Chatfield man proudly admits he's 'warped'
Monday, May 06, 2013 4:01 AM
Mike Simpson knows he's "warped."
Mike Simpson of Chatfield enjoys spending time in his extra garage where he has set up his loom to create rugs and other woven items.
But take away his yarns, and there's nothing "weft" but a bunch of rags.
Still, the romantic man "shuttles" from left to right and back again.
"There's a joke among fiber artists that to weave, you have to be warped," said the Chatfield weaver, stringing the warp yarns through his loom housed in his spare garage. He originally built the structure to serve as "either a wood shop or a ceramics shop, but weaving won out."
Without the warp yarns, or the yarns that hold the recycled fabric strips, or the weft he uses to create rugs, table runners and satchels, there is nothing to hold the weft together.
Simpson explained he became interested in weaving through John King, who lived outside of Stewartville, and Rosemary Oeltjen who taught him how to set up his first loom and weave.
"I'm pretty much self-taught," Simpson said. "I had a lot of people help me. I've taken a few classes, but otherwise, I taught myself."
He also has a sister who weaves and he admitted that he has always been a romantic and liked the idea of doing things the old way.
"When I was about 13, I saw a lady weaving at the library, and my sister and her friend had a shop where they taught weaving and ceramics," Simpson continued. "I was into weaving before I was interested in her shop. I bought this four-harness jack loom used from a man in Rochester who had an artist daughter who probably wasn't as interested in weaving as he thought she was. I set it up here, so my wood shop tools are in the cupboards instead."
The rest of Simpson's garage cupboards are filled with spools of warp yarn and weft fabric He uses rags and bed sheets he receives as castoff gifts or buys at thrift shops. There are carefully-cut strips of old t-shirts, towels and sweatshirts and bags and piles of upholstery remnants. He also receives donations of quilting fabric from the Chatfield United Methodist Church quilting group. He also uses flannel and cotton shirts and sheets, denim jeans and overalls, cotton twine and wool. He takes unraveled acrylic afghans and recycles or upcycles them into new items - colorful throw rugs, placemats, cross-body book bags, table runners and more. He has even created a poncho for his daughter who lives in Slovakia.
"It takes about a pound of fabric to make a foot of rug," he explained. "I like flannel king-size sheets that I get from Savers in Rochester for about $4, because that's a lot of yards of sheet for a few dollars, and you can make a lot of rug out of that."
Another of his favorite things to use are old overalls, because he can make a lot of long strips when he cuts from the pant legs all the way up to the bib.
"A lot of people like to ask me to make rugs out of their grandpa's old overalls," he added.
He also uses old towels for his rugs, which Simpson explained, makes the rugs really soft. He also purchases knit ropes from a company in Ohio to make rugs when he's looking for something quick to weave.
The four-harness jack loom, which has "four sets of wires" for pattern alterations, can be strung with different colors of warp yarn or thread to create patterns as the weft is carried through on shuttles - wooden slats that have a divot carved out of each end to hold the weft fabric - and requires 24 spools of yarn to fill the 432 threads across the warp.
His wife, Beverly, often helps him thread the loom with warp yarn so that he doesn't become permanently entangled or lose track of through which loom eye he meant to thread the yarn.
Simpson related, "Most of what I've done for patterns, I've done on my own. Most often, I do a tabby weave, or one thread up and one thread down. I also get patterns from the Internet and from weaving magazines like 'Handwoven'."
He elaborated, "A three-foot by five-foot rug takes probably about two to three hours to weave, but it takes half a day to set up the loom. I like to set the loom up to weave several rugs at a time so I get several sets of the same pattern."
Simpson is a member of the Zumbro River Fiber Arts Guild, which meets in Rochester, and another tri-county guild that meets locally. He also sells his rugs in an antique shop in Iowa.
His hobby is one of extreme economy and generosity, as he often uses scraps to create things of beauty for people he loves.
"I like to make a lot of gifts for people, and if somebody gives me rags and wants something made out of it, it's a good pastime for me," Simpson said. "I recycle most anything I find. I've used remodeled porch railings and the slats off a crib to make my shuttles, and I buy afghans and unravel them to get yarn for weaving."
Experimentation with other materials and hobbies isn't out of his repertoire, as he's used some unusual materials to create woven fabric and buttons.
"I've tried cattails to make blinds for my shop. That didn't work, so I'll try again sometime this summer. I just have to figure out how to make the ends go around so they bend."
Another unique venture he discovered is making buttons out of walnut shells - he slices the shells into sections, sands them down and applies a coat of sealant to make them smooth enough to use as fasteners on his woven projects.
No matter what else he's involved with, Simpson always has a rug on the loom - he's got plenty of yarns to share.
And Beverly doesn't have to look long or far for her husband if he's got a spare moment...she knows he's likely getting warped in the garage.
She said, "It's his place to get away, his hideaway. He only comes in for food."