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Weaving with Computers
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Weaving with Computers

Weaving with computers

When we stopped by the fiber arts studio for last week’s weaving class video, we were intrigued to see an unexpected machine among the looms: a laptop. We asked instructor and weaver Marilyn Harrington to tell us a little bit more about how this ancient art form is finding new tools in the 21st century.

Marilyn says she uses the computer “all the time” in her own weaving and encourages students to do the same, using a program called Fiberworks PCW for increased freedom to experiment. Using the program, weavers can easily select threadings, treadlings, and tieups — the three parts of a weaving draft — and other things like color and thread width, to get an idea of how they’ll change the look of the finished product.

A pattern in fiberworks, left, and a scan of the finished product made with hand-dyed yarn.
A pattern in fiberworks, left, and a scan of the finished product made with hand-dyed yarn.

Students can try out Fiberworks via a free trial before deciding to buy it. With the paid version, weavers can print out a guide to show them how to set up the loom and weave what they’ve chosen. On some compatible looms (not those in the classroom) the computer can even be plugged in to control lifting the shafts. The Art League’s looms have four or eight shafts — for more complex 32-shaft looms, the flexibility of the computer is even more useful.

Marilyn also uses Adobe Photoshop, converting Photoshop drawings to patterns in Fiberworks, useful for creating better curves and circles. It makes trying new things easier — putting the warp on the loom is the most difficult part of weaving, but by using that same warp thread with different tieups, treadlings, or weft colors, a weaver can try several different things at once.

“I don’t want to repeat myself,” Marilyn says. Using the weaving software means her work can always be moving on to something new.

starting from 1 pattern

4 finished products
This example from Marilyn Harrington shows the same draft used to create different fabrics. All four finished fabrics at the bottom use the same threading and warp colors from the pattern at top — the first fabric matches the draft, with the tie-up, treadling, and weft colors changed in the others. In the pattern screenshot at top, the large grid, called the drawdown, shows the results of combining the threading (the lines across the top), the tie-up (small square at the top right), and the treading (the lines down the right side).

Marilyn encourages her students to use the program to learn about the structure of weaving.

“You could weave other people’s patterns forever,” she says. “But if you want to learn about how it works,” software like Fiberworks provides a simple way to try out new ideas. And, she adds, it’s faster than the old way: using graph paper and pencils.

For more about our weaving, felting, knitting, spinning, dyeing, and other classes, visit our fiber department page.

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