Thursday, November 19, 2009

Everything I needed to know about round robin workshops....

The workshop this week was my second round robin workshop with Robyn Spady this year.  Prior to this I had pretty much sworn off round robin workshops.

For the uninitiated: A round robin workshop is one where all of the participants receive a draft and instructions for warping their loom.  Each one brings their dressed loom to the workshop and the weavers work their way around the room, weaving a sample on each warp.  What could go wrong!? (ha!) my history Murphy often made an appearance and sometimes even prevailed the experience.  Not so with Robyn's workshops.

The first of  Robyn's workshops I attended was  Pictures, Piles, Potpourri, and Perplexing Curiosities.  There were at least 12 of us in the class.  Everything went smoothly over the three days.  Each of us even wove velvet! (How cool is that?!)  At the end of the workshop we all came home with a completed sample book, each sample tucked neatly in a protector page with the instructions for that weave and alternative treadlings for some of them.  That's the goal of a workshop: to be able to reproduce, adapt, and advance the information learned in the workshop.

After the workshop, I flipped through my sample book and marveled about how successful the workshop was:
  • Everyone's loom was properly threaded. 
  • It was clear what we needed to do at each station.  
  • Cutting off the loom was organized and orderly. 
Much of this was due to Robyn's level of organization and communication before the workshop.  But I also thought that this was probably an exceptional group of weavers.  After all, Joan  taught many of them and she runs a weaving weaving boot camp!  Clearly a little "military order" improved this workshop.

A few weeks ago our guild announced Robyn's Two Sides to Every Cloth workshop. I steeled myself about the round robin thing then signed up, got my instructions, dressed my loom and showed up for yet another astoundingly successful workshop. No class of bootcamp graduates for this one, just the typical  guild mix of newbies, highly experienced, and dilettante weavers.  And here I sit with another full sample book, with duplicates of some of the samples, and a gazillion ideas for future warps.

So, what makes a successful round robin workshop?  Here are the my thoughts on that subject:

For the participant:

Before the workshop:

