Ott-Lite Blog interview

In honor of Mother’s Day, we interviewed bead and tapestry weaver Claudia Chase and her daughter Elena Zuyok. Together they run Mirrix Tapestry & Bead Looms, Ltd., providing handcrafted looms, starter kits, patterns, books and other inspirational tools.
What inspired you to start weaving? Were you self-taught, or did someone teach you? 
Claudia: I’ve been interested in weaving since I was very young. I received my first rigid heddle loom when I was 8 years old but I didn’t really get involved in weaving until I was pregnant with my daughter (Elena) and I briefly attended a tapestry class in San Francisco. After that, I was self-taught. At the time there was no internet and very few books on tapestry so it was a rather circuitous journey.
Elena: I was brought up as the daughter of a tapestry weaver and therefore had no interest whatsoever in tapestry. I reluctantly learned the basics through osmosis but it wasn’t until I was in college when I accompanied my mom to a class she was (we were) teaching in Canada that I first really became interested in the medium.
Can you tell us about the first project you completed?Claudia: Probably something awful that I keep in a box upstairs where I keep all my awful beginning weavings and try not to look at them.
Elena: Probably something I did when I was five. It was probably terrible, but I can guarantee I used really nice yarn.
When did you start creating beaded tapestries?Claudia: About a year or so after I founded Mirrix Looms, I realized that the Mirrix Loom would also function really well as a bead loom so I forced myself to learn how to weave beads using the unique attributes of the Mirrix Loom. I say forced because at the time I only had eyes for fiber. At that time I had also become an avid spinner and dyer and it was clear to me I would neither be able to make beads or dye them.

Sunrise
Do you both weave? Are there other crafts or hobbies you both enjoy?
Claudia: I love doing just about anything that requires using fiber and beads including crochet, knitting, felting, dying, spinning, most off-loom bead techniques and needlepoint. There’s nothing I won’t try if given the opportunity.
Elena: As for hobbies, we’re both very into playing (not watching) sports. We’ve ridden horses and skied together since I was a very small child.
What made you decide to create your own loom design?
Claudia: I wanted a portable, professional quality loom that I could use anywhere and that loom did not exist, so I designed it.
Is there one project that holds special significance in your heart, either because of its beauty, or who it was for?
Claudia: A tapestry called “Progression” signified the first time I had found my own voice in tapestry.
Mirrix headquarters resides within a very special community. Could you tell us about that relationship?
Claudia: Mirrix manufacturing lives at a place called Sunshine House which employs adults with special needs and/or physical disabilities. Not only is the Mirrix Loom entirely manufactured in the U.S., it is made by some of the finest folks on the planet. There isn’t a day that goes by that we are not grateful for this amazing opportunity to work with people who deeply care about making sure every loom we manufacture is perfect.
What is it like working together as mother and daughter?Elena: Our work relationship is a reflection of our personal relationship. We’ve always been incredibly close with a deep and mutual respect for each other. We learned how well we work together on a professional level back when I was in college and ran her first campaign for State Representative.
At some point Mirrix went from being Claudia’s business to our business and that’s how it’s operated since. We both have different skill sets and strengths and weaknesses but the same work ethic and the same philosophy about running a business. It just works. We enjoy being together and working together and our relationship smoothly transitions from that of a professional partnership to that of mother and daughter.

