Thursday, May 14, 2009

Fomenting Weavolution

Nine months ago, a small group of women decided that the fiberarts world needed a social networking site. Ravelry, created in April, 2007, was growing by leaps and bounds (350,000+ members as of this date), but Ravelry was designed for knitters and crocheters, not weavers and spinners. In spite of gentle noodging by Ravelers that spin and weave, the site couldn't do certain things, such as accommodate weaving drafts or catalog the mountains of fiber, thread, and yarn spinners and weavers quickly attract. Tien, Claudia, and Allison, weavers all, began work on the site, which is now--after eight months of raising money and design work--nearly ready to launch.

A few weeks ago, Tien put out the call for people to start helping get the site ready for the world. The technical end was almost completed: it was time to debug and load content (a fancy tech word for "data") before asking victims volunteers to try out the new site. I'm either a glutton for punishment, or have a secret desire to abandon my comfy world of academia for the insanity of high-tech (or both): I volunteered to help out, as did about a dozen other people.

The best way to clean up and prep a site for launch is to "divide and conquer": everybody takes on a portion of the site as their responsibility, and starts making notes on what is broken, what needs tweaking, and what content is needed to make the site attractive to users. I snagged
  • Looms and their manufacturers
  • Groups
  • Forums
Groups and Forums aren't too difficult--sort out the problems, decide how the two are linked together, and write a short "help" guide for people trying to create or join groups or post messages on a forum. Looms and their manufacturers is quite another story, however.

Weaving is a task that requires technology, even if that technology might appear to be nothing more than a bundle of sticks and strings, or something so small you can hold it in the palm of your hand. One of the features built into the site is the ability to catalog looms owned by a weaver, so all the information they need, such as the type of loom, who built it, and its size, is at one's fingertips. Weavers need this feature because we don't have just one loom: we collect equipment and tools the way a knitter collects knitting needles. An inventory of my own collection of looms revealed
  • 1 floor loom (my beloved Gilmore X-frame)
  • 2 inkle looms (1 floor, 1 lap)
  • 1 Navajo loom
  • 1 tapestry loom
  • 6 frame looms (2x2, 4x4, 2x4, (2) 4x6, 12x16)
and this list doesn't include the rigid heddle loom I'd like to buy, nor the Gilmore Gem I'd kill for to put in the studio for weaving samples, nor the Macomber I'd like to own if money and space were no object, nor the top-of-the-line AVL CompuDobby I'd make space for because I love technology, and an almost completely automated flyshuttle loom that can weave nearly anything just sounds so very cool.

So, inventories are necessary, but to build inventories, you need data--lots of data--on the looms and their manufacturers. I didn't realize until I started on this project how many companies manufactured looms during the 19th and 20th centuries. There are currently about two dozen loom manufacturers, ranging from tiny handheld portable looms to big industrial-sized looms. That's not too bad, and I gathered all the contact information in a couple hours. The real job began when I started to list the looms made by companies no longer in business. There were scores of loom manufacturers, most of them very tiny, that produced looms for farms and small weaving shops between 1880 and World War II and beyond. Many of these looms are still in use in homes, studios, and schools today, and will eventually end up in someone's inventory on Weavolution. I've put out the call for information on most of the weaving-related listservs, and I'm getting a lot of names; now I have to dig for more information, and load all this data in before the site moves to Alpha testing on Saturday.