Weaver helping create new loom studio with the Milan Village Arts School
Dianna Soehren is helping Milan Village Arts School create a dedicated weaving studio with a goal to increase the types of classes offered.
MILAN — Growing up, Dianna Soehren learned much from her mother, who was skilled in many different craft arts such as quilting, crocheting and knitting.
Soehren was introduced to loom weaving by her mother-in-law and, around 1994, Soehren decided to purchase her own loom. She has been weaving ever since.
"I'm pretty much self-taught; some friends along the way have helped," Soehren said. "I am a believer in books from the library to learn things. I am old-school."
While one can create a wide range of items on a loom — from tapestries to tablecloths to blankets — Soehren has found one art form the most interesting, at least to her.
"It is primarily rag rug weaving," Soehren said. "It has always interested me."
For the past 14 years, Soehren has been sharing what she has learned by teaching rag rug weaving classes through the Milan Village Arts School. Using several floor looms, students are able to learn the basics of loom weaving while creating their own rag rug. She is now also helping the school create a dedicated studio for weaving and other textile crafts.
Weaving a rug and more
Rag rug weaving may seem an easy form of weaving, but there is actually a lot of prep work. First is setting up the loom.
There are many different kinds of looms — from simple pin and frame looms that can be used on a person's lap to complex and huge floor looms with multiple treadles and harnesses. Milan Village Arts School has several floor looms of various harness numbers.
"What is nice to have is the variety," Soehren said.
To weave you need two things, the warp and the weft. The warp is the thread or yarn strung through the loom vertically and held stationary under tension. A weaver then takes additional thread or yarn, called the weft, and weaves it through the warp horizontally, creating the rug or length of fabric.
On a floor loom, the warp is threaded through the different harnesses, which can then be raised or lowered by stepping on the treadles. The treadles lift different columns of warp, which creates the pattern in the weaving as the weft is pulled through the warp.
The more harnesses a loom has, the more complex a pattern can be in the weaving. It also means adding the warp is a more in-depth process, leading some to hire someone to warp their looms.
"Warping the loom is a whole other ballgame," Soehren said.
Soehren enjoys the process of warping her loom and creating the design for her projects. She advises weavers to warp their loom in a way that will allow them to create multiple and varied projects, because once a loom is warped, you can't really change it without starting over.
"It can be fairly complicated," Soehren said.
Once the loom is warped, you are ready to weave. It is important that the thread, yarn or fabric being used is correctly prepared, or the finished product might not come out the way the weaver hopes.
Depending on the project and loom, the act of weaving can vary. A looser weave, such as for a scarf or some blankets, requires less force from the beater — the piece of the loom that pushes the weft tightly into place.
However, if one wants a tighter piece of fabric such as a rug that will stand up to use and time, more force will be needed.
"It is physical," Soehren said. "You really have to beat hard to make them nice and tight and dense."
Once the loom and fabric is prepped and the design has been chosen, Soehren said it can take her four to five hours to weave a rug, depending on its size and complexity.
Soehren describes herself as a practical person, which is why she likes making rugs. She'll even take rugs with a worn warp and re-weave the rags into another rug.
"I'm a 'need to be able to use it, rather than a hang it on the wall' weaver," Soehren said.
The Milan Village Arts School was opened in 1988, a place to teach folk and other types of art. It purchased and moved into the District 49 country schoolhouse in 1995. Since its inception, it has offered classes in a wide range of artistic mediums — from spoon carving, wood carving, silver and jewelry making to painting, baking and weaving.
"The kind we specialize in is things that take a lot of equipment and space because we've got it," said school director Ron Porep.
Soehren was asked to start teaching rag rug weaving for the school in 2008. Her students over the years have also made her a better weaver, Soehren said.
"It is a constant learning experience," Soehren said.
For more than a decade, the Milan Village Arts School has rented out space in the old Milan school, now owned by the Greater Milan Initiative. It started housing its looms in the basement of the school and has held classes in other rooms including the kitchen.
"We could put on 25 classes, with 25 teachers, at one time just in this building," Porep said.
In an effort to increase the opportunities for artists to rent out studio space plus perhaps add additional textile art classes, the school has put together a dedicated textile studio in the school building. With Soehren's help, most of the school's looms were brought upstairs into an old classroom.
"We just moved up here," Soehren said. Her first rag rug weaving class was held the first weekend of November. She also has classes scheduled in March and November 2023.
When not being used for classes, the looms are available for use by Milan Village Arts School members. The studio can be used by appointment or weavers can join a group that uses the studio at arranged times through the year.
The looms are maintained with warp at no cost; members just need to bring their own materials. More information can be found on the school website or by contacting the school directly at 320-734-4807.
Milan Village Arts School is special for many reasons, including for the number of looms it does have. A small class of around six students are able to work on individual looms, learn the ins and outs of weaving and create a finished product.
"It is unique that you can come and work on a loom for an extended amount of time," Soehren said.
The school is also unique for what it does and protects. There aren't many places anymore where one can learn traditional folk arts, and Milan Village Arts School is one of those special places.
Learning to weave on a loom can be a time-consuming and challenging journey, but also rewarding and a great way to be creative. While it might not be for everyone, Soehren knows firsthand that all it takes is one experience to find a lifelong passion.
"You never know until you try it," Soehren said.