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Episode 142: Traditions in Cloth with Melvenea Hodges

In this week's episode, LaChaun speaks with Melvenea Hodges. Melvenea is a Fiber Artist residing in South Bend, Indiana. She was born and raised in Benton Harbor, Michigan where she began learning about fiber arts through experimenting with hair braiding, beading, and weaving. It was through these experiences she found joy and realized her talent in creating with her hands. She creates clothing and accessories using traditional techniques such as block printing, sewing, weaving, spinning, knitting, crocheting, and embroidery. On a small scale, Melvenea grows processes and spins naturally colored cotton that she weaves with. 

Traditions in Cloth Website 

Traditions in Cloth Shop

Fabric of Life

Melvenea's Youtube

Melvenea's Instagram 

Claiming My Identity as a Black Weaver in 21st Century America (Blog Post)



Sarah Resnick: I’m Sarah Resnick.

LaChaun Moore: And I’m LaChaun Moore.

Sarah Resnick: And we are the hosts of the Weave Podcast, a project of the weaving yarn shop, Gist Yarn & Fiber.

LaChaun Moore: Hello. Hi, everyone. I hope all is well. I’m excited to be back this week to speak with Melvenea Hodges. Melvenea is a fiber artist residing in South Bend, Indiana. She was born and raised in Benton Harbor, Michigan, where she began learning about fiber arts through experimenting with hair braiding, beading, and weaving. It was through these experiences that she found joy and realized her talent in creating with her hands. She creates clothing and accessories using traditional techniques, such as block printing, sewing, weaving, spinning, knitting, crocheting, and embroidery. On a small scale, Melvenea grows, processes, and spins naturally colored cotton that she weaves with, and we’re so grateful to have her on the podcast this week.

Hello, Melvenea. Welcome.

Melvenea Hodges: Hi there. Thanks for having me.

LaChaun Moore: Can you start out by introducing yourself and kind of talking about how you got into the world of fibers?

Melvenea Hodges: Wow. So, I grew up in Benton Harbor, Michigan, southwest Michigan, a little, small, rustbelt town, about 9,000 people, so you can imagine just a small community. Very few people were into textiles. Maybe you had people that did alterations, or maybe they did some embellishments, but for the most part it was not much happening there. But I did get some exposure from my grandmother. She was an accomplished seamstress, and she did some crochet here and there, so even though she was kind of done doing that once I came of age, I still had some sort of affinity just through the exposure.

It really does seem like a switch just got flipped and I all of a sudden… I gotta learn how to do this. I wanted to make clothing. And it started with learning to crochet. And the way I did is I literally just went to the craft store, picked up a how to crochet book, and it came with hooks, and then just got some acrylic yarn and figured it out. And it was just off and running from there.

LaChaun Moore: Wow. So, you started with crochet, and then you kind of found yourself slowly picking up weaving, and spinning, and all of the very different ways that you work with fiber?

Melvenea Hodges: Yeah. Kind of in a roundabout way. I think I learned persistence and the tenacity and all of that from braiding. Because probably the first exposure to actually doing things that require multiple steps and time was braiding. Now, that was something that was prolific where I grew up. Everybody wanted to learn how to braid ever since I can remember. Me and my sister were trying to get our hands on a doll with a full set of hair, full head of hair, so that we could learn how to braid. And so, that was something we did, and we spent a lot of time doing, and so when it came time to actually get into fiber arts, I think I already had that. I was already used to sitting down for eight hours, 10 hours, working with fiber because of that prior experience.

LaChaun Moore: I can imagine, like after you said that I was thinking about it and I was like, “That’s so true.” I remember growing up, like braiding hair, just hoping somebody would let me put some plaits in and do some cornrows. I could definitely see how that could lend itself to getting into fiber arts.

Melvenea Hodges: Yes. Yeah, so it was huge, and I think that in itself kind of helped me understand that I could be good at this. I could be good at something where you sit and intertwine fibers and create something beautiful. Because that concept was already there. And then, of course, you got the encouragement with family members who, even though they didn’t do it, they still appreciated it, that kind of work.

