We are excited to have Queen Hatter from Mad Hatter Warped & Woven here to give you a behind the scenes look at what goes into creating handwoven fabric and what it is like to be a fibre artist. As many of you know, some of our coveted Baby Tula Signature Carriers are created using handwoven material. What fun it is to have the chance to learn more about how these pieces are handcrafted!
Q- Queen Hatter, for those who aren’t familiar with handweaving, can you explain to us what the process entails? How long does it take from start to finish to complete a piece? What is the most challenging part about handweaving?
I love these kind of questions! I am always amazed at the thought that each handwoven piece started with just cones of yarn and a bit of inspiration. In the simplest terms, handweaving is creating fabric by interlacing yarn together. The yarn that runs vertical on the project is the warp and the horizontal threads are the weft. How many threads you have per inch in your warp and in your weft along with the weave structure and the fibres used, drastically changes how the finished fabric will feel (think 200 thread count sheets vs. 900 thread count sheets.) These details are especially important when your finished piece is intended to comfortably hold the weight of a baby.
In my video (below), I have given you a small glimpse of what it is like as a fibre artist and what goes into making handwoven fabric. You will see that I start the process with a box of yarn. I lay out the colours, switch out some colours, and rearrange them until I am satisfied with the colourway and begin warping.
You see the cones of yarn on the floor and I have a few threaded through my fingers, this keeps them separated and in order as I spin them around my warping wheel. A lot of things are happening during this time. On the technical side, I am measuring out the yarn as I need each thread to be the same length and have the same tension. Typically, I work with approximately 900 threads per warp with each thread at a length of 25 meters. Keeping that much thread from tangling on each other and in even tension requires a lot of skill and patience. On the artistic side, I am placing each thread where I want it to go to create the desired colourway. When you look closely at my work, you will see hundreds of pinstripes and colours that melt into one another – these colour transitions and details are part of what makes each fibre artist’s work unique. It is always my hope that you can see my work and without seeing a label, know it is something I created because of the details that are unique to me. This process of preparing the warp yarn and getting it onto the back of my loom takes an average of 12 – 15 working hours. This is the foundational work for the full project. If the threads are not consistently the same tension when it comes time to weave, you will end up with broken threads or threads that do not lift properly.
As you continue to watch my video, you will see me threading heddles. The order I thread the heddles is part of what makes it so my finished pieces have my signature hearts woven into them. Each thread has to be threaded into its own heddle, this process takes me an average of 12 hours. With a bit more work, I am ready to start weaving! To get to this point, I am about 25 – 30 hours into the project.
Next the weaving begins. You will see the weft thread being woven through the warp as I throw the shuttle from one side to the next. Depending on what thread I am using for my wefts, I have to throw the shuttle 28 – 32 times to weave one inch, on average I weave 25 inches an hour. That is a lot of work, skill, and love that goes into each piece!
I would say the most challenging part about handweaving is a small error can take several hours to fix. The key to having a beautiful finished piece is consistency. Bringing the threads together in a consistent beat and maintaining consistent tension.
Q- Why is handweaving considered a fibre art? Do you participate in any other fibre arts?
Handweaving is considered a fibre art for many reasons. There is a lot of room for self-expression in the weaving draft/pattern you choose along with which colours you use, how you transition the colours, if you incorporate textured fibres, etc. Each piece carries a very unique charm with it, a story, a feeling… I find that to be the most magical part – that feeling, that story, that sense of connection and belonging that comes with the piece.
Recently, I learned how to hand paint yarn. This is another form of fibre arts that pairs lovely with handweaving. Hand painting the yarns I weave with has allowed me to achieve some very fascinating colourways.
Q- Tell us more about your journey as a fibre artist. When did you learn? What did you do before becoming a professional fibre artist?
I started handweaving in 2013. I began by reading handweaving books and watching instructional DVDs. The more I learned about the art, the more fascinated I became. I enjoyed how intricate the work was and fell in love with all the possibilities. What drew me to learning how to weave was my desire to create handwoven baby wraps. At the time, the weavers that created baby wraps mostly used plain weave, which I absolutely adored but I wanted to see what other possibilities there were and create a look unique to me. As I read more about weaving, I discovered there were endless possibilities for various weaving patterns. This discovery fueled my desire to learn. Before ever sitting at a loom, I had my mind made up that when I wove, I would weave hearts.
