the right-of-center thread to the right, across 14 threads.
Turn the work over, and repeat.
Row 8b, The center will be 3, 10
Row 5b, The center will be 5, 11
92 loops (184 threads) on a 30 in (75 cm) long figure-8 warp
(see PDF attached)