LaChaun Moore: And so, as you started to venture into the different types of fiber crafts, how did you learn each one? Were you reading books? Were there certain blogs that you looked at? What were the ways that you learned how to become what I would consider an expert at spinning raw fibers, and weaving, and crocheting?

Melvenea Hodges: Okay, so here I think… This would have been the late ‘90s, early 2000s, so eCommerce was just starting to happen, and we were just starting to be able to go to websites, and find information, and so it happened very slowly. And I think one thing sort of led to the next. So, with crochet, it went, “Oh, well, how am I gonna weave larger things or more finer things when I just have this one size and one type of yarn and this limited array of colors?” Well, I ended up submitting an Afghan, a crocheted Afghan into our county fair, and I won. I was our grand champion, and I won a gift certificate to a yarn shop. Had never been in a real yarn shop before.

And there I purchased my first natural yarn. It was actually cotton. And I was like, “This is the kind of fabric I want to make.” And so, then that kind of got the wheels turning like, “Okay, I gotta find a way to get more of this kind of yarn.” And obviously, the expense too. How can I get the price down? And so, that’s where the first, “Hm, what if you spin your own,” kind of got in there. And then by this time, I’m heading off to college, and of course someone who’s got bitten by the fiber arts bug is gonna choose a major of apparel textiles and merchandising, so I ended up as part of that program taking a class. It was a beginning weaving class. And it was really just kind of scratching the surface, but that was enough. The professor brought in a spinning wheel one day and that in itself, just the, “Oh, people do this? Oh, it’s something people do.” That was enough to get me to seek out tools.

And then mostly books, so I would go, they have a nice library system where I went to school, and so I was able to check books out of the library. I remember ordering a spindle kit from eBay and that was it. And this is the concept of taking, using a book and learning how to do something is not new. My father would do that. He would buy a book, get some tools, and he would build. That was his thing. He would build. He practically built our house as we lived there. And so, that wasn’t an unusual concept, so I’m definitely a kind of a self-taught, collect a book, the knowledge, the information, tools, and go for it.

So, yeah, it was just a steady, steady acquisition of skills. Trial and error.

LaChaun Moore: That’s so amazing to hear you kind of talk about how it really was self-starting, and also you had to be motivated, and like your excitement about fibers to get as far into the craft as you have is honestly so amazing.

Melvenea Hodges: Yeah. Well, and you know, I have pondered this for some time, and really the best I can come up with is I really think it is something that is inherent. It is passed onto you. It is inherited. This… You know, 2,000 people can watch the same demonstration and maybe two of them will become obsessed enough to want to learn it, and understand it, and then go so far as try it and master it. So, I really do feel like perhaps we are… Well, I know we are really a continuation of those who came before us, and so that gets passed on, and it just must be my turn.

LaChaun Moore: Absolutely. I mean, I feel the same way whenever I think about my obsession with cotton, especially naturally colored cotton, because it’s like I can’t put it down. I can’t stop thinking about it. And I feel like so much about my life has made so much more sense as I’ve just continued to learn more and to do more, and so I absolutely hear you on that and understand where you’re coming from.

And I kind of want to delve deeper into your experience with cotton because it’s so unique and I’m so inspired by your journey. I know what it was like for me when I first sort of found out that cotton grew in different shades and different colors, but I’m curious what that first moment was like for you, and also how you began growing it.

Melvenea Hodges: Well, yeah. It really is something that literally fell into my lap. I mean, I was already knee deep into spinning by the time I discovered cotton, but obviously what was most accessible was wool. But once I began going to fiber festivals, I would see cotton, and it was usually the white fiber, very highly processed, very compacted and straightened fiber, so it wasn’t cotton as you would find it growing, and I live in Northern Indiana, so it’s not like I’m gonna go past a cotton field. But one day I actually came across cotton growing. I was going to a weaving shop near where I live and outside of the shop was a plant, and upon closer look, and I don’t know why I slowed down enough to really inspect this plant, there were cotton bolls on this plant.

LaChaun Moore: Wow.

