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.
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.
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.
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!