Gay McGeary has been very busy lately, at the end of June, she gave two zoom presentations on Coverlet Weaving at the Mid-Atlantic Fiber Association (MAFA) Conference 2021. In addition to teaching and presenting and taking on additional guild responsibilities, Gay’s coverlets and wall hangings have received awards at NEWS 2017 and 2019. We are pleased to be able to catch up with her and present her interview here. We congratulate her on her recent success at MAFA
Tulip - Wall Hanging
Interview Questions - July 1, 2021 What motivated you to become a weaver?
I grew up with a figured & fancy coverlet draped across the den sofa. It had been woven for my great, great grandmother Margaret Hobensack in 1841in Bucks County, Pennsylvania when she was 15 years old. Later, I was given a double woven coverlet by my mother. It appears to have been woven by the same weaver. I was always interested in different types of handwork. A demonstration of overshot weaving at a museum in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area, sparked my interest in coverlet weaving. Once I learned how to warp a loom and design my own coverlets, I was hooked. After all, I am a numbers person. Patterns and weave structures are all about number systems.
What is your favorite part of the weaving process?
I like all the steps in my weaving process, but I think the first step is my favorite. I start my design process with information I have garnered from one of two avenues or both. The first source is one of my fabric analyses of early coverlets. The second my interpretation of a manuscript draft. I see each coverlet or draft in a manuscript as a mystery to be solved. I may not weave them all, but I can appreciate the drawdowns of the patterns. These early designs are the inspiration for my work. I design my coverlet weaving with patterns, weave structures and fringe techniques I have explored.
The Fiberworks weaving software has become an integral part of my weaving. I use it for my explorations of coverlets and their draft. Next, I use it to plan my work. Finally, I use it to prepare my presentations for regional weaving conferences and guilds.
What people, elements, or challenges contributed to your personal growth as a weaver over the years?
In the 1970s when I wanted to learn how to weave coverlets, I could not find classes from local weavers in the Pittsburgh area which taught coverlet weaving. I turned to books, which were limited in number. From Mary Black’s “New Key to Weaving” and Mary Meigs Atwater’s “The Shuttle-Craft Book of American Hand-Weaving” I learned how to determine the draft of an early coverlet through “fabric analysis.” I also learned what I call “The Theory of Block Design.” Each pattern is made up of at least two single point changes. Once you increase the size of each point you have a block change. The most common two block motif found in coverlets is a “star” and its rose fashion cousin the “rose.”
By using these two motifs you can create a pattern and then extrapolate to other motifs.
With these two tools in hand, I determined the drafts for coverlets shown in museum, antique shows, and shops. I purchased a sunrise overshot coverlet, which inspired me to weave my first
With these two tools in hand, I determined the drafts for coverlets shown in museum, antique shows, and shops. I purchased a sunrise overshot coverlet, which inspired me to weave my first coverlet. For my second coverlet, I used the block design from my family double weave and wove it in the summer and winter weave.
Lately, where do your weaving design inspirations come from?
Lately, I have been weaving a lot of samples based on southern counterpane drafts and their fringes. I need to take the next step and weave a small counterpane.
I have also been weaving three throw size coverlets/wall hanging in a star pattern from the Benjamin Delong manuscript and a matching early star work coverlet. Each is woven with a different tie-up. I have also been sampling various fringe techniques until I found the ones, I liked.
What is one of your favorite woven pieces? What makes it special to you?
My favorite piece is the first coverlet I wove, when I came back to weaving in 2005. I started by determining the draft of a star work coverlet that I found in a local antique shop in central Pennsylvania. It was the classic star and diamond pattern, but it had an unusual tree border. It was woven with 18 shafts, so I had to reduce the draft to 16 shafts, which was all I had at the time. I enlarged the units in each block in order to design a pattern large enough for a coverlet. I chose a taupe color cotton for the warp and tabby weft and a single ply wool from Canada for the pattern weft. I did not like the colors of the original coverlet, so I chose a dark red and blue wool. I also wove a tied fringe that I had documented back in the 1980s from an early overshot coverlet. This piece is an example of designing a coverlet inspired by several different attributes.
Stars and Diamonds Sample
What other weavers inspire you? Can you describe what they bring to weaving that is attractive to you?
Dimity and Honeycomb Sample
Ute Bargmann’s southern counterpane weaving inspired me as I began researching several collections of counterpane drafts from western counties in Virginia. In 2017, I was introduced to southern counterpane drafts through a collection that was given to the National Museum of the American Coverlet. My knowledge of this genre was limited. I poured over the sample books I had from the Complex Weavers’ Early Weaving Books and Manuscripts Study Group to find samples of “dimity,” “honeycomb,” “huck,” and “spot.” I found several of Ute’s samples which capture the essence of counterpanes. They are woven with fine natural cotton. The texture changes for most of the counterpanes after they have been wet finished. Ute recommends they be boiled in a pot of water on the stove. The patterns form “nooks and crannies” to create the subtle beauty of a southern counterpane.
Please tell us something we may not know about your weaving.
I do not weave reproductions of early coverlets. I design my coverlets using weave structures, patterns, and fringe techniques that were used for early coverlets just like an early coverlet weaver would have done. However, I am not constrained by what was done for early coverlets and am more than willing to change techniques as I desire.
Can you describe your experience teaching Zoom classes at the Mid Atlantic Fiber Association (MAFA) 2021 conference?
I gave a two hour presentation entitled “Interpreting 19th Century Southern Counterpane Drafts” and a four hour interactive session entitled “Unlocking the Mysteries of 19th Century Coverlets and Manuscripts.”
For the Counterpane session I gave a presentation concerning the interpretation of three collections of 19th century counterpane draft from three western counties in Virginia. My moderator helped with the various questions throughout the session. I appreciated the willingness of the group to discuss counterpanes via Zoom.
For the Coverlet session I shared my research on making block design substitution using overshot, star work, summer and winter weave, and tied Beiderwand weave on eight shafts or less. The students worked with Fiberworks to plan the block substitutions all via Zoom. Once again, I found the students to be enthusiastic about discussing the use of block substitution.
The conference was very well organized by Margaret Briggs and her committees. Reportedly over 750 people registered for 80 classes ranging from 2-hour to 2-day, five lectures and a keynote address. While I missed meeting in person, I did get the chance to discuss counterpane and coverlet weaving with attendees from all over the US and Canada.
International and Guild Memberships:
Gay is a member of Complex Weavers. She is also a member of Complex Weavers’ Early Books & Manuscript Study Group and the chair of the Early American Coverlets and Counterpanes Study Group, since 2006. She is a member of the Weavers’ Guild of Boston (7 years), and is the Study Group Manager for our Coverlet Weaving Study Group. Gay is also a member of the Central Pennsylvania Guild of Handweavers.
All images are creations by Gay McGeary; Photos by Gay McGeary.
The image on the All Posts page is “Star and Diamond Coverlet”.