Melvenea Hodges: Now, it didn’t even really register right away because the cotton was brown. At first inkling, I thought it was just old, maybe it was kind of rotten on the plant, but was almost in disbelief that it was growing here, because it’s not supposed to grow here. But anyhow, I go inside, and I talk to the shop owner, and she’s like, “Yeah, that’s cotton, and I bought the plant at a festival, and it’s been growing. It’s brown. That’s the natural color. And here, you gotta take a boll.” And I just… I was ecstatic. Not just because I saw this cotton growing, but then at her generosity, like she was just kind of, “Here, have it.” This rare, special thing.

Now, I had already tried spinning cotton and failed at it miserably. It was so hard to draft, and I just couldn’t get a nice thread. But when it was given to me as a gift, now when someone gives you a gift, you gotta make good use of it, you know? You gotta show appreciation and use it. And so, I got home with that one boll and first thing I did was I picked the seeds out and it was so soft, it was like cashmere. And I did not want to waste any bit of this one boll of cotton, this brown cotton boll, and so I spun it on a spindle. And sure enough, I was able to get a nice, fine, strong thread, and I guess my only real understanding of why I was able to spin this but not the other stuff was because this cotton was in its natural state. It still had the crimp and I’m telling you it was a lot like spinning cashmere.

And from then on, I was like, “I gotta get more of this.” Well, how do you get more? Where are you gonna get handpicked cotton that has not been pressed into some sliver? You gotta grow it. And so, that’s how it started. That first boll had 21 seeds and all the brown cotton that I can grow to this day is from that one boll.

LaChaun Moore: Wow.

Melvenea Hodges: Yeah. And of course, then you start really collecting, and so yeah, I’ve found people that grow the white upland cotton, and then I recently found somebody that grows green, and so yeah, all you need is one boll, and you can go all the way down this rabbit hole.

LaChaun Moore: Right. That’s so cool. And so, I see that you have different shades of different colors. As you’ve grown, have you found that your seeds have adapted to your environment, or maybe the pigment has changed a little from when you first started planting it?

Melvenea Hodges: Well, as far as adapted to the environment, I can’t tell you that because I keep growing it in different places.

LaChaun Moore: Okay.

Melvenea Hodges: I don’t know how adapted it is or how maybe this part of the yard is better than this. I do not grow any large quantities. I’m not really… You know, I’m not a farmer. I started off with a four by four, four feet by four feet little square. Then I went to a four by eight. And then two summers ago I did another four by eight plot. And so, I’ve just been little by little, just… And I’ve been trying different things to hopefully make it grow better. Some years, I’ve nursed it better than others.

Yes, I’ve had some cross-pollination, because I often do just put all the seeds in wherever.

LaChaun Moore: Okay.

Melvenea Hodges: So, yeah, I have some tans, and then I have some that they look like they’re brown, but then when I simmer it in baking soda to kind of deepen the colors, there’s like greenish brown. So, yeah, you get all kinds of variety, but I welcome that. I’m definitely not a stickler for purity of any sorts. Nature, do your thing.

LaChaun Moore: Yes. Absolutely. I think that’s one of the things that’s so interesting about naturally colored cotton, is that it kind of just does what it wants, and you kind of just learn to work around it, and I think that’s what makes it so beautiful. It kind of… When you just said that it reminded me of when I had Sally Fox on the podcast and she was talking about how the way that she got her green variety was she was growing the brown cotton and then one day she just found this one little boll that was green and she was like, “What is that?” And then she planted it, and then she had a green variety, and I was just like, “Wow. That’s so cool. Naturally colored cotton has so many facets and there’s so much to learn about it.”

Melvenea Hodges: Yeah. Well, and Sally Fox has been such a huge resource. I am so thankful that she’s decided to start posting her story. If you’re on Instagram, she literally shares her whole process, and that in itself, especially when you don’t live around anyone else that is doing the same thing, it really helps to see and understand, “Okay, this is what goes into it.” So, you’re not off on a limb. You’re kind of doing what is necessary to grow. And it’s great that people, especially farmers of cotton, are starting to share that information, because for the longest time it really has been a mystery, like there’s a huge veil between us fiber artists and producers, and so to kind of make that more transparent has been so helpful on the journey.

