Work Experience 28: Weaver
When I was growing up I’d often hear Mum working away on her sewing machine for hours into the night after I’d gone to bed. She’d create sequin-covered lycra dance costumes for all four of her girls, was a big fan of sewing us matching dresses to wear in the 80’s (same patterns, different fabrics), and even went through a phase of sewing teddy bears and dolls to sell at the local markets. Although Mum’s sewing machine only comes out to sew the odd hem or fancy-dress costume these days, she still enjoys knitting and will add a few rows to the jumper or scarf she’s working on whenever she gets the chance.
I recently did work experience with Gabi Kis-Warren, who has a passion (and slight obsession) for yarn. Like me she grew up with a mum and grandmother who loved to knit and sew. Unlike me however, she carried on the tradition. It was inevitable that with her love of yarn she’d also eventually take up weaving. Gabi decided about a year ago to turn her hobby into a business, weaving beautiful cashmere and merino wool scarves to sell in her online shop Weaving in Hot Climates.
What did I do?
Gabi runs her business from home, working predominantly during school hours. When I arrived she showed me the rigid heddle loom that she uses, and fixed it firmly to the dining table. Her idea was for me to make a scarf over our two days together that I’d be able to keep. What a lovely surprise! She’d already picked two different coloured yarns for my scarf that she thought I’d like and was spot on in her choice – a lovely bluey-coloured alpaca yarn, and a grey half merino/half acrylic one. She chose these yarns as they are thicker and easier to weave with than cashmere, meaning that the time it’d take us to complete the scarf would be significantly less. Depending on the design, Gabi’s cashmere scarves can take up to five days to create. Cashmere is super soft and delicate as well as being much more expensive, and Gabi showed me just how easily it can break if it’s not handled gently.
As Gabi set up her loom she explained that we were going to make a relatively narrow scarf, about half the width of the loom. Her idea was to use grey, then blue, then grey again for the warp of the scarf which runs vertically on the loom (and is ultimately the length of the scarf), and to use more of the blue yarn for the weft, which runs horizontally on the loom. Gabi said the magical part about weaving is discovering how the colours she’s chosen will interact once she starts, as until then it’s difficult to know. It’s not unlike colour mixing with paint as the colours can take on a whole new shade once they’re tightly woven together. I was really looking forward to getting started and seeing the result.
Gabi set up the warp on her loom, explaining each of the steps and letting me have a go along the way. I’ve added a YouTube clip (click here) which details each step of the set-up and weaving process on a rigid heddle loom. Gabi’s loom is larger than the one in the clip, and the warping peg she used was fixed further away to allow for the length of scarf she wanted to create, but other than that the process was the same.
Gabi starting off by demonstrating how to weave the weft from side to side using the shuttle. She changed the heddle position from high to low, or low to high, after each row. After she did the first few rows to get started, it was my turn! We sat and talked and drank coffee while I weaved (and weaved and weaved).
The process is relatively straight forward once you get the hang of it, but having tangle-free, even tension, problem-free weaving with neat, professional hems would definitely take A LOT of practice. Not to mention weaving efficiently. I’d say it took me at least double the amount of time to weave a short section of the scarf as it took Gabi. By looking at the hem in the picture below, you can clearly see where Gabi’s weaving finishes (at the bottom of the loom) and mine starts. Her hem is consistent and neat while mine is more of the opposite – bumpy and messy. Just what you’d expect from a beginner I suppose.
While we gave our arms a short rest from weaving, Gabi explained how she went about setting her business up, as well as how Etsy works. Etsy is a global online marketplace for unique and creative handmade and vintage goods so it’s the perfect place for Gabi to sell her stunning pieces. For Gabi, the trickiest side of her business has been figuring out Etsy’s formulas in order to direct buyers to her online shop, Weaving in Hot Climates. Throughout her first year in business she has done a lot of research into how best to target customers, and invested in a fantastic program that helps her to monitor which global search terms are most frequently used. I found it really interesting, but understand how it can be the most stressful part of her business. Gabi spends hours making high-quality, stylish, bespoke pieces that would look beautiful on anyone, so being able to market her scarves and direct buyers her way is essential.
Back to the loom, and at the end of day one we’d made some progress. When I arrived on day two a long section of the scarf had miraculously been woven overnight (thanks Gabi!) but there was still a long way to go. We took turns weaving, chatting away as we went. Gabi really wanted to finish the weaving so that she could show me how to complete the scarf. With just enough time to spare before we both had to go and pick our children up from school, Gabi worked quickly to fringe the ends. There are many different styles but for my scarf we chose a tassel fringe. Before my scarf would be ready to wear, Gabi gave me instructions on how to hand wash it in gentle detergent. She said after a wash all of the fibres would fluff up and soften, so it really is an important step.
I have to say, I absolutely love my scarf and am so grateful to Gabi for letting me keep it (let’s face it – she wouldn’t have been able to sell it). There’s something particularly exciting about wearing something you created yourself, and I can see why people have been knitting, sewing and weaving for generations and will continue to do so.
What did I learn?
Number one lesson, I learned how to weave! I’ve always learnt best by doing, so going through the process of making a scarf on a loom from start to finish with Gabi was fantastic.
I’m really glad I was able to do work experience with Gabi at this early stage of her business. A year in and she’s creating and selling some beautiful pieces. She’s also continuing to learn more about the marketing side of her business. I find it so interesting to learn a bit about the ways small businesses get off the ground and operate. It can be so different depending on the size and nature of the business.
I’d never used Etsy before, so it was great to look into how it works, as well as getting insight into how to use it effectively from a business point of view.
Have you ever thought about turning your hobby into a business? To read Gabi’s interview, click here.