the Fabric Weaving Process
How Handwoven Fabric is Made
Learn how artist Karen Gelbard creates the multi-faceted colors that make up her beautiful textured fabrics.
How do you make woven material?
I often get asked about my process. Materials and ideas come together and result in a finished piece. There are many decisions that are made along the way. The picture below, Editorial in Grey, is a photo editorial of my creative process. It starts with the yarn, then fabric and textures lead to the finished piece.
How would you portray your creative process?
It starts with color. I design a colorway and plan for 100 yards. From this warp, I can create different fabrics that are related to each other by the warp colors. Once the fabric is off of the loom, it is washed and dried. The fulling process allows the fabric to bloom. I roll the fabric out on my 8-foot cutting table and determine where to layout the pattern pieces. Sometimes, stripes are at one end of the yardage for the yoke of a jacket, but the sleeves must be cut at the other end of the yardage. The pattern pieces are of my own design. I assess the variables in my customer’s figure and adjust the pattern for a custom fit. I design for real women of all shapes and sizes.
What do you find a more challenging task?
Chenille fabric is a challenge to weave and sew. My goal is to make a garment that will last, so I take the time to cut, serge, stabilize, understitch and hem. All of this work is in the foundation of the garment. The end results is a well-made, soft comfortable garment.
What have you added to your design mix recently?
Recently, I have acquired a new tool in my studio. It was made to do one thing but I saw the potential to use it in another way. This innovation has allowed me to develop a signature technique that is found in my “Ruffled Edge” series. It is a design detail that coordinates with the handwoven fabric to create a unique look.
In 2017, I collaborated with quilter, Denise Clausen. After sketching, sampling, discussion, layout strategies and long arm quilter restrictions, we have figured out how to quilt my fabric. Learning how to do free-motion quilt adds another fiber technique to the handwoven cloth. Now I can draw with stitches. I use motifs that suggest living by the ocean.
What can you share about how you see colors?
The scarves and shawls I weave are warped by hand on a warping board. Color thoughts stream from my mind/eye/brain to my hands as each thread is measured out. The color transitions blend across the warp in a painterly way. It takes longer to wind a warp this way, but it allows me to build a color story. Sourcing materials is the hardest part of my process. I search for quality materials and for color, too. Many family owned mills in this country are now closed. I have learned how to achieve the color I want by using small threads side by side to achieve the color depth I require.
What equipment would someone find in your studio?
In my studio, there are 12 pairs of scissors, 3 sergers, three sewing machines, and 4 looms. With these tools, I weave, cut, sew and design.