LaChaun Moore: Yeah. And you kind of touched on it a little bit where you were talking about spinning cotton with a spindle. I’m curious if you can talk about using a cotton wheel, also, which I know you have experience with, but maybe people who are intimidated by spinning raw cotton, like if you can maybe share some tips. I know you’ve shared a couple with me.

Melvenea Hodges: For sure. And I’m especially excited for it because as I spin cotton longer and more, I realize you can spin on anything. You can literally spin on anything. My favorite way to spin cotton is using skewers, bamboo skewers and a bead, and literally that in itself can get you very productive. It does not take much.

Now, a few things that I can offer for anybody who’s just starting off in spinning cotton. You want to, if you’re used to spinning with wool, you’re probably used to using a short forward draft. What you really want to do with cotton is you want to let a little bit of the twist go into your fiber supply and then pull back. So, you’re doing the exact opposite of what you would be doing if you were spinning wool. It’s you’re literally watching the point of where the twist is entering the fiber and you’re pulling back gradually.

Now, what you can spin on, yes, you can do something as simple as using a skewer and a bead, but you could also use your spinning wheel. What you want to do is just make sure that you get rid of most of the take up. You want to be moving at your own speed and you don’t want the wheel grabbing the yarn before you’re ready. You want to be able to build up twist.

But yeah, you can spin on just about anything. My favorite drop spindles are one ounce in weight or less. If you’re gonna use a top whorl, supported spindles around that same one ounce or less. Lately, I’ve been spinning on mini bobbins, where I use a shaft and then the little, tiny craft bobbins that you can get, and the cool thing about using a mini bobbin to spin is that you can wind your fine singles onto a bobbin so that they’re safe and they can’t get tangled or unravel if you’re traveling with them.

So, yeah, you can spin on just about anything. Forget everything that you heard about how hard cotton is to spin. If you get it when it’s still lofty, especially if you can get handpicked, it’s gonna be super easy to spin. Just give it some time and pretty soon you’ll be spinning it. It’s a total meditation. It’s one of my getaway tasks.

LaChaun Moore: Yeah. And you also sell hand painted spindles on your website, Traditions in Cloth, as well, right?

Melvenea Hodges: I do. And the reason why is because I really do want this to be accessible, and I’ve had this conversation once with an elder, and it’s like, “What is that thing that you believe in and enjoy so much that you want to share with the world?” And to me, it’s this. Especially spinning. Spinning has taken me through so many seasons in life. I stopped and started lots of things, lots of crafts, but spinning is the one that even when I have no time and I’m overwhelmed, or when I’m having the best time ever, or when I just need to get away, spinning has always been that constant. And so, that’s that one thing that I feel like I need to share with everyone, and so on my site, that’s what I’m trying to do. I really want this to be accessible to everyone. It is such a joy for me, and I want to get that out there.

Same for weaving and I’m still developing ways that I can help people delve into it, because that’s another thing. Creating your own fabric, it really is an unspeakable joy and sense of accomplishment. I mean, we can all go to the store and buy fabric. We can all probably figure out how to sew a shirt. But to go from string to cloth to that in itself is so empowering, and I just feel like everybody needs to experience that. And I want to make it as affordable and accessible as possible.

LaChaun Moore: Yeah. That’s amazing. And I feel like you’re very successful at doing that with your website and also your blog, which is so beautiful. I think what I appreciate the most about your blog is that you speak from a very particular voice that I feel is very strong and that resonates a lot with me, and I’m sure a lot of other people who sometimes don’t know how to articulate the feeling of working in fiber as a Black woman, and so I just wanted to reference one of your blog posts that anyone listening, I highly suggest that you go and read. I will make sure that it’s linked in the description box. It’s titled Claiming My Identity as a Black Weaver in the 21st Century America.

You wrote, “As I’ve thrown out the rule book, a certain aesthetic has defined itself within my work. I’ve had to acknowledge to myself that I am not just another weaver. I am a Black weaver and that means something. The connections I draw from the traditions of the past are unique. My eye likes a certain look. I have different goals for my textiles. I like high contrast and jewel tones. I like simple patterning in blocks rather than entire fields. I like for design elements to be irregular. I weave in narrow strips. I piece the fabric together to make a larger fabric in order to limit waste. I plan projects on the fly with few notes. This is me.”

