journal, profile

Meet Suzanne Mwamba :: Tapestry Weaving for All!

Suzanne Mwamba is the author of the TangleCrafts website – a great resource for all things diy weaving and embroidery! You can visit her website here and her shop here. Make sure to take a look at her new zine+kit subscription: DIY Weaving Club!

I first met Suzanne Mwamba when she emailed me. As she put it ” So when I discovered ‘Craft Leftovers’, I realized we were singing from the same hymn sheet.” And how true that is! After taking a look at her website I emailed her back and asked her if she would be willing to do an interview and if she would like to contribute a project and she said yes!

The thing that I love the most about her site is – of course all the free resources and reviews of vintage books – but the liberating tone that anyone can weave on anything! What a great message to be spreading to the masses!

Being a weaving myself – both 4 harness floor loom and tapestry weaving – I feel it is too often presented as a craft needing either a lot of expensive equipment or a lot of fancy skills and training. This is so not true. Sure great tools help as do some skills and training, but it’s not necessary.

In fact, my own first experience with weaving was intuitive tapestry weaving done “the wrong” way – but the final pieces were I think some of my best.

Anyway, enough about me! Meet Suzanne!

{Oh and make sure to get the free embroidery pattern she’s provided too – down at the bottom of the post!}

What first inspired you to pick up that frame loom and start weaving? What was your first project? (do you have a picture of your first project? – that would be neat to see)

I was given a Fisher Price weaving loom as a birthday gift, I think for my 8th birthday. I loved it instantly. Unfortunately, I don’t think any of my original projects still survive (although it’s possible my mum has something stashed away somewhere). There was a small wall-hanging of a face that was hanging in our living room for I think most of while I was growing up; and I wove a pencil case, that I used until the end of primary school (age 11). Although the loom had a shedding mechanism, I instinctively wove tapestry rather than cloth. I wanted a picture, not a scarf!

My first weaving projects as an adult, when TangleCrafts was first forming in my mind were this bag {pictured above} and the first Fantasy Landscape {pictured below}. I discovered quite late how easy it is to weave a no-sew pouch or bag, with only a piece of card and a weaving needle. A couple of my DIY Weaving kits use this principle. The Fantasy Landscape was woven on a small frame loom, and was my first experiment in forming freeform curves – a very liberating experience!



Did you have any help learning to weave, warp, etc? If not or even if so, what was your best resource to help you learn the skills you needed to get started? There are now so many resources available for weaving, what is your favorite resource type – ie books, videos, internet, youtube, etc?

I don’t think I did much weaving while I was at high school (11-18) – the loom was stashed away on top of a cupboard. But after I left home for university, the bug caught up with me. I started buying small & vintage looms on eBay. Counted thread embroidery & needlepoint were my passion inbetween times – that’s something else I always go back to, and I love creating bargello designs. Anyway, so I had lots of textured/hand-dyed threads & yarns lying about, so I just played, and made little pouches that I never used. Each of the looms I bought was different, so I just followed the instructions for how to warp etc, or made something up. Sometimes you get better results by following instructions, but sometimes you can discover whole new ways of doing things if you just try it out for yourself.

I’ve always been a big reader, and have worked in a bookshop all my adult life. Even so, most of my weaving knowledge came from books I collected through eBay and the Amazon marketplace – vintage books from the 60s and 70s. There was an amazing freedom in crafts back then, which was replaced by a more restrictive (but probably easier to follow) step-by-step approach in the 80s and 90s. I think craft books these days are reaching a good compromise between the two approaches, with solid technique sections, but also a very inspirational/aspirational approach, encouraging creativity, and awareness. So I read the books, and soaked up ideas and inspiration. I don’t think I ever taught myself to weave in as many words. I remembered the basics from when I was a child, and then found ways to put into being the images that floated about in my head.

