Deborah Watson - Her Story / Our Interview

Reading Deb Watson's responses to our Interview questions was both engaging and thrilling. Her love of exploring weaving and learning is very apparent. And then there are examples of her work - amazing! Enjoy!

1. What motivated you to become a weaver / fiber artist?

My mother taught me to knit at age 16, but it didn’t take. When my daughter was born, I decided to start small, made her a sweater and was hooked. I happened to find the Shelburne Spinners in VT (probably from the Whole Earth Catalog—remember that?), and for a while I knit with their hand spun yarn, which was lovely, but heavy by today’s standards. When their Co-op shut down, I learned to spin myself, buying an Ashford Wheel on a group order from New Zealand (thank you Barbara Provest!) for $75. By that time, I had a ewe (a gift from my husband), and pretty soon more sheep. We had the land, so why not? His next gift to me was a Leclerc Dorothy 4S table loom, which I still use to teach young children and my own grandchildren. But I outgrew it pretty quickly, and my sister gave me the Leclerc 4S counterbalance loom that had been my mother’s.

2. What is your favorite part of the process?

I’m not sure. I suppose it depends on what I’m weaving. With rugs I really enjoy designing the whole thing on graph paper, and then finishing the linen ends after I’ve taken the rug from the loom. With other weaving, and probably rugs as well, just the rhythm of throwing the shuttle. 

3. What people, elements, or challenges contributed to your personal growth as a weaver / fiber artist?

The list is long. When I joined the Guild, I still had young children at home, so textile programs at various places were not an option. I immediately decided to do the WGB Ratings, as a way to broaden what I knew. I had an excellent foundation course at the Linsey-Woolsey store in Salem, MA, and I thank Beth Guertin of Batik and Weaving in Arlington for the wonderful classes given by Leslie Voiers on twills, color, and advanced weave structures that I took there. Magazines (Weavers Journal, Prairie Wool Companion which became Weaver’s, and Handwoven) were all important sources. More recently I took Laurie Autio’s Explorations in Advanced Weaving (I think she no longer teaches this course). And of course, any class I could attend at Harrisville Designs, and many at NEWS and Convergence.

4. Are there a few stories you can tell our audience about your studies with various teachers?

Randy Darwall: I didn’t take too many classes with Randy, but my first was a day-long critique session at Harrisville. I was still a very new weaver, but I decided to take the plunge. I brought a twill scarf in a red/gray/black check. He pronounced it very “weaverly”—the kiss of death from Randy! and suggested expanding my color palette. Years later he gave a two-day critique for the Guild when we met in Somerville. By that time, I was weaving rugs, so I brought two of them and a double weave chenille fabric I was planning to make into a vest. He dismissed the chenille with a wave of his hand, and looked at the rugs, and told me to forget everything else and just weave rugs.

Rug by Deb Watson

photo credit by Deb Watson

I learned Andean weaving from the late Ed Franquemont, an anthropologist, who lived and worked in Peru for many years. I was completely blown away by the beauty and complexity of the patterns woven with the simplest equipment and later taught with him at NEWS, at SOAR, and at MIT in a humanities program for freshmen. Andean weaving has been a really important “byway” for me.

And of course, Peter Collingwood, British weaver and author, with whom I took several workshops at Harrisville, on rugs and also on ply-split braiding. One time when I was weaving a sample on one of the little Harrisville looms, I beat too hard and the whole loom fell apart. Not your best rug loom! One of my rug workshops was during the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings—Peter was captivated by the whole process.

5. Lately, where do your design inspirations come from?

I like graphic design, and some of my inspiration comes from playing with operations of symmetry. I could do much more with that. I also draw from Chinese lattice designs for my rugs. As well, I’ve had fun designing in Photoshop ®, working through Marg Coe’s books and Bhakti Ziek and Alice Schlein’s book.

6. On the whole, if you could describe how you develop ideas, what kind of methods do you most enjoy?

Symmetry is well suited to shaft-switching, and I use shaft-switching in most of my rugs.

7. What is one of your favorite pieces? What makes it special to you?

I think one of my favorite pieces is my “Boston Tea Party” banner, woven in Finnweave pick-up. At that time WGB was still hosting tea parties at Convergence, so I wove for that. But they were discontinued by the time I finished the banner. One of the first things I wove as a new weaver was David Xenakis’s Scandinavian bell pull (Prairie Wool Companion, April 1982), and I had always wanted to do another weaving in that technique. I just get a kick out of the 3 different teapots I designed, with a boat in the center and a cat (I love cats) in the lower left corner.

8. What other fiber artists inspire you? Can you describe what they bring to their art that is attractive to you?

I was never sure about Sheila Hicks, until I saw her work “in person” at a gallery in Andover, MA. I found it really powerful, not only her large room-size pieces, but her small tapestries as well. I admire her sense of freedom, especially in the tapestries. And lately I really like what Catherine Amidei is weaving on the TC2 loom. She co-taught the 2014 Convergence workshop on the TC2, and I’ve followed her since. I like what she’s doing in her studies of nature.

9. What were the roles you took on at during your many years at the Weavers’ Guild of Boston?

When I joined the Guild, there was a ladder you climbed. First, you were Recording Secretary, then Morning Workshop Chair, then Associate Dean (which also included hosting the speaker and being in charge of Special Workshops), then Dean. Someone once asked Adele Harvey where she could get a pin (Dean’s pin) like that; Adele said, “10 years of your life!” I’ve also done various assignments since then, Ratings perhaps the most important.

10. How did being a member of this guild help you?

I think it was/is really valuable to meet and become friends with people who share your crazy interests, and to take advantage of all the educational opportunities the Guild offers. To be with people who take weaving seriously.

11. Please tell us something we may not know about your work or process.

I really don’t know how to answer that—I really love to try everything. So much to know, so little time!

Image from the All Posts page: Table Runner by Deb Watson (front with back folded over)

photo by Deb Watson

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