“Some may read this and think why should race have to be a factor in this conversation. Honestly, I wish it weren’t and I fought it for years. I would challenge that person to imagine being an outlier in something that is so intertwined in your identity. Never seeing someone like yourself in any room, publication, or website. Connect with an ancient craft with no links or forms of reference other than the sappy, tragic cotton-picking slave narrative. What are my traditions in cloth? Where is my place in American weaving history outside of toiling in the fields of southern cotton plantations? If I am an American weaver, where is my rightful, dignified representation in the history books? It’s an odd yet necessary space to dwell. I have resolved that although Black Americans have limited participation in the American Weaving tradition today, there is so much more to uncover about the past. There is only one American history, and I am a part of it.”

Melvenea Hodges: Yeah.

LaChaun Moore: It was just honestly, it was so beautiful. I read it multiple times. It’s like a reference for me because it so perfectly articulates, I feel, the placement of us as Black women, Black Americans, in this space.

Melvenea Hodges: You just took me there even just listening, because I never listened to my own words come right back at me, but it really took me to the space, and I think a lot of us are coming to this realization, a lot of Black fiber artists are realizing that if the story is gonna be told, we have to be willing to tell it. We can’t just go, “Okay, I don’t really like this limited and polarized narrative. There’s really so much more to the story.” Well, we can’t say that and then not be willing to share, and so that’s kind of the main reason why I wrote the post. But then at the same time, I also feel the need to help people make the connection between those people from way back when that toiled in the fields and me. We are the same and we’re still here.

And you know, that had to… Actually, that came to me probably later in life than it should have. My grandmother was telling me a story of my relatives. She was talking about her great uncle and how funny he was, and this and that, and then I just stopped her, interrupted her, and went, “Were they slaves?” And she looked at me like, “Excuse me?” Record scratch. Everything froze and she went, “That’s your folks. That’s your people. That’s your family.” And that, in that moment, for some reason, because I think we are taught our history as if this was them and those people, but in reality, we are an extension of those people, and they are whole people. The very fact that we are here, and we have a whole story to tell, well, the whole story is their story, too.

And so, for us to participate and share our experiences in fiber arts is to share their experiences in fiber arts. And so, fast forward all the way to about 2016, 2017, I joined a fiber arts guild, a weaving guild, and I was starting to get that heavy feeling again because I had been fighting. I’ve always found acceptance within the larger fiber community. However, that little, “Yeah, but where do you fit in here? You’re a visitor,” and then I found this book by Mary Madison. It’s actually a compilation of narratives or stories from interviews of formerly enslaved people. Notice I said formerly enslaved people. Not slaves, people. And they were telling of their experiences with fiber arts, and telling about how they used to weave coverlets, and clothing, and spin cotton to be used and worn by themselves, and I just… That rounded the story.

And suddenly I understood that even if perhaps there’s no museum to visit, or there’s no collection of blankets and clothing that someone handwoven and handspun, that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. The very fact that I am sitting here doing these things says that we’ve always done this, and we are not guests in this. It is our heritage, you know? And so, it just solidified what I needed to do. I knew I would always continue with fiber arts, but just understanding just how important it is for me to practice and share, but then also do that in my own way, and not feel constricted to following the dominant tradition, but to celebrate my own personal way was so important.

LaChaun Moore: Yeah. Absolutely. And I have used Mary Madison’s book as a resource for a really long time, and for me, there were moments when I was reading that I would just pause, and it’s a small book. It’s not a lot of reading. But it’s so powerful. You read a page and you just have to stop. And I was just so amazed that I had never read anything like that before. I was so amazed that I never learned anything like that before. And I went to school studying fibers and textiles, never heard anything like that before.

Melvenea Hodges: No. Well, you actually bring up a good point about how we could go to school. I studied textiles as well, and none of these things come up. I think the folk art tradition, we really, because of industrialization, we have sort of minimized what folk make and what folk create, and those techniques, and those looks, and I think… Yeah, reading that, those narratives, and how they would describe the cloth, and then the way of designing, and I remember one narrative in which the weaver talked about how she liked to add a little stripe of yellow, and a little stripe of this, and a little bit of that to add pizzazz, and I went, “Yeah, me too!” You know?

