If you like color – you may want to consider becoming a weaver. Colorful yarns of every hue and texture – from reclaimed, precisely-plied cashmere and naturally-dyed silks, to quintessential linen are the basis for creating woven handmade works of art. Weaver Michelle Follett of Michelle Follett’s Textile Teachings of Cambridge provides the perfect place to begin your fiber arts journey.
Michelle is from Oak Park, Illinois, where she was instrumental in the growth of a small software development business into a multi-million-dollar corporation. During this time, she carved out space in her life to develop the hobby of weaving.
“Because I was in software, weaving intrigued me because it is considered the precursor to computers. The concept that you are setting up what you produce and need to issue commands to make it happen is very systematic. Weavers also give purpose to algebra to make designs faster,” Michelle comments. “It was intuitive after I started doing it.”
Upon retirement from her software career, Michelle and her husband relocated to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The first year, she worked her business from her home, but soon realized her home studio was not conducive to where she wanted to take the business. In October 2019, she decided to rent space at 452 Race Street in historic downtown Cambridge. The space offers the opportunity for her to have retail in the front of the shop and a classroom in the back. She calls the space her “one-room schoolhouse,” where she provides a flexible offering of classes for all ages.
Prior to the closure of the store with the COVID-19 pandemic this past spring, tourists were the primary buyers of finished goods in the shop. Now, Michelle’s business is primarily weaving students and fiber enthusiasts buying weaving goods and learning to weave.
“There were already people as soon as we opened our doors again who wanted to learn weaving and the storefront brought them in. Since the pandemic, the weavers are building the store I want it to be,” Michelle states.
Because of the current health requirements caused by the pandemic, Michelle is delivering her classes in a one-on-one format, or in small groups created by the learners. On-demand, ready-to-weave looms are available for hourly or daily use, and customers can arrange a small-group experience. The shop conducts all of its classes with a HEPA air purifier and social distancing in place.
Michelle’s students travel from as far away as Chestertown and Ocean View, Delaware to take classes with her and include people who have had weaving experience or who always wanted to learn to weave.
“The complexity of weaving attracts people to the craft. Knitters and crocheters have also heard that they can use their yarn with weaving and just need to add the right equipment to do it. It is also a good hobby if you have arthritis as it is less stressful on your hands and wrists than knitting or crocheting,” she comments.
Michelle’s starter class offers students the opportunity to make a table runner, a scarf, or a tapestry sampler from a variety of colorful, textured yarns available in the shop. The front of Michelle’s shop showcases a variety of retail weaving products, including Gist Yarns, Harrisville Designs, and Lunatic Fringe, as well as silk and other natural fibers by lesser-known wholesalers like Henry’s Attic and Lofty Fibers. Looms by Louet in Holland and Ashford in New Zealand are also popular items, especially Ashford’s rigid heddle looms, considered by many to be an entry-level loom. Michelle wholeheartedly disagrees with this assessment having woven many complex pieces on one. She comments, “And, after four years of weaving, my sister still says she has no intention of weaving on anything but her rigid heddle loom.”
The shop also carries weaving accessories and supplies, traditional wind-off services for yarn, and finished textile goods. Various kits are available to spark kids’ interest in fiber arts.
Michelle is currently seeking her Master Weaver certification, a five-year program through Olds College of Alberta, Canada. She views this certification as complementary to her Bachelor of Science in Education degree. The Master Weaver program also has introduced Michelle to tapestry, which has helped her find her art form.
“When I found tapestry, I finally had enough crayons in my crayon box,” she quips. “Tapestry is one of the oldest art forms and the slowest art you will ever experience other than Mother Nature herself. It’s meditative for a lot of people, just as most fiber arts are.”
There is a difference between weaving and tapestry and Michelle teaches both in her shop in Cambridge. She explains that people can learn to weave almost all genres using the sit-and-weave looms. Tapestry weaving is gaining popularity, however, because it is more portable. Table looms also offer weaving options for people with limited mobility.
Options for weaving classes in Michelle’s shop run from $12 an hour to $60 a day for sit and weave classes. The beginner weaving course is offered at $250 and starts with a three- to a five-hour session, depending on the learner’s weaving background, followed by 12 hours of studio time that is usually spread over six weeks in two-hour increments. All classes offer a finished product.
Michelle adds, “I have had a few students do longer hours in a single session so that they did not have to make the commute so many times.”
Michelle says that many of the classes are popular for people to do with friends. Most classes start with a simple set-up and progress to a more complex set-up. Michelle encourages her current students to advance their knowledge as she has done. Mentors Rebecca Mezoff and Ulrika Leander have both influenced her style of tapestry weaving.
According to Michelle, weaving can be a lifetime hobby and seems to fit all moods. She comments, “You need to be in the moment when you weave as it’s very precise. When I really need to get my mind off something, I weave.”
For further information, contact Michelle Follett at 630-967-4214 or visit michellefollett.com. The shop at 452 Race Street in Cambridge is open Friday through Monday from 1 to 5 p.m., and by appointment.