  • As you prepare your loom for a round robin workshop, treat your loom as you treat your home when you are expecting guests.  Clean things up a little bit.  Tighten that loose brake.  Make sure the warp has even tension, is threaded properly, and has the tie-up the way the instructor has suggested.  You will be "hosting" the all of the other workshop participants on your loom.  Make those guests welcome.  Have a couple of bobbins wound in advance.  Leave a brief, specific note with your loom if it's an unusual loom in your area and it has a quirk or two.  For example, my workshop table loom has the treadles arranged from right to left rather than the usual left to right configuration.
  • Assume the instructor knows what they are doing.  Don't make arbitrary changes to the instructions based on what you think is a better way.  If you have such temptations, contact the instructor....most everybody has email, or twitter, or whatever.  It's not hard to ask the simple question that could avert disaster for yourself and the rest of your classmates..
  • If you don't understand something in the instructions, again ask the instructor.  (see above)
  • Trust:  Trust that the weave structure you are assigned is just the one you need at this point in your weaving life.  Trust that there is some kernel of knowledge or truth in that structure that is tucked in there just for you to learn in the next few days.  Even if it's just plain weave on a straight draw, trust that you don't know everything about's not possible to know every nuance about every variable that's going to go into this workshop in advance.  Be open hearted and prepared to look for what that truth will be for you.  (In other words, don't call the instructor and ask for "something" else just because you don't like "your weave" or you think it's boring.  The only exception is if there is absolutely no way your loom can handle the warp as described in the instructions.)
  • Give yourself plenty of time to dress the loom.  Break it up into stages and fit them into your schedule the week before.  Threading errors are more likely if you are threading your loom at 2:30 AM the day of the workshop.
  • Unless it is counter to workshop instructions, weave a header in the warp before the workshop.  You could also try out your treadling.  Make sure there are no crossed warp threads, no threading errors, and the tension is even.
  • Make a packing list of the tools you'll need.  Assemble them and put an indentifying mark on them so they are easy to keep track of at the workshop.  Tuck that list into your weaving kit and take it with you.
  • Get plenty of rest the night before.  You are going to be taking in a bunch of new information along with the fact that you will be using different motor skills in adapting to the other looms in the workshop.  This is taxing for even the most flexible and energetic body and brain.
At the workshop:
  • Arrive in time to get your loom set up and be ready at the start of class.  
  • Check your attitude.  This workshop is not all about you.  It is all about gaining new information that everyone in the group will be able to use in the future. 
  • Most of us in the weaving community are "maturing" rapidly.  We need new weavers....a lot of new weavers, to replace us and to help us keep our equipment and yarn supply lines running.  Not everyone in the class will have gone through the checklist above.  So be prepared to be patient with your fellow weavers.
  • Think again about hospitality with regard to the looms.  If you live in the biggest, nicest house in town, you're going to be awfully lonely if you aren't gracious when visiting people with more meager dwellings.  The same thing is true with workshop looms.  Be gracious about using looms that you don't love.  Someone else may love it, or it's the only loom they could lay hands on to take advantage of this learning experience.  It's only a sample, be nice.  And don't castigate a newbie if they've made some small error in warp preparation.  (Like you've never woven two yards before discovering a threading or treadling error...right?)  If it's something that can simply and easily be fixed (ie. a broken warp thread) do so graciously.  We're planting new weavers here, don't pull them up by the roots!
  • If you must count, don't do it out loud.
  • Don't stand and talk to someone while they are weaving. (see above...most of us are counting.)
  • Make sure that your samples are clearly identified as yours.  Little hang tags on strings, masking tape with your name work well.   Something more than just a shot of odd colored yarn that could get lost in the shuffle.  It's also helpful to identify for yourself which sample it is so that it can easily be paired with the instructions in your sample book.
  • Don't talk to your neighbor when the instructor is talking.  And turn off your cell phone.
  • Be helpful.  Looms and benches and all that equipment isn't easy to schlep around.  However, weavers and their looms can be kind of quirky.  Something that you think needs fixed may not need fixing.   If you see that some help might be needed first ask:  "How would you like me to help?"  That cord you think is in the way may be integral to the loom set up.  The weaver you're helping knows if the loom will only fit in their car if it is turned to a 65 degree angle behind the armrest of the passenger seat.  Unsolicited help if often not helpful.
  • Clean up.  Workshop spaces are not easy or cheap to come by.  If you leave the place a mess, your guild may not be able to get that venue again.  Or if you leave the clean up to other workshop participants, you may not be received so warmly in the future.  (See hospitality above.)
  • Remember that packing list you used to prepare for the workshop?  Check it again as you pack up to go.  Be sure you have all of your belongings.
For the Instructor:
  • Provide clear and concise instructions for the students.  Have another weaver proof read them for accuracy and clarity before implementing them.
  • Let students or the workshop coordinator know the most convenient way to contact you if there are questions.
  • Be gracious.
  • It's not all about you.  Expect that students may have likes, dislikes, and preconceptions about certain parts of weaving.  That doesn't mean they don't like you..  Accept their feelings about "pick-up", "clasped wefts", changing tie-ups mid-warp, or whatever.  But be encouraging and supportive.  Invite them to try something new.
  • Leave your ego at the door.  If you were invited to teach this group and they have agreed to pay your workshop rates, then trust that you are well respected within that room.  That's a good thing and for now, that is enough.
  • Invite and accept feedback.  It's an opportunity for you to make this workshop better for future groups.  You may also get ideas for other workshop topics that you can teach.
  • If you have a chance, take one of Robyn's workshops.
IMO, we could change the name of these things to "Round Robyn Workshops" (well, the successful ones anyway.)  Her knowledge, unflagging energy, enthusiasm, and level of organization make for an exceptional learning experience.  Pay attention to all the neat little things she does in advance to cut down on confusion.  Those things also help in keeping everyone headed in the same direction.  We all know that leading weavers can be a bit like herding cats.

So...that's my list.  There are some other things under the category of general weaving that I learned this time around.  I'll save that for another post.


  1. I cannot imagine owning a loom that I could take somewhere without three strong men and a boy. I also cannot imagine living somewhere where enough people own looms to make a workshop.

  2. Great post!! I've only done one round robin workshop - and it went very well - but I'm sure there's plenty of room for things to go poorly.


  3. Wow, these workshops sound fabulous...I'd be happy to just wander around and watch weavers work ;-)


tie in the loose ends...