So, it’s all feeling like, “Okay, it’s not just me.” So, yeah, those were so important, and I think what we’re doing now, where we’re kind of open ourselves up to be interviewed and questioned, because you know, in real life, I’ve always been a pretty private person, and really crafting, especially weaving, is kind of a solitary type thing. So, kind of doing that out in the open is new. But very necessary, because I think it’s so important. I really just want some young kid, some high schooler, some recent college graduate to just walk past and go, “I could do that. I could totally do that. That looks… How is that done? What do I need? How can I get started?”

I just… I want that to happen because just like in me, it’s something that I feel like I need to do, I really feel like there are those out there who still need to discover it and realize that, “Wait, this is yours, too. You got the bug.” You don’t know it yet, but you got the bug.

LaChaun Moore: Right. I mean, even like when you look at the ways that Black fiber artists interpret different things, have different cultural signifiers in their work. There’s another artist who was also on the podcast, her name is Shenequa, yeah, and like the way she uses hair, and braids, it’s just it’s so cool, and so refreshing to just see it, so I’m so in love with what feels to me like a renaissance for us as Black fiber artists, and I think our ancestors have to be so proud. Have to be so proud.

Melvenea Hodges: For sure. That’s exactly what I feel. And I actually even recently, that really kind of came to a head. I was recently afforded the opportunity to do the immersion program at Vävstuga Weaving School. It’s a Swedish weaving school. And to go there and actually be in this eight-week program with other fiber artists, and us sitting together and planning, and creating projects, but then seeing how my filters manifested in my cloth, and how that was acknowledged and appreciated with the other weavers in the program, was very special to me because I think we do really bring something unique to the fiber arts field. And even though we all sat through the same lesson, and we all got the same instruction, and we were all using the same looms, and the same structure, there was a look. There was a certain look that came about.

And it’s so funny, because the other people in the group would be like, “Melvenea, that is so you.” And I’m like, “Yeah, it is, isn’t it?” Because that… Yeah, it’s just in us, and I think we need to get out there and share, and I think people can learn. It’s so funny because the last project that we did, we actually… It was an option to do a group project, but of course, if people didn’t end up agreeing upon color, or the details, you could do your own. And so, I was asked, they were like, “Melvenea, what do you think about these colors?” And I go, “I think they look flat. I think it needs something.” And so, I go, we play around, and we go back and forth, and we play the proportions, and by the time we talked and went, I of course… I loved it. And then they’re like, “Ooh, yeah, I like that.” And then the other person was like, “Ooh, yeah, I like that. We should do this together.”

And so, now we all… The final project was a tow linen tablecloth, and we all have this same tablecloth now in our house, and it was to me, it was such a special collaboration, because we all had these different styles, and different backgrounds. One woman is Hungarian. Another woman did not have any prior weaving experience, but nonetheless had… We all had different aesthetics. And for us to be able to come together and me be an active participant, it was just it’s such a special feeling, that yeah, it can be different, but it can also be appreciated.

LaChaun Moore: That’s so beautiful. And can you talk a little bit more about your experience? I know you were kind of in a remote area, or-

Melvenea Hodges: It was. It was. For me, for the most part, most Black Americans, we live usually in heavily populated areas, urban areas. You are not gonna catch us that far off the beaten path. This place was in Shelburne, Massachusetts, and for me, especially as a single woman, to say that I’m gonna leave my habitat and go to this other place that I know nothing about, and there’s a remoteness, then you’re thinking, “Okay, I’m probably gonna be the only Black person for miles, and what’s gonna happen to me? Are they gonna accept me?” That was scary at first. And I have to be honest here on this platform that that did cross my mind. “I’m gonna be 800 miles from home. Is this safe?”

But I’m so glad I did because I gained so much, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. It was so important for me to see these other traditions and actually how they were applied in a modern context. I grew up, in my situation, a tablecloth is something plastic that you put on a table for a birthday party. We didn’t… Napkins come in a package, and they are disposable. And so, to go into this whole other world, where everything is handwoven. Your chair covers, your cushions, your blankets, your rugs, your curtains, your outfit, your belt. Everything was handwoven, and so colorful, and so unique. It just let me see. I’ve always woven clothing and accessories, but man, there is so much more to do. This is not just table runner central. This is you can weave anything and everything and I was inspired by that, seeing it practically used in a modern context.

