Laina Therrien Using Old Technology to Weave New Forms

Laina Therrien's traditional weaving techniques



Laina Therrien doesn’t consider her work to be state-of-the art. That’s by design. 

“My idea of advanced technology is using all the treadles on my loom,” said Therrien, who operates Wood-n-Woven, a weaving business out of her Terry, Mont., farmstead.

The word technology is so often associated with computers that we often overlook the broader context. Although definitions for technology vary, all of them reference practical applications of machinery and know-how. More important, the root of the word, techne, from Greek, means art or craft.

And that’s what Therrien does, she creates practical woven goods—towels, blankets, rugs, wraps—that are incredibly detailed and definitely artful. She uses looms and other machinery that might be antiquated now, but were absolutely state-of-the-art in their day.

Weft and Warp

Basically, a loom mechanizes the weaving process of intersecting left-to-right threads (weft) into stationary, perpendicular threads (warp). 

The loom creates an opening between specific warp threads, to allow for a shuttle—it holds the weft—to quickly and easily pass through the open space. Move the threads again, repeat the motion, and you’re weaving. 

Therrien’s studio is stocked with seven looms of varying complexity. They have anwhere from four to 12 harnesses. A harness creates the opening for the shuttle to pass through.

“The more harnesses you have, the more intricate the pattern you can get,” said Therrien, who enjoys weaving tartans—she’s Scottish—as well as reproducing historical patterns. 

She looks at reference books and follows evolving archeological research, which continues to uncover information about the history of textiles.

“I can quite often look at a pattern and graph it out,” said Therrien, who has also created clothing out of some of the historical weaving she’s done. 

Family Hand-Me-Downs

Therrien uses her great-grandmother’s treadle machine to sew with and admits electricity can be iffy where they live in Prairie County. She also has a spinning wheel, which is a family heirloom, as well as a mechanical carder from the 1900s. 

Carding is the process of disentangling wool fibers, which one can do by hand or mechanically. 

Therrien uses all types of wool, some of which people who have sheared sheep leave on her doorstep. 

She also purchases quite a bit of wool from local shepherds. Therrien sometimes helps during sheering, which gives her first dibs on specific textures and colors. 

She uses more than a dozen colors of natural wool, from off-white to black. Much of that fleece is geared towards the European market, which prefers natural over dyed, said Therrien.

Sometimes Therrien uses cotton, already spun and dyed, as well as silk, and remnants from Pendleton millworks, which typically go into a rug.

Accidental Beginnings

Therrien got into weaving by accident, although she grew up with an appreciation of textile arts from her mother, who is an accomplished seamstress. After working 15 years in an upholstery shop, Therrien developed stress fractures in her wrists. 

Fortunately, the owner of the weaving business next door invited her to watch, ask questions, and eventually apprentice to learn the trade. 

Now Therrien has apprentices, including longtime apprentice-business partner Cheri Anderson, who does all the computer work for Wood-N-Woven, which mostly sells through social media and Internet sales.

Therrien might have an additional two to three apprentices at any given time, ranging in age from their 30s up into their 50s. According to Therrien, apprentices are looking for experience and a sense of ownership, said Therrien. 

“When you’re just a cog in the wheel, you don’t get to see the finished product,” she said. With weaving, however, you’re involved from start to finish: measuring the thread, loading the loom, and actually weaving.

“It’s much more satisfying to be able to get the whole picture,” said Therrien, who will attend some craft shows in 2021, demonstrating her unique spin on weaving technology. MSN

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