THOMPSON – In a sunny studio on the second floor of her home in rural Thompson, Amy Muiderman sits comfortably at one of four looms that are lined up, as if waiting for her to bring an artist’s touch to the woven pieces in various stages of completion.
She is barefoot.
“It helps me get a better feel,” Muiderman said.
Mounted on the wall nearby is a square piece of wood where about a dozen cones of yarn jut out in rows, arranged by color like a rainbow, from bright warm tones of yellow and orange to the cooler shades of green and blue.
“I love playing with color and design,” Muiderman said, “so that has been a really fun thing (about weaving).
“Probably the thing I like least is putting all the threads on the machine, because – especially if you have a real wide project – it can take a long time before you can start.”
The looms she uses are made of cherry wood. Three of them are "floor looms" of substantial size, measuring several feet across and deep.
A much more diminutive, tabletop “workshop loom” is small and light enough to be transportable, “so I can take it with me to someone’s home to show a particular technique,” she said. She controls the threads using levers at the top of the loom.
The smaller model also allows Muiderman to experiment with new techniques and work out designs and patterns on a small scale before beginning the project on a floor loom.
“You get a feel for what each pattern needs, or for what each fiber needs,” she said.
One of the larger looms holds special meaning for her. It was a gift from her husband’s family, whose ancestors were weavers in the 1940s in Berea, Ky.
“It’s now about 80 years old,” she said.
On the floor looms, “usually I work with one shuttle,” she said, noting the wooden tool, threaded like a big needle, carries the yarn horizontally through the series of taut yarns extended lengthwise.
“But here I’m working with an ‘overshot’ technique, so I’m working with two shuttles at once,” she said.
Techniques, materials, colors
Early on in her foray into weaving, Muiderman has made it a point to learn one new technique a year, she said.
She has experimented with techniques like double weaving and others, and recently has begun working with bamboo yarn and experimenting with Mondrian designs.
“There are so many techniques, and then there are so many designs, so that’s the thing I’d try to challenge myself with each year,” she said.
“The only thing I haven’t gotten involved in – which everybody says I should – is raising sheep and harvesting their wool and dyeing it,” she said. “Doing the animal husbandry part does not interest me at all. But for some people, that’s just a fascinating extension of what they love about doing the fiber work.”
Muiderman has created an array of woven items, including scarves, table-runners, baby blankets, bath mats, mug rugs and dish towels.
She likes working with natural fibers, and “fibers that are kind of shiny, like bamboo, rayon and tencel,” she said,
As she has advanced in skill and knowledge, she has explored the possibility of making weaving a business, but “it didn’t fit my personality,” she said.
She’s happy to make items for friends and family and sell woven pieces to people who request them. She also will create specific pieces, on commission, for those who seek her out. Commissioned pieces are “not priced like going to Walmart,” she said, “but hand-woven stuff is very durable and lasts a long, long time.”
About six years ago, she started selling scarves to benefit organizations and causes close to her heart.
“I raised a couple thousand dollars for a string quartet at UND” by making and selling scarves woven with rayon chenille yarn, she said. “I made them in hummingbird colors. They were incredibly soft and iridescent in color.”
Muiderman’s interest in weaving started about 25 years ago when she was living in Michigan and, on a trip to the grocery store at strip mall, she couldn’t find a parking spot because so many people were Christmas shopping.
“It’s kind of a weird story, but it made me mad,” she said. “And I thought, ‘Why do we have to buy presents? I’m going to learn how to make stuff.”
A creative friend showed her some “very interesting things” she was doing, but nothing interested Muiderman more than “a tiny, little floor loom,” she said.
“My friend said, ‘Oh, you don’t want to do that; it’s very complicated and takes a long time to learn,’ ” she said. “But I just kept going back to it.”
That friend “showed me how to get started and gave me the key to her house when she was gone,” she said, “and I made a bunch of mug rugs for everybody for Christmas that year.”
Later, she took a class where she learned how to design, read patterns and make manipulations, she said.
Weaving “involves a lot of math,” which was her major in college, so it’s second nature to her. But she’s noticed that some others “felt limited by their math skills,” she said.
When she first started weaving, she was working as a victim advocate for a domestic violence organization in Michigan, she said.
Weaving became an effective way to leave her work behind at the end of the day.
“I would come home and I would just go right to my loom. And I put it all out on the loom,” she said. “I would recenter myself before starting to do stuff around the house.”
Weaving can be “a very lonely thing,” Muiderman said, but there is much to recommend it.
“I love the meditative nature of it – the rhythmic and bilateral, back and forth process of weaving and watching the fabric unroll before me. And a lot of times I’ll listen to podcasts while I’m weaving.
“So even though it takes a lot of time, I feel like, while I’m spending that time, I’m spending it very enjoyably.”