I’m like, “Wow, we have work to do.” I came back home and was like, “Okay, I gotta do my chair covers, I gotta do my curtains. I need a rug.” It was like boom, let’s go. And that really just further fueled my desire to share this because I feel like how many people can say the textiles in my house are special to me, are unique to me, I designed them? There’s so much to gain there. I feel like you don’t even… I didn’t know I was missing it until I was in that context. I didn’t know that to dry your hands on handwoven towels in the bathroom… It’s like, “Oh, the luxury of it all, and I could do this. I could totally do this.”

So, that was special, and I hope more people will find the opportunity to do something like that. And also, if there’s any listener listening to this podcast, if you’re in a position where you could support Fabric of Life, please do so. They are doing wonderful things in sharing these skills, so great experience.

LaChaun Moore: Yeah. That’s amazing. Wow. It sounds like you really were in a very immersive experience, like you really were surrounded by the craft, and got to see so much. I mean, I’ve never even thought about… I know that curtains are woven, but handwoven, I’ve never seen handwoven curtains. I would love to see.

Melvenea Hodges: Yes, and that’s the thing, because you just think about we all kind of have an eye and a certain look that excites us, so imagine just looking around your house and just being hit by all the things you love, all the color you love, all the texture, all the pattern, because you designed it from scratch, and seeing that in that farmhouse was just so special. There’s some pictures. I’ve been plopping them on my blog here and there, so you’re gonna see more, because the first thing I did when I got home was like a Smolansvav. It’s a brocade, a loom controlled brocading technique. That was the first thing I had to do. I fell in love with it, and I was like, “I gotta do this now.” And I was like, “I’m gonna do some place mats and napkins out of this Smolansvav technique.”

And so, I just went to it, and even though I don’t have a tablecloth that matches it, I don’t even care, because it just makes my morning to put my new place mats out and use my napkins and see that pattern, because my colors, I am a jewel tone, high contrast, you would not find these on the shelf. Just put it that way. That means so much to me and I just can’t wait to do more projects. I got a coverlet on the loom right now and it’s in my look, and I’m so excited for that. I would actually give it to that experience of being immersed in that that’s driving me to just come home and just really change my world.

LaChaun Moore: Yeah. And since you’ve gotten back, do you have any new projects that you’re working on?

Melvenea Hodges: Yeah. One of the most important projects I feel like I’m working on is I am finding ways to recreate some of my favorite projects, but without the expensive tools. The way weaving especially, and even spinning, is taught today, is very tool centric, where you’ve gotta buy this equipment. A new Swedish-style loom is almost $6,000. So, not only do you need to dedicate a room to it, you need $6,000. A used car worth of money to get a loom. But you can create a lot of these fabrics with literally just the sticks and string.

LaChaun Moore: It’s true.

Melvenea Hodges: Right before I left forVävstuga, I had actually started using a portable clothing rack as a loom, and you can create some nice, beautiful, large swaths of fabric in that way very easily with just a portable clothing rack, so I’m just finding ways to hopefully simplify and streamline the process of weaving the same beautiful cloth but with simpler tools. Same with spinning. You don’t need… I mean, you can go ahead and get an $800 spinning wheel. However, you can spin the same yarn just as productively using a spindle. Here’s how.

So, that’s kind of my mission right now, is streamlining those things. Aside from redecorating my whole house with handwoven.

LaChaun Moore: And I can’t wait to see those pictures, especially once you start to fill your house with more handwoven.

Melvenea Hodges: For sure. It’s coming. It’s coming. This coverlet is shaping up real fast.

LaChaun Moore: And we talked a little bit about your, well, quite a bit about your website, Traditions in Cloth. Can you let our listeners know how they can find you, what are some of the products that you sell, and how they can support your work?

