Studio Briefs – Katie Strano

I’m a weaver by profession. I create woven fabric by the yard for clothing companies.

I actually learned to weave at the Brookfield Craft Center! I was a late bloomer as far as weaving is concerned.  I started off when I was a child by sewing and knitting.  I remember being the twelve-year old at the local yarn shop Knitting Circle where I learned to knit. 

I went to school for History and Sociology. After college, I became a manager and buyer for a small retail boutique that sold a lot of imported textiles. I enjoyed looking at the really pretty fabrics, but I had a growing feeling that I would rather be making the fabric instead of selling it.  I started dreaming of learning to weave fabric that I could use to upholster a chair that my husband, a woodworker, could make for our home.

When my husband and I moved from Nashville to Bethel, I learned that there was a Craft Center right up the road that offered weaving classes. It was the perfect time because I didn’t have a job yet after the move. I took a class with the weaving instructor at that time, Christine Wilkinson, and loved it.  I ended up taking more classes, one after another, and was hooked.

I realized I needed to just get a loom of my own so I bought a used floor loom and started weaving from home.  I started teaching myself and was able to spend a lot of time on weaving at home. My learning and skill set has come very much from those beginning classes with Christine and later from self-taught weaving.  I also became a member of the Handweavers’ Guild of Connecticut, taking every opportunity to learn from their meetings, workshops and classes.

I never went back to work.  Before I knew it, I was contacted by someone from a small clothing company in Nashville to ask if I would weave fabric for them.  My profession progressed from there. I am part of a vibrant, active community of floor loom weavers who are weaving fabric for wearable garments such as high quality shawls, things like that. I find it incredibly satisfying to weave fabric for something that will be worn. I like to know that there’s someone out in the world wearing a piece of clothing manufactured from fabric I wove.

I’m intrigued by the technical element of weaving and how to develop an interesting architectural structure for the individual pieces of yarn to match an image in my mind and how that can be translated into cloth.  The possibilities are endless. That keeps me interested, this perfect combination of creativity and technical know-how to set up the loom in a way to create the structure that I want to make.

Aesthetically I love the mindset of the Shakers about the value and beauty of utility: something should be useful so that it’s beauty will truly last.  In this sense, I think of myself more as a craftsperson than an artist.  With any craft, there is an element of artistry involved through the aesthetic and the form of it, but most of all I want my items to be used. 

It’s been great coming back to Brookfield Craft Center to teach the Rigid Heddle (the smaller lap loom) and Floor Loom classes. I’ve been surprised at how much satisfaction I get from teaching. It’s always enjoyable seeing people learning and having those aha moments.  The floor looms can be very intimidating, and the smaller looms look like a small frame of sticks.  With both, it’s fun to see people realize how the process works.  When I demo, it looks like magic.  You go from all this mess of string to all this actual fabric. There’s a moment when the barrier falls down and all of a sudden a student breaks through and has that moment of awareness.  All inhibitions fall away and they are focused on the process and the object. That moment is awesome for me to see.

I’ve been doing a small collection of scarves that are made from a style of weave called deflected double weave.  It’s a pretty common style, but I’ve developed a unique way of doing it that I really love. In the winter of 2019, I was accepted into the American Craft Council shows as part of their Emerging Artists program.  At the February show in Baltimore, those scarves did really well, but unfortunately the rest of the shows were cancelled beginning in March (due to Coronavirus.)

I’m very aware of the environmental effect of producing more stuff to put into the world. I’m not interested in making an heirloom piece that will not be used.  I want my items to be of quality, to last a long time, and to be used!  I want to produce with as clean a conscience as possible. I source yarns that are ethically produced and sustainably grown wherever possible.  I look at the life cycle of the yarn and the fabric and how it’s eventually going back into the earth.  I avoid purchasing synthetic yarns unless they are vintage or an old spool that is just sitting on someone’s shelf. 

I’m intrigued with the ingenuity of people in the past who were able to envision and create the equipment for the first weave.  For thousands of years, people have been making cloth and yarn.  As one who appreciates the past and the history of weaving, I love the idea of continuing in that tradition.

Story written by Terry Tougas and Katie Strano