Fire Flowers
Running your own company, writing books, creating patterns, even serving as a State Representative for six years—how do you find time for your own crafting?Claudia: Currently, one of my most important jobs at Mirrix is to design new products which has the advantage of forcing me to weave on a regular basis. Until about a year ago I was selling my work in galleries but now I find I am so busy with product development that I don’t have time to create a substantial amount of work for sale. I’m actually enjoying taking a break from doing that. When I served as a State Representative I produced a huge amount of work because, in order to keep myself calm, I had to keep my hands busy at all times. I noticed from my big leather seat in Representatives’ Hall that other folks were doing crossword puzzles, playing games on their phones and sometimes sleeping. By creating artwork I was actually able to concentrate better because it seemed to keep my ADHD tendencies in check and allowed me to sit in my seat for more than a half hour at a time. And yes, I did weave on the Mini Mirrix while there. There was a rule about not using computers in Representatives’ Hall, but nobody said anything about looms.
What does weaving tapestries bring to your life?
Claudia: Initially weaving tapestries forced me to design the Mirrix Loom because I was looking for a portable, professional loom which did not exist. Currently, weaving tapestries allows me to indulge in my passion for color. I use a lot of my own hand-dyed and/or hand-spun/hand-dyed yarn for my tapestry weaving which gives me a lot more control over the color and the texture. For me, tapestry weaving is extremely meditative, something a very hyper person like me really needs.
What advice would you give someone who is just starting out?Claudia: Someone starting off in tapestry should buy a few of the wonderful tapestry instruction books one can now find on the market. He or she really needs to understand that tapestry is not an art form one learns overnight. There are many skills one needs to master but the mastering of these skills is in and of itself extremely rewarding. Just don’t plan to give your first tapestry away as a wedding present. Also, really try to explore in-depth the materials, including warp and weft, that you will be using to create this tapestry because your tapestry is only going to be as beautiful as the material you use to make it.
Bead Weaving
If you’re not initially buying a kit for someone else’s pattern, take yourself to the biggest bead store you can find and spend many hours there staring at the beads. I found that one of the biggest challenges of bead weaving, since I couldn’t make my own beads and my own colors, was learning what shapes, sizes, colors and finishes were available in beads. I now have a really good understanding of what is available, hence I can often design a piece in my head using embedded images of beads. Keep in mind that the skills required for your basic bead weaving (a rectangle or a square) is not nearly as challenging as the techniques one must learn for tapestry. The challenge with bead weaving is creating the design and choosing the beads.
Mini Mirrix Loreli Loom Giveaway Contest! 

This mini loom is made for the beader on the go. It’s small enough to take anywhere and is great for making beaded jewelry. And now you can win your very own! To enter, please “Like” Mirrix Looms and OttLite on Facebook AND post a comment to this blog. If you’re already a Facebook Fan of OttLite and Mirrix, your work is half-done! Just leave a comment here!
Winner will be announced on Friday 5/4! THE CONTEST HAS NOW ENDED

How has your mother (or a mother you love) inspired you artistically?

As I get older, I appreciate more the childhood that shaped who I am today. Part of that was growing up in a house full of creative energy, inspiration and lots of art supplies. I joke about how I thought it was normal to have a living room full of gigantic floor looms and how, by early elementary school, I was a certified yarn snob. Although I wasn’t very interested in weaving as a kid, we were constantly creating and always allowed full artistic expression. I remember when was about five years old there was a bike parade in our town where kids would decorate their bikes with streamers and bows and ride through the town square. There were prizes for the best decorated bikes. I took my tricycle, strapped a tiny blue chair to the back and placed my giant stuffed lion in it. Then, I drew a person in market on a piece of paper and taped that to the front. I think there may have also been streamers. I won the prize for “funniest”. That incident pretty well exemplifies my artistic senses from then on. I was always inventing, creating, trying to come up with something new. For me, art was about expression. My mother fostered my love for creating by always encouraging, helping and never quelling my wild side. She was also quite the creative force, at the time very serious about her tapestry weaving, and I am sure living in such an environment helped shaped who I am today.

In honor of Mother’s Day this year, we’ve launched a little contest on Facebook. You can win a $25.00 Mirrix Loom Gift Certificate just by answering this question (Either on our Facebook Page or Facebook Group): (THIS CONTEST HAS ENDED)

How has your mother (or a mother you love) inspired you artistically? 


We will choose one winner on Mother’s Day.

Here are our entries so far: (Be prepared for some tears!)

Kathryn A Wyant Schulte My Mother Mary Margaret inspired me artistcally by being a cake-decorator. She also inspired me to be creative because at 8 I taught myself to sew and she bought my first sewing machine.It was a very good one,probably more than my dad and her could afford. I still use it and I have had it for 52 years .It is the best, better than all my new ones.