Melvenea Hodges: Yeah, so you can find my blog and access my store through www.traditionsincloth.com. Traditions In Cloth is one word. And there you’ll find my blog and the latest that I’m up to, but then also in my store, it’s actually a Big Cartel store, but the link is available through the website. You’ll find some of my most fun projects that I’ve decided to offer for sale, but then you’ll also find tools and supplies to start spinning, so if you have not taken the plunge into cotton spinning, head on over because I do have some wonderfully prepped sliver that has been prepared with hand spinners in mind, and I also have some affordable spindles that you can use, and kits. I also offer Mary Madison’s book, Plantation Weavers Remember, if you’re curious about that, so just feel free to check in. Basically, anything that I love and am able to share, I’m providing it through my shop, so just keep checking in and hopefully you’ll find a treat.

LaChaun Moore: Wonderful. And where can people go on social media and the internet to follow you, as well?

Melvenea Hodges: Well, I am TraditionsinCloth on Instagram. Occasionally, I do post YouTube videos, as well, under the name Melveny, M-E-L-V-E-N-Y, but links to that are all on www.traditionsincloth.com, so if I’m up to something you’ll be able to find it through the main site.

LaChaun Moore: Wonderful. So, this has been such an amazing conversation, and I know we could probably keep talking for hours.

Melvenea Hodges: Oh, for sure.

LaChaun Moore: But it’s honestly, I’m just so grateful that you’ve shared so much about your personal journey and also your most recent journey, and I’m just so excited to see how you grow as a fiber artist and continue to share your journey and your findings with us. But before you go, I do have one question and it’s the question that we ask everyone that joins the podcast, and that is do you have any advice or words of wisdom to share with weavers and textile enthusiasts?

Melvenea Hodges: Yes. I think that probably the most important thing is to just start. Don’t worry about how to start, where to start, with what to start, but just go for it. Once the inspiration hits, act on it. And I think a lot of people have a passion for fiber arts, but they’re probably hesitant. Maybe you don’t feel like you have the knowledge yet, or you’re worried about how much time it’s gonna take. Throw that out the window. Just start is what I would like to offer. Just go for it. Do it your way. Don’t worry about the outcome. Just enjoy the journey.

LaChaun Moore: Wonderful. Thank you so much.

Melvenea Hodges: Thank you.

LaChaun Moore: That’s a wrap. If you’re interested in learning more about Melvenea’s work, you can find links in the show notes at www.gistyarn.com/episode-142. Thank you for tuning into this week’s episode. Until next time, happy weaving!

3 Responses


April 25, 2022

This podcast was amazing LaChaun. i truly enjoyed it. I wished I knew that Melvenea was in Europe, I would have loved to have met up with her. As a weaver, multicraftual creative of color it gives me a smile to know there are more out there discovering these beautiful handworks that goes back in our history. I feel it brings us all closer together. Her work with cotton is inspirational. Thank you again!


April 25, 2022

I have been enjoying listening to your podcast (I am new to it) and it made me laugh to hear LaChaun say she has never thought about weaving curtains. When I was new to my rigid heddle I decided to weave cafe curtains for my kitchen window, these were my 2nd ever project in crochet cotton. I hemmed them by counting the weft threads down from the lace stripe so you can see exactly how lopsided my beat was at that time. I still use them in my kitchen partly because I made them and partly to remind me and anyone else who sees them that it is possible to enjoy your work if it isn’t perfect. Weaving is a much newer skill for me (sewing, knitting, embroidery, etc has a 50+ year history with me) and as so many adults do I have a problem not doing my work to perfection.

Unfortunately I don’t seem to be able to paste a picture to this comment box -

I have been enjoying the podcast. Good luck going forward.

Joanna Setchel Gillespie
Joanna Setchel Gillespie

April 25, 2022

I was a handspinner when I moved to Georgia, and really enjoyed spinning colored cotton. Being an avid gardener with plenty of space, I sourced some cotton seeds and grew a modest crop before I learned that it is totally illegal to grow cotton in a non-commercial operation in my state. Planting dates are legally restricted due to the life cycle of the boll weevil, and had I caused a weevil infestation in my back yard, I would have paid a hefty fine and costs related to eradication. People listening to this podcast need to check laws governing the cultivation of cotton in their states.

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