Before weaver Joanne Blough sits down at her loom, she starts with a vision of colors and patterns. But what comes next can be surprising — even to her.
A retired occupational therapist, Blough found weaving in college at East Carolina University, where she learned the craft as a therapeutic medium. “I really liked the interplay of cloth and color and texture,” Blough says.
Her next opportunity to try her hand at weaving came soon after, when she moved to Morganton in 1984. “I was working as an O.T. in a facility for people with intellectual disabilities, and they were given several looms to use for crafts, which I was asked to help set up,” Blough says. “At that time, I knew very little about it, so I joined a local guild and had a few mentors who helped me learn. I dug deep and bought my first loom in 1988, and I’ve been weaving ever since.”
Today, Blough is a talented weaver of more than 30 years who creates beautiful, colorful wrap shawls, scarves, and more. And that vision? “A lot of the time, what I put on the loom is not what I had in my head,” she laughs. “Sometimes it’s a happy surprise and sometimes it’s a not-so-happy surprise, but it’s always very original.”
We sat down with Blough to learn more about her passion for weaving and her beautiful creations.
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OS: When you first started out, what excited you about weaving?
I loved the play of threads and the interaction of color and different yarns — the different textures. It’s a very sensual experience in that it gives you a lot of visual feedback, a lot of tactile feedback. Plus, I love the idea of making something very functional that people like looking at and feel comfortable wearing.
OS: What is your process like?
The first thing that you do is you design in your head what you would like your weaving to look like, and then you design it a little bit on paper. If you’re using a pattern, then you lay out the threads in order. You make a cross of those threads and you keep them in order so that you can put them on the loom. You feed them through a loom depending on which pattern you use, and then you put the threads under tension. They have to be under tension in order to be able to fit the shuttle through the threads. You weave it, you bind off the ends or sew the ends so that they stay stable, and then you sew your piece.
OS: Do you have any items that you specialize in weaving?
I make a lot of scarves, wrap shawls, a few tapestries and rugs. I once had a weaver tell me to pick one thing, stick with it, and get really good at it. And I definitely understand that way of thinking, but I haven’t found my niche in weaving in that I found one thing and I’m gonna stick with it — I just enjoy doing many different things and that works for me. I just like the exploration.
OS: Is there an element to weaving that’s good for the soul?
Absolutely. Weaving is very repetitive; it’s very meditative. Usually when I weave, I put on some nice music, maybe have a small glass of wine, and just get lost in the moment. It’s very therapeutic in that you’re using your arms and your legs to weave. And it taught me frustration tolerance, because when you make some mistakes, you don’t want to just toss out 480 threads that you’ve got on the loom — you’ve got to figure out how you made your mistake and how to fix it. I tend to be drawn to immediate gratification, and weaving takes quite a bit of time. I’ve learned to slow down and concentrate.
OS: What does it mean to you to be a “maker”?
I have loved crafts since I was a little girl. I used to press flowers, I love drawing, I love making collages, and I love being creative. It bothers me when people say, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body,” because I just don’t think that’s true. I think it takes a leap of faith, it takes being vulnerable because you’re showing your stuff to other people. I think a maker is someone who has a vision of what they want to create and then they set about organizing and gathering the materials to make it. And then putting it together and taking that leap of faith that they can make something that pleases them and pleases other people as well.