Therese Magnani My mother is a quilt artist. I tried quilting and found that while I could do it, it wasn’t my thing. My mom has taken a lot of classes and workshops over the years that combine a variety of fiber art techniques, and when I go to visit her, she always has something new to share with me. We end up making projects together and teaching each other something in the process. In doing this, she opens up new ways for me to see things. Whether it is working with color combinations, materials, or techniques, she inspires me to always look for something new to try. I aspire to be as creative and productive as she is now when I reach her age.


Jennifer Chasalow VanBenschoten My mom was an amazing knitting, crochet and needlepoint artist, as well as a phenomenal wildlife photographer. When I was a kid growing up, she earned her income from selling her original patterns to yarn and craft magazines, and then later as an editor for those magazines. When I was pregnant with my son, she was my inspiration for venturing out as a full time artist so that I could stay home with my son for his first years. She never discouraged my sister and I when it came to our artistic endeavors, and we are both successful profession al artists today! I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the example of my mom! Mom passed away in 2008 when my son was just five months old, but she inspired me to follow my bliss!


McKinley Murry My Mother is my best friend. She has always put me first in her life. Mom has taught me to always try new things and never stop learning. For the past 3 years we have done fiber arts. I know more and do more than most people. We have changed the way people think of challenged people. Mom has guided me, but allows me to do my own thing. I love color because Mom made color important in my life. I can express myself through my weaving. And I am judged by my skill not by my looks. Weaving gives me a voice equal to others. My voice. My work. Mom is always close by to cheer my efforts. She provides me with tons of good books to use for ideas. Buys me the best supplies. The best music to listen to. And most of all her time and energy. She always ask my opinon of her work and listens to my ideas. We help each other reach for the moon in our weaving and if we fall? We land in the stars and start again. Life is Good.


McKinley Murry I have to speak of another improtant Mother in my life. Miss Betty Clarkson. She and Mr. Jim are parents of Miss Bailley their Cocker Spaniel. She is like a mother to me. She has taught me many fiber arts. While Mom was going nuts weaving bracelets, Miss Betty and I were learning tapestry together. She always has a smile on her face and a “Can do attitude”. She is proud of my weaving and we laugh a lot together being “Goobies”. Miss Betty supports my ideas and always tries to help me as little as possible so I learn. That is a very hard thing to do for someone you love. To watch me struggle and allow me to make my own mistakes. She inspires me to be the best I can be just like my Mom does. I needed to tell you how Important Miss Betty is to my work. We share ideas and our life together. I love her and her family. Miss Betty Clarkson my BFF!


Betty Clarkson My Mother always instilled in each of her 4 daughters the love of creating. At a very young agea we did clothes for our dolls, embroiedery, pot holder weaving, and many other fiber crafts. I remember one summer creating a picnic cloth. Mom took a new white bed sheet and we decorated it with fruit. Tracing the design unto the cloth and using crayons to fill in the color. Wax paper was placed on the design area and heat set with the iron. Her encouragement of the fiber arts were contagious. I began weaving on a simple loom and graduated to a floor loom. It did not stop there. Spinning and dyeing fibers was another adventure into the wonderful world of fiber. I started using the Mirrix Looms about a year ago and now am enjoying the journey of learning how to create tapestry and bead weaving. My mother always encouraged and instilled the love of creating with fiber. She passed 3 years ago – I miss her but know she is happy that I am continuing my journey. Thank-you Mom for everything. Hugs XOXOXO


Patty Stabile My Mom let me try things and had the patience of a saint when I failed, ie: knitting. Mom can do anything and I keep trying to catch up to her standards, especially my flower arranging. She made my bridal bouquets, beautiful.


Denise Prince My mother was an expert seamstress. The most amazing part of this is that she was entirely self-taught. In my youth, when I would want to try some new artistic endeavor, she was always supportive. She taught me to sew by showing me what I was suppose to do — and then leaving the room! She was never far, in case I needed help. Whatever I tried, she was there to offer support (from the next room! lol). When I started making jewelry, she was my #1 client. When she would get a compliment on a piece I made, she would say, “My daughter made it. She only uses the good stuff.” She inspired me with her “you can do anything” attitude and constant belief that everything I did was wonderful.