I guess I believe in intuitive rather than prescriptive learning. I’m not the kind of person who can sit in a class and wait for weeks to get to the interesting bit. I just do background reading (if I’m really at a loss how to do something, but mostly just for inspiration) then I get stuck in, and try things out. If I’m really struggling to achieve what I’m trying to do, I will pick a few books from the shelves and flick through until I find something at helps. Or that sends me in an another direction entirely…

I might look on the internet for how to do something particular, but in general, I find websites will mostly just give you the basics. Books are my main source of inspiration and information. I’ve not really got into the YouTube thing. My husband will tell you, I’m not really up to speed with all this technology stuff.

Thunder Passes (haiku)

Thunder grumble passes –
an odd light
streaks the sky

You say that reading is a large part of your life, what books do you tend to read the most? What’s your favorite book that you return to over and over again (other than say a resource book which of course we pick up mulitple times)?

I used to read nothing but fiction. I love the feeling of being completely immersed and wrapped up in a story. ‘The Bone People’ by Keri Hulme is amazing, and there’s an old book by Paul Gallico called ‘The Love of Seven Dolls’ (now out of print) that is one of my absolute favourites.
Lately, I’ve barely read any fiction, but there’s an awful lot of reading to be had from craft and design books, too. I love ‘DIY’ by Ellen Lupton, and ‘Kaleidoscope’ by Suzanne Simanaitis is great to dip into for ideas and inspiration.

Have you lived in the UK your whole life? If not, how did you end up there? If so, what’s your favorite part of the UK? Do you have a favorite fiber shop where you live?

I lived in Germany for my first 2 years (long enough to learn the phrase “Ich auch!” but not much more) and have lived in the UK since then. Growing up I lived in a small town in the north west of England (kind of near Manchester); now I live in Derby, in the midlands (I came for university, then stayed). My degree was in literature with ‘Experience of Writing’ – creative writing by any other name. I’ve worked in a bookshop (Waterstone’s) since I came to Derby, where I write reviews for the magazine. I’ve also recently started putting together a newsletter of craft books (essentially just a collection of the latest releases with very brief reviews/summaries) which is available to branches nationwide. That’s kinda nice, and it means I get to know about all the coolest, newest craft books.
Derby is sadly lacking in terms of fiber shop (there are a couple of small knitting shops, but they don’t stock anything ‘interesting’). There’s a good needlework shop (Wye Needlecraft, in Bakewell), about an hour away by bus; but I do most of my craft shopping online. To be honest, I’ve accumulated so much stuff over the years, I don’t need to buy very much, at the moment.

When did you start Tangle Crafts?

Technically, the first incarnation of TangleCrafts was called ‘Stitchery’. When I first started designing needlework, that was the name I used to sell patterns & kits through eBay. TangleCrafts as it is now began as a concept in my head a couple of years ago, when the weaving bug had caught me again. When a friend decided to host a craft fair in Derby, it moved out of my head, and into the world. The craft fair was held at very short notice, so I edited and re-branded my old needlework designs, along with a couple of newer ones, and the first TangleCrafts outing had nothing to do with weaving at all. However, I deliberately chose the name so that it was less genre-specific than ‘Stitchery’, with the full intention of branching out. The second Derby craft fair was full of woven pieces and kits (and no needlework: I tend to go to extremes). People were very intrigued by the DIY kits, so it felt like I had done what I had set out to do.

Muddy Fields (haiku)

Fading autumn sunlight,
glowing
over muddy fields.


What made you decide to start a website of weaving resources, kits, projects, and fiber art works?

Why the website? Simply, the internet is the best way to reach the widest audience of people with a specific area of interest. But also, my instinct is to write – perhaps as a result of all the reading I’ve done in my life. Why do I produce the resources and kits? Well, as I’ve discovered over the years, it’s possible to weave with incredibly limited resources, and pretty much no specialist equipment at all. I feel like it’s an amazingly accessible and creative craft that for some reason fails to reach as many people as it should. Weaving is awesome – when I weave, I find a place that liberates and clears my mind, both at the same time. I want to show people how easy it is to try weaving; I just want it to be there, as a viable option for creative people.


