Woven Threads
Musings on Fiber

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, But Some Giants are Crumbling to Dust

September 27th 2011 in Musings, Philosophy

Weaving is an ancient craft practiced for thousands of years.  As time passed, knowledge and techniques were passed down from one weaver to another. Sometimes techniques were kept hidden from competition but more often weavers would share their knowledge. For a very long time weaving skills were transmitted by hand and mouth — it’s only been in the last few centuries that we have written records; the On-Line Digital Archive of Documents on Weaving and Related Topics has books from the 1500’s which were reprinted later.  At a cursory glance, the earliest non-reprinted manuscript was from the 1600’s.  However, since that time there are thousands, if not tens or hundreds of thousands of pages on weaving.  I am very grateful for the efforts of the late Ralph E. Griswold who gathered together so many weaving resources and manuscripts.

Another wonderful source is handweaving.net, started and operated by Kris Bruland. There are tens of thousands of weaving drafts there, with the ability to make more with the divisional drafts tool.

A third resource is Project Gutenberg which is arguably the oldest repository of e-texts.

Thanks to their efforts, many resources are saved for future generations.  Resources which may very well have been lost otherwise.  I’ve spent many hours perusing the archives, and I have merely scratched the surface!

In the two years that I have been weaving, I’ve also been collecting weaving books and reading as much as possible about weaving — eBay and my local library have been wonderful sources for weaving books, not to mention Interweave and Amazon.  I have learned so much from these books – techniques, designs, projects, knowledge, understanding.  Books are a way for the weaving giants of the past to leave their mark on the present and the future. As I learn from them, I am standing on their shoulders and building on that which has gone before.

Unfortunately, weaving books are not in print for very long — this is such a shame, because they soon become very rare, not to mention prohibitively expensive. When publishing houses go out of business, it just adds to the problem.  For instance, while at Wool Gathering this year, I came across a warp weighted loom demonstration by a local group of the Society for Creative Anachronism. As part of their demo they had a copy of Marta Hoffman’s Warp Weighted Loom, published by Robin and Russ Handweavers, who have gone out of business (Russ passed away in 2010).  I really want a copy, but the only one which I have been able to locate costs almost $200.

The warp-weighted loom: studies in the history and technology of an ancient implement.
Marta Hoffmann; Universitetsforlaget 1974
WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder

Unfortunately, that is just one of many books which they published – in one of my books published by them is a list of 46 books which they published or distributed. Another prolific writer, Mary E. Snyder had many books and monographs published by them.

Given the current state of the copyright laws in the United States, once a book goes out of print, it may be lost forever; it will not enter the public domain until seventy (70) years after the author’s death. Additionally, since everything has an implicit copyright means that now every book, manuscript, monograph is subject to that restriction.  In the past, copyrights were for shorter periods and the copyright had to be registered in order  to be in effect.  After seventy (70) years, it is highly unlikely, given the small print runs of weaving books, that many, if any, of the books will survive.  I am saddened to think of all the knowledge which will be lost as a result.

I understand that publishing weaving books is a niche market and that traditional publishing is very expensive in its initial outlay.  However, there are other options which are now available.  Among these are print on demand and e-books.

Print on demand publishing is one where books are not printed ahead of time, but rather as they are ordered. Admittedly, the per-piece cost is somewhat higher, but the initial outlay is much less than that for traditional printed media.  There are a number of providers; of these I am most familiar with Lulu and Amazon.  Different publishers offer different products and services; some will help with layout and cover design – for a fee, of course. However, if you feel confident in creating, editing, and formatting your book and delivering it to the publisher yourself, there are few barriers to entry for publishing.

Another option is e-books.  Perhaps the most ubiquitous format is Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF). In fact, a number of print on demand publishers accept (or prefer) PDF submissions for manuscripts.  Once you have created a PDF, then it may be sold either as an e-book or in print.  The main advantage of e-books is that you can store very many of them in a very small place.  The main disadvantage is that unless you have the proper device or software you cannot read the e-book.  E-books are growing in popularity — Interweave has begun to offer magazines in e-book formats, as well as some of their books.

I think that a combination of e-books and print on demand would be useful for preserving our weaving heritage.  Granted, there are many books which have passed into the public domain – those will be the topic of another day, but over the past 50-60 years, there are many weaving texts which are in danger of being lost. I don’t know, personally, the best way to go about getting permission to publish these texts, but I’m afraid if someone doesn’t do it, then the books will crumble and be swept away to the dustbin of the ages.




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I love knit cables. And at times I admit to a bit of jealousy — there are things which are fairly easy to do for knitters which are difficult if not nigh impossible for weavers. However weaving does tend to be rather faster than knitting (once the loom is warped!!!!), so I guess there are […]

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I was off for a few days, so I spent time weaving…

I wove a couple of pieces for Halloween — they didn’t turn out as long as I’d thought they should, I think they shrunk some in washing. The design was based on Woven His and Hers Scarves With One Warp. These were on the […]

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