Susan Kirby When I was in high school and learning to sew, my Mom would always buy me the best fabric. She would encourage me by admiring everything I made. She was one of my best clients for my jewelry not only wearing it herself, but buying it often for gifts. She always said she was proud of me.
 
Sherie McManaman My mother is a true artist, she worked in oils and pastels for a great deal of her life. She always supported me in anything I tried – from painting to sewing to knitting. She is to this day, ever patient and happy to share her talent and steer me in the right direction.
 
Cindy Moore My mother is a wonderful seamstress. She made almost all my clothes until I learned to sew myself. I always had the up-to-date fashions in school thanks to her. Because of that, I know I can have anything I want if I make it myself.


Mothers Day Contest Entry
My mom is my biggest inspiration, she is a great seamstress, avid knitter and crocheter and owns her own LYS. At a young age all five of us were crafters, even the boys. Mom always said “Don’t quit” You can do it. My eight year old brother taught me to sew oven mitts for christmas on the old treadle. Sewing was my first passion, then knitting, but now I found beading I cant stop. When we would go to bed at night and mom was knitting by the fire, in the am we would have new mitts or socks to go to school. She is precious and still teaching today. My sisters are both great painters and seamstress , I dont paint or draw.

Creativity


“Creating art is a human’s attempt to order the universe in order to possess, if only briefly, a part of it. The process of creating art gives one a chance to dance with one’s maker.” Claudia Chase

 
Ordering the universe with beads or yarn makes sense to me. I was sitting at a picnic table at the foot of Mt. Cardigan in NH, slightly annoyed that people were coming and going and I just didn’t feel like nodding or saying hi or even noticing them. So I bent my head down into the tray of beads and I started ordering them. That’s what we do when we attach these little gorgeous things together whether we use a loom or just needle and thread.

 
I live in what some would consider the middle of nowhere. In fact, it isn’t at all that but compared to where most folks live, I guess it is. A “real” grocery store is at least 16 miles away in any direction (we have a general store circa mid-1800 which we use too much because who wants to drive 16 miles for a gallon of milk . . . besides, the eggs there are all local grown and it is one of the few businesses in Francestown.) So the reality is that the foot of a mountain folks like to hike is going to be way busier than the hill I live on where you just don’t see folks very much and can easily escape people noises. We do have the insistent rumbling of house appliances and the slight buzz of electricity and, of course, the computer sounds and the ringing phones. But I can hole myself up in my studio and avoid strangers at all times. I can even avoid family members and friends if I want.
 
So there I am: Claudia, her beads and a bunch of strangers looking to climb a mountain or swim in New Foundland Lake (one of our more over-populated lakes but it does house a large State Park). I have two hours before Rick and I head off on our next canoe adventure. I am frantically bringing order to my universe by attaching those beads together, certain beads, in a certain manor that is mine. It is my universe and I am in control. I am not inside my body. My body only exists as a tool to make this thing in my mind happen. And I am happy, perfectly happy, perfectly content.
 
Have you ever noticed that when you are in the throes of creation you are actually in a state that can be considered, if not blissful or happy, content? Yes, there are those rushes of adrenalin when you solve a problem, but mostly it’s the repetition of moves that sooth. You make changes: what you are working on grows and mutates as your eyes observe the changes. Nothing outside of that tiny world exists. It is just you and your hands and the materials you are rearranging.
 
How simple. What a simple way to feel content. And yet, it’s not all that. What about the storms that rage when you are trying to solve an idea and find yourself failing again and again? What about those moments when nothing you are working on is working? When there is nothing to turn to with your hands that you can continue, change, develop? Not so good, those times. And then the moment comes when the idea you suddenly woke up with stuck inside your head begins to transform itself, begins to take shape, seems possible, seems entirely yours or at least somewhat yours because every little step we advance is based on a step someone else already took.
 
Anyway, there it is: you are shaping a little universe with your hands and it is all your are for the time you spend there.
 
I find eventually I do want to leave. Yes, I have spent many hours at a stretch working on one thing. But my usual level of attention on any one thing for any one stretch of time is two to three hours. Sometimes I am burnt out for the day. Sometimes I need to turn to some other medium or just some other project. It depends. And then of course there is the constant pull to run Mirrix!
 