How has the site grown/changed over time?

The site has changed from being primarily needlework focused, to primarily weaving-based. Both things are important to me, and I would like to even out the balance a little, but it all takes time.


Have you thought about opening an etsy shop at some point?

I will definitely be opening an Etsy shop, hopefully sometime very soon. There are just some practical details I need to sort out, first.

Hooray! She just opened her shop! Make sure to check her etsy shop here: TangleCrafts Shop!


You have so much that you are offering on your website already, what do you see happening on your website in the future? For yourself as a fiber artist?

I have LOTS of ideas for the website. In the near future, there will be a DIY Weaving ‘Club’ with monthly consignments of goodies. I’ve created a mini-zine, full of weaving-related literature and mythology, reviews of books, websites & artists, and general weaving-related musings. I have ideas for a whole series of them, and that’s at the forefront of my mind, right now. But I also have weaving projects in mind – I want to do some tiny miniature work, but I also have the possibility of a commission which would involve a much larger piece than my usual work.

Essential to the creative process is making time to go for long walks in the Derbyshire countryside with my husband, Corey. Taking time out is important, and yet it also informs my work – you can see the curves of the Peak District hills, and the colours of the countryside in almost everything I weave.

My challenge for the year is to balance my time so that I can do a little bit of everything. It’s all, always, an ongoing progress!

Suzanne also gave me some wonderful pictures of her work accompanied by explainations of the pieces and the haiku that inspired two of them.

Agate Evening‘ (a couple of versions) followed on from the ‘Fantasy Landscape’. I guess it’s looking at movement through line, a bit like Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’. I used ‘Agate Evening’ for the banner header on my blog/website.

These pieces are all very swirly, but I also like the serenity of very plainly woven pieces, such as the Haiku mini wall hangings (for instance) ‘Muddy Fields’ and the Art Card Original miniature, ‘Thunder Passes’. Then it’s all about the colours, and the sense-memories that are evoked.

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And best of all – a woman after my own heart for sure – she has started her own mini zine+weaving kit!

We are swapping zines and so I just can’t wait to get mine! It’s in the mail on it’s way – I’m totally going to post pictures of it once it gets here so you can all see it too! I just love the idea of a DIY Weaving Club, what fun!

You can sign up for a 3 or 6 month subscription – fabulous – just go here to sign up for your march issue (place your order by the 25th).

You can see all the most recent additions to her site by going here.

And Suzanne also sent my the TangleCrafts embroidery pattern to share with you! What a great design to use on just about any project or just on it’s own as a wall piece. Thank you Suzanne!

Just click on the image to download the pdf!

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I know I mentioned it in yesterday’s post about clm briefly, but Suzanne has also contributed a great project to the March issue of Craft Leftovers Monthly! – How to Weave on Anything! A great little card set covering how to literally weave on just about anything – starting with the cardstock the instruction cards are printed on! Each subscriber will receive a little deck of instruction cards all tied to together with some scraps of hand dyed yarn – the perfect thing to get your weaving started!

You can get a one month subscripton
or three month subscription or
the zine only.

Craft Leftovers Monthly is on sale until Saturday Morning; the March zine is on sale until the end of March! Make sure to pick your’s up today!

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See you all tomorrow! Have a good day and Happy Crafting!

++Kristin Roach++

3 thoughts on “Meet Suzanne Mwamba :: Tapestry Weaving for All!

  1. What a cutie! I’ve just learned doing stuff like knitting and weaving in looms a few months ago. You won’t believe me, but my boyfriend was the one who taught me how to do these things! Ha ha! Bet he’s not a gay. It just makes him more relaxed when he knits.

  2. I totally believe you because it was Jason who taught me to knit and got the whole craft thing going. I didn’t really care for it much before he got me to try! Now I knit all the time and he rarely does ;)

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