Saturday, April 4, 2009

Tutorial Teaching

Maybe you noticed on the right sidebar of my blog that I mention tutorial teaching. Some people have asked about it, so I will talk about it here. I taught weaving and textile design full-time for many years at several universities, and I also have done workshops at various summer craft schools. I think I have a gift for explaining the process clearly, so students absorb the knowledge and can really think through their ideas and move in their own direction. Unlike most people, I feel I started out as a great teacher and slowly became worst (most people I know get better with experience). When the term arrived and I no longer wanted to start from scratch with my syllabus, it became clear to me that I should leave academia. There is always a fresh group of people interested in teaching, and it was time for me to hand over the reins. But I do love teaching, watching as people's eyes go from confusion to clarity and joy (learning is joyful), so I began to think of a way in which I could do my own work, but also do some teaching. When we bought our house in Randolph, I felt this was a place I could make into a studio where I could invite others to come and learn--but on a very limited basis.

Over the years I have seen what others have done. I always remember a wonderful visit to Norma Smayda's Saunderstown Weaving School in Rhode Island. I am still envious of her sea of looms. Here in Randolph we have The White River Craft Center, a wonderful place headed by Kevin Hardy, a skilled woodworker and person of great compassion. Susan Rockwell energetically runs the weaving program, and many beginners go to her to learn. I knew I didn't want to have an open door policy, where students would use one of my looms over time, and I didn't want to set myself up in competition with The WRCR since I admire what they are doing. I also knew that I wanted to keep my teaching very contained. So I conceived of this idea of Tutorial Teaching where students came to me for a short period of time and I tailored each program specifically for that person.

Section from dobby weaving study by Bhakti Ziek

Although many people associate me with computerized jacquard weaving, and the book I co-authored with Alice Schlein, The Woven Pixel, I also wrote a book on backstrap weaving, published in 1978, co-authored with my mother, Nona Ziek. If you read my early posts, you know I own three Macomber floor looms (2 8-shaft and 1 10-shaft), two 24-shaft dobby looms (a small Louet and a 40" wide AVL), and one TC-1 loom. I also have lots of sticks for backstrap looms--so really my teaching can run the gamat from backstrap to digital jacquard. Teaching beginners is one of my favorite things, but so is going through complex structures for jacquard. Probably the only criteria I need for enjoying teaching is having an engaged student.

I am interspersing images from a dobby study I did this summer on my 24-shaft Louet to illustrate this post. I used the instructions given in the dobby chapter of The Woven Pixel to design and make my peg plans for weaving. Then I brought bmp files from Photoshop to PCW Fiberworks on a different computer, which ran my Louet loom.

detail of dobby study

In early May, Tommye Scanlin, an accomplished weaver and teacher in her own right, is coming to study with me for four days. In one of her posts on her blog, she mentions how annoyed she has been about the use of tapestry in relationship to jacquard fabrics. Although she comes from the traditional weft-faced tapestry tradition, and I am coming from the digital jacquard world, I share this annoyance and look forward to many hours of interesting conversation over the four days she will be here. Personally, I always like to say "warp tapestry" when referring to the structure used by jacquard weavers who use compound warps of multi-colors to make "pictorial tapestry" works. Words like tapestry have many definitions, but I still always think, without a modifier, it means a weft-faced plain weave, usually with discontinuous wefts. Anyway, Tommye has done some jacquard work at a mill, and it will be interesting to get her started with some weft-faced structures, like samitum or taquette, on my hand jacquard, TC-1, loom. 

Section of dobby study by Bhakti Ziek

When people come to study with me, they have a choice of staying with Mark and me (and the two cats and one lovely dog) or staying in local accommodations. There is a B&B half a block from us, another within walking distance, and an inn on the other side of town (not far). I always provide lunches, and all meals if the person stays with us. Of course I will cook according to a student's needs (i.e., vegetarian, sweet addict, localvore). I have learned I must make boundaries, which is good for the student as well as me, since I can be very intense--so basically my teaching policy is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with an hour break for lunch. I try to put a walk in there too, and if someone wants to go to the gym, I can take them as my guest to use the pool or use the fitness machines. In the evenings, students are welcome to use my looms or read my books (Mark is making shelves for the stacks that are filling the floor of the office/guest room right now), and I am available for help, but not too much. A good conversation and a bottle of wine is not too much.

detail of dobby study

If someone spends the money and time to travel here to study, they usually want to work with me for four or five days, but some students who live closer have come for two days. Since my fees are high, most people just curious about weaving, not sure of their commitment, would do better to find a local school for lessons, but of course I do think you couldn't find a better first teacher than me. As I said, I can work with you on any topic from backstrap to digital jacquard, and it can be focused on computer work too, i.e., using Photoshop for woven design. If you want more information, please email me at Since I need to balance out my own studio time with teaching, I can only take a limited number of students a year. So far, they have all been exceptional people. 


  1. Hi Bhakti,
    Excitement builds! I'm eager to finish my semester here and get on up your way to try my hand with your TC-1.

  2. This is such a great demonstration of the clarity of your teaching, Bhakti! So thorough and precise.
    However I must quibble with the tapestry discussion: I have argued for years with the weft-faced folks who believe they own the term. My primary relationship to textiles -- as a maker, even -- is cultural and aesthetic rather than structural, and although I respect weavers' desire to keep their definiti ons functional and precise, I use the term "tapestry" to describe my 3-harness twill discontinuous hand-manipulated brocade weavings as a shorthand that the world understands as "woven image intended to display on the wall". I have always preferred to cut to the chase! I know it is not the correct technical term, but I still prefer it.