I don’t know if I could exist without making art. It has become such a central theme for my life. I don’t know how to live differently. A few years ago I was visiting my parents in Corsica with my two children. I brought a lot of toys to play with. I dabbled very briefly with my toys. In the end, I made bead patterns on my computer and never so much as made an actual item out of anything. I was so proud of myself for essentially doing nothing for five weeks, for creating nothing physical for five weeks and just hanging out with my family. I needed to do that. They weren’t strangers at a campground from whom I needed to escape. I also needed to know I could live without my addiction for a period of time. When I returned home I was back to it instantly, but the break from my usual compulsive need to create was a good thing.
 
Where did it begin? Can you answer that question? What was the first hint that you were destined to make things? I can. But I’ll save it for another blog.



Mirrix Home

 

Two nights and one day in Vermont


We got two days off (well, really one and a half).  We spent two nights in Stowe Vermont.  Nice camp ground, sweet little shelter, no bugs.  This is all good.  And I had my beadwork with me.  So I said to Rick (husband, on right) let’s not hike Mansfield because something a little smaller would be better.  Okay, he says. So, we hiked Spruce Mountain instead.  Five and a half hours later we were done.  I mean done.  Mansfield would have taken five hours.  It’s steeper but a lot shorter.  But I should know my husband by now.  I should know that there is no such thing as a short hike.  Oh, and then he wanted to take a little paddle in the canoe (that would have been an hour long paddle full speed). Gotta leave some wake behind. But the sky had the good sense to fall in rain drops, so we nixed the canoe moment and headed home.  I did make an off-loom piece which I will post if I get the inspiration.  I left my Mirrix home.  Sometimes you just have to leave even your Mirrix behind.

Mirrix Looms

Looking Back

Looking Back
 

I haven’t woven (or should I say, finished) a tapestry in a very long time. Inspired by a customer who just ordered the 38 inch weave to embark on tapestry (and bead weaving) after having in her past woven fabric, I decided I needed to look at some of my past tapestry images. So I picked ones that are nolonger with me. You don’t think you are going to miss these pieces when you sell them. You think: wow someone gave me money for that and it’s going to hang on their wall. Isn’t that great! But I miss them.

The one to the right is called “Fragments.

It was woven on a linen warp which was wonderful. The piece came off so rich and stiff and complete. loom it was like drinking a really expensive wine after only drinking cheap stuff for years. Tapestry weaving became magical and not nearly as difficult (this experience must have greatly contributed to creating the Mirrix so that others would have that great tapestry weaving experience without having to buy a huge and expensive floor loom).


These pieces are not shown in order of their creation. This piece was also not woven on the Mirirx.

It lives in a home in Wisconsin. Sold from a show I did there. Interestingly enough, the folks who bought it had me turn it sideways for them to hang (I had to change the bar on the back that I use to hang my tapestries . . . something for a future discussion). I wove a series of tapestries in this style. The diamond pattern was fun to weave and allowed for some surprising progressions.

The tapestry below ended up in the office of the Church that also bought the set of tapestries below.

Light of the World:  These two hang side by side in a Church in Wisconsin.  My first serious commission.  The big challenge was to make sure the image flowed from one  tapestry to the other.

Our pond in Wisconsin (where I lived for four years and where I founded Mirrix.) This was done on a Mirrix Loom. I gave this to my loom company partner at the time right before we headed back to New Hampshire to live. He is no longer my loom company partner but I suspect he still owns this tapestry.

Acorns in a tree to the right.  I don’t know who owns it because it sold through a gallery.  This was a rare realistic piece.  It was based on a tiny photograph I found in a Nature Conservancy magazine.

The tapestry below is called “They worshiped the sun God.”  It came out exactly as I envisioned it.  I use a lot of weft bundles with strands of wool and rayon.

The below tapestry is called Window, I believe.  Again, it sold through a gallery so I don’t know where it now lives.

Night Vision, below, lives a corporate headquarters somewhere in Boston.  I forget the name!