Determined to learn, I met with 5 handweavers in my area and begged each one to teach me. Sadly, they all declined, stating it was difficult to teach and highly time consuming. My only option to learn was to purchase a loom and teach myself. The next several months I woke up before sunrise and stayed up long after my daughters went to bed, trying to learn the art. I was the sole provider at my household, I had a 4 year old and an 18 month old and I owned a business in the dental field so finding the time to learn while being a mother and working was very daunting. One small error, took me hours to fix. Each time I felt discouraged I held onto the feeling that handweaving was something within me that I was meant to do.
Q- After you learned how to weave and started your business, Mad Hatter Warped & Woven, did you anticipate the amount of success you have had? What have you done to create the presence you have?
That is a hard question to answer. I think it is easy to be overlooked when you blend in, yet it takes courage to stand out. When I started weaving, there weren’t other weavers in the babywearing world weaving hearts, I was the first. I think this helped in my goal to be unique. I wanted to create baby wraps that you could see a photograph of and know it was created by me, without ever seeing the label. I wanted my baby wraps to be known for their magical wrapping qualities paired with their charming aesthetics, so I took a long time sampling various fibres and learning which ones would support the weight of a baby well. Creating with the goal of being a highly sought after or high-end company would be far too stressful and in turn, would take away from my artistic process. Creating with the purpose of having a high quality, memorable product was something I strived for. To accomplish this, I use high quality yarns and maintain high standards in my weaving process. If a finished piece does not meet my standards, it is not sold. My purpose then and my purpose now is to offer a piece of my story in fibre art form for others to connect with. To dare to be different. To offer love and support to the babywearing community. To provide a tool to use in bonding with your child. To encourage you to be kind to yourself through the journey of parenthood. To inspire you to live your dream. During my time in the handwoven baby wrap market, I have authentically shared my story with others in various ways while encouraging them to do the same. I think this has created a very unique sense of community and belonging among those who admire Mad Hatter Warped & Woven products.
Q- Who is behind the scenes at Mad Hatter Warped & Woven? Do you do all the work yourself?
Since I started Mad Hatter Warped & Woven in 2013, I have accumulated a very talented team. I design and warp all of the Mad Hatter Warped & Woven colourways so each project begins with my love and time. Some pieces I weave and other pieces are woven by talented handweavers that I taught the art to. Currently, I have two weavers who create with me, Wildflower and Knight. Wildflower is my sister-in-law, she has 6 children and a background in floral arts. Knight is rather young, an artist of many mediums, and a main provider for his mother and sisters. Each Mad Hatter Warped & Woven baby wrap has a tag that states which artist wove the material. After the pieces are woven, I do all the finishing work and have a seamstress that sews them for me. Some pieces are created into Mad Hatter Baby Wraps, Mad Hatter Bunnies, Mad Hatter Bears, or Mad Hatter Minky Blankets while others are sent to other artisans who create handbags or soft structure carriers out of them, like Baby Tula.
Q- What is it like working with Baby Tula? Do you design the fabric differently knowing it will be converted into a Tula?
Tula has a very special place in my heart. I found babywearing in 2012 when my oldest was nearly 3 years old. She was receiving treatment for her autoimmune disease and I was looking for a way to help relieve the pain she has in her joints. We couldn’t be out exploring long without her having a lot of pain and needing to be carried. While I mostly wore my youngest in baby wraps, I would wear my oldest in a Tula. My daughters are now 8 years old and 5 years old. I have a Tula in my car and one at my weaving studio. When my daughter is having a flare up, it brings her comfort to be close to me and makes it so we can continue the day´s activities. I can’t imagine how different my life (and theirs) would be without our Tula, it is one of my favourite “tools” as a parent. I started collaborating with Baby Tula in 2016. Each time I create fabric with the intensions of it being converted into a Tula, I plan the colourways with this in mind. I think of how the colour transitions and colour placement will impact the look of the piece after it has been converted.
Q- What does the rest of 2017 have in store for you as a fibre artist?
Anyone who knows me, knows that I love learning. I love exploring new possibilities and challenging what I have been able to create in the past. I am excited to continue experimenting with hand painted wefts and perfecting the various looks I am able to create with them. Beyond that I have been taking on various collaborations and joint ventures as I explore other ways to use my creativity as a fibre artist.
Thank you Queen Hatter for sharing with us what goes into creating handwoven fabric and what it is like to be a fibre artist. We are excited to have more Baby Tula Wrap Conversion Carriers made with Mad Hatter Warped & Woven to offer in the future. If you would like to see more of Queen Hatter’s work you can visit her Facebook page or find her on Instagram.