Friday, October 17, 2014

Marjorie Fiddler, quilter to weaver

Marjorie Fiddler at CQA's Oct. 11 meeting, wearing a "vest/coat" woven of silk and linen threads.

Marjorie  Fiddler's first quilt, started when she was in college in Northfield, MN, was intended for a friend getting married. After wrestling with sandpaper templates ("to prevent them moving") and the severely limited fabric selection in Northfield in 1965, she abandoned the quilt...for more than 30 years! At the October 11 meeting of Contemporary QuiltArt Association, the Seattle-area artist told how, in the decades following that first effort, she combined her love of quilting with a subsequently discovered talent for weaving.

Out of college by the early '70s, Fiddler found herself in Boston, where an occupational-therapist friend employed at a local hospital gave her access to an unused workshop full of weaving equipment. "There was an old counter-balance loom missing some parts and pieces," Fiddler said, "so I spent the summer rounding up materials to repair the loom, acquiring fibers to weave, talking to every weaver I could locate, reading a ton of books on the craft, and so  on." Soon she was creating weavings of her own, from simple curtains to a complicated, colonial-style overshot bedspread. "Weaving is very step-by-step, and that appealed to me," Fiddler added.

In 1989, Fiddler arrived in Seattle with a year off to explore "something brand new," and the first thing she tried was watercolor classes. "I found out pretty quickly that I couldn't draw sufficiently--which was good, as I spent my time learning to blend colors," Fiddler said. Dealing with color came in very handy in her next exploration, which was a quilt-design study group. Here she learned to not second-guess herself,  to have faith in her own work and not gauge everything by how others responded to it.

From roughly 1989 until she retired in 2004, Fiddler was involved primarily in quilting. "What I loved about quilting was that the cloth comes already colored and frequently with patterning...and you can work piece by piece on a design wall," she said. "In weaving you have to decide so much in advance."
Fiddler's first finished quilt taught her a lot about scale!
Nicole McHale, left, and Bonnie  Brewer check out Fiddler's "Friendship" group quilt. All hand-quilted in a traditional  basket design, it was featured in the first show of the Assn. of Pacific NW Quilters, 1994, and traveled to Christchurch, NZ in a "sister city" exchange.
Bonnie Brewer studies Fiddler's "Batik Jewels" quilt, one of her early pieces created from fabrics a friend brought back from Micronesia. Fiddler found she liked the use of narrow inset lines..something used extensively in weaving.

"But some of the same principles basic to quilting are also critical to weaving," she adds. "Value is more important than color...a piece needs to 'read' both from closeup and at a distance. Line is another common element. I like to work on a grid, for the geometrical interaction of the lines. Scale is also important. And for me personally, I like having a limit, or boundaries...and you get that within the confines of the loom. I don't do tapestry weaving, as that has no boundaries."

Fiddler's 8-harness rug loom
View of part of Fiddler's studio and her 16-harness loom, used for yardage.
Given the freedom of retirement, Fiddler chose to return to weaving as  her creative outlet. A class at Weaving Works in Seattle in 2005 was followed by her joining the Seattle Weavers Guild. Then, through a family connection, she inherited two large floor looms--one, an 80"-high, 8-harness rug loom, the other a 16-harness loom for weaving yardage.

"Having these large, wonderful looms signaled to me that it was time to have 'a room of my own,'" Fiddler said, so the next step was rental of studio space outside of her home. "This also meant I now had something of my own space within my head....I was no longer worried about making pieces just for sale--though I do sell  pieces--but from then on, the projects were just for my pleasure," she added.
A sample of plain weave, where both the warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) threads show.
Sample of weft-faced weave, used for rugs. Here, only the horizontal weft threads (yarn) show.

Fiddler showed images of "plain weave"--where the warp (vertical) strings are visible in the finished product--and "weft-face weave," where the weft (horizontal filler) yarns entirely cover the warp. This latter weave style is what Fiddler uses for rugs, which are her most frequent projects. She uses linen threads for the warp and 2-ply wool for the weft (mostly purchased from Henry's Attic).  Fiddler does most of her own dying, sometimes using natural dyes, but primarily using washfast acid dyes from Dharma. "Once I was concerned with consistency in dyeing, but I've learned to let it go," she added.
Vertical stripes can be done in weft-face weave by manipulating the looms harnesses.
Samples with vertical stripes.
Samples of "standard" horizontal woven stripes in weft-face weave.
Closeup of horizontal weft-face weave. The little "specks" of color come from tightly pounding down a single"shot" or thread of yarn.

Even in the weft-face weave, Fiddler can product vertical lines as well as the basic horizontal lines, by manipulating the loom's harnesses to create stripes. Non vertical/horizontal-line patterns can also be created through the use of ikat dyeing--basically tie-dyeing on a thread-by-thread basis. Sections of yarn are wrapped with some sort of resist, e.g. threads, plastic bags, tape, etc., then the yarn is sequentially dyed, first with the resist in place, then without (or vice versa, depending on the desired color combinations). The ikat process does require advance measuring in order to have the "second color" appear in the right place in the final piece, added Fiddler.
A setup for ikat dying, showing the "resist" wrapping. Inset shows a woven sample from ikat-dyed yarn.
The purplish irregular sections are ikat-dyed.
The final appearance can be changed by manipulating the ikat-dyed yarn section.
Finished section including an ikat-dyed portion.

Here, only the gray section(s) were ikat-dyed.
The irregular grayish sections were ikat-dyed.

With the experience she's gained over the years, Fiddler says she can now sit at the loom and design as she goes, without working from a precise plan or a sketchbook. The basic design principles of design she first learned in her years of quilting--and that transfer directly to weaving--now stand her in good stead.
Done in a twill weave, this is Fiddler's first piece that doesn't have top/bottom mirror image, a result of her running out of some of the yarn!
This piece was over-dyed with indigo, and again, is symmetric rather than mirror-image.
Deciding she'd not been using enough different colors in her work, Fiddler used a triad color scheme for this piece. She found she needed to change colors more often than usual!
"Reflections"--an ikat piece with both horizontal and vertical lines, somewhat designed "on the fly" as Fiddler ran short of some of the yarns and had to modify as she went.

For more about Fiddler and views of her weavings, go to