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Artisans: Spotlighting Makers Of Handcrafted Goods : Santa Ana Weaver’s Career Carries Her From Rags to Riches

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

“What I enjoy most about weaving is that it’s everywhere,” said Patsy Latscha, a professional weaver based in Santa Ana. “You see it in every culture, every country and in all walks of life. People have been weaving since the beginning of time. No matter where you go, you’ll find weavers and their work.”

Latscha, who primarily works with commercial designers, owns her own weaving studio, Rags to Riches, and has been called on to custom design everything from pillows to rugs to bed throws. In fact, it was her search for the “perfect rag rug” that launched her weaving career eight years ago.

“I’ve always collected antiques, and I wanted a rag rug that would complement my decor. But I wanted it in certain colors, and I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted,” she said. “Since I couldn’t find what I wanted, I decided to take a course in weaving and make my own. I’ve been interested in weaving ever since. I took more classes, apprenticed with another designer and eventually was able to launch my own business.”

Essentially weaving is simply intermingling threads--yarns and materials that cross over and under each other. Although most of us are not conscious of it, weaving surrounds us. Carpets, upholstery, even the screens on windows or stereo speakers use weaving techniques.

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“When I began studying weaving, I became much more aware of how many things are woven,” Latscha said. “And of course, the more I learned, the more I wanted to know.”

Latscha has 11 looms set up in her studio. Each loom contains projects in various stages of preparation.

“I have 15-inch looms for smaller items like scarves and table runners,” she said. “All the way up to the heavy-duty looms that can accommodate rugs, afghans and bed throws.”

If fact, bed throws, pillows and rag rugs are the most commonly requested items Latscha produces. Yet there are different techniques to give different looks.

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“Some of the pillows and rugs are shag-fringed all over,” Latscha said. “Others are the more common flat-woven style. It’s simply a matter of personal preference.”

The materials she uses in her weavings also add color, texture and design. With an afghan, it’s not uncommon for Latscha to use up to 25 different types of yarn or other materials.

“I try to find unique yarns or materials,” she said. “In one throw, I’ll often include silk ribbon, chenille, a metallic yarn, mohair, hand spun wool . . . or any other material that I find interesting or that a customer requests. With some of the pillows I’ve been making lately, I’ve been adding strips of leather and even raffia. There are literally thousands of yarns and materials available so I have a wide range of choices.”

Latscha also needs to keep in mind the function of the piece.

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“Southern Californians tend to like cottons instead of wools because of our warmer climate,” she said. “With items like pillows or bed throws, I’ll use Angora and mohair for softness. If I’m making something like a saddle blanket, I’ll use wools or tightly spun yarns for durability. Wools are also used for warmth.”

Latscha has discovered that admirers of weaving don’t favor any particular style over another.

“With weaving, you can create very traditional-looking pieces or something more contemporary, depending on the materials and style you choose,” she said. “For example, some designers like the Southwest look, so I’ll incorporate leathers and other materials to give it that desert style. Another popular look is more tropical with bold, bright colors. Often rooms that are decorated in tropical colors tend to have lots of plants and are very colorful, so with pillows or rugs, I’ll opt for bright greens, blues, reds and yellows.

“At the other end, we have those who prefer French Country or English-style decor so I’ll stick to more traditional colors like red and gold,” she said. “The point is, weaving can be adapted to just about any style.”

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To prepare a 4-by-6-foot rug, Latscha estimates it takes almost two-and-a-half days . . . and that’s if she devotes her attention to the project full-time.

“It takes me about eight hours just to find all the right materials,” she says. “We can exactly match almost any colors. What designers usually do is bring in a swatch of upholstery and ask us to match the colors there. Since the weaving is custom designed, they can even indicate the percentage of a particular color they want. Then we either locate the exact colors or dye them to match.”

It takes another day to set up the loom itself and finally, an additional four hours to weave the rug. In all, almost two days to prepare and half a day to create.

“However, we generally ask for a four-week lead time,” she said. “Unfortunately, I can’t always get to a project right away because of other commitments . . . and if a project is more complicated, it may take longer to find just the right materials.”

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A 4-by-6-foot rug costs about $300, depending on the materials selected. A bed throw (depending on size and materials) can cost anywhere between $75 to $250.

“These tend to be considerably more expensive than what you’ll find in a catalogue or import store,” Latscha said. “However, the benefit is that you get exactly what you want, they’ll last forever and they’re washable. People are often initially surprised by the prices of hand-woven, custom-designed pieces, but they don’t realize the amount of work they take.

“And once they see the quality and realize that nobody else will have a piece just like theirs, they understand.”

In fact, some of Latscha’s customers are former weavers themselves.

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“Some of my customers took weaving classes, but when they discovered the amount of time it takes, they lost interest,” she said. “They still like woven pieces, but they’ve discovered they’d rather let someone else create them.”

Many of Orange County’s weavers end up at Casa de los Tejedores (which means “house of weavers”), a few doors from Latscha’s business. Here, Gertie Hansen, a former weaving instructor, sells looms, spinning wheels, thousands of different yarns and threads, as well as patterns and instruction books.

“Weaving tends to be an expensive hobby,” Hansen said. “For that reason, I recommend that if people are interested, they take classes first to see if it’s really something they want to continue. Even though there are books on weaving available, it’s difficult to figure out how to operate the loom or create a piece from a book or drawing. There are a lot of parts on a loom and you need to understand the terminology before sitting down with a pattern.”

However, according to both Hansen and Latscha, while weaving may initially seem intimidating, once you learn the basics, it’s a matter of repetition.

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“The basic movements are the same,” Latscha said. “The only recommendation I’d make is to start small. Try a scarf for a first project. Then do another. Once you’ve finished 10 scarves, it becomes second nature.”

A standard-size (36-inch) loom generally costs between $400 to $2,000, depending on whether it’s new or used. A warp mill (a vertical frame used to rotate a long length of thread) will cost $100, and shuttles and winders to carry thread across the loom run between $3 to $20 each.

“On the positive side, the equipment seems to last forever,” Hansen said. “We’ve seen looms from the 1930s that were sitting in a corner somewhere, all covered up. We clean them up and they’re as good as new. The resale on looms is also pretty good. Unlike a lot of other equipment, they don’t lose their value.”

Latscha sees weaving as an ever-evolving art form, and Hansen adds that weaving is something that never seems to go out of style.

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“I tend to categorize students into four categories,” Hansen said. “The first are taking weaving classes because it’s something their ancestors did. A second group has previously taken courses in fiber, fashion or interior design and they want to increase their knowledge of fiber arts. A third group becomes interested after taking art classes, and the fourth group, what I call my ‘flower children,’ enjoy it because they can create natural-looking pieces and they simply enjoy the process.

“I guess you could say weaving encompasses many different aspects of art,” Hansen said. “You can either follow a pattern or make up your own design. What I like about it is that weaving diagrams are the same throughout the world.

“I sell some pattern books that are Swedish, but you don’t need to read the directions if you can follow the pattern. It’s like reading music. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, if you can read the notes, you can play music. It’s an art form that’s recognized throughout the world and will be with us forever.”

Beginning and intermediate weaving classes are offered Wednesday through Saturday at Webworks, 1370 J. Logan Ave. in Costa Mesa. The phone number is (714) 556-1671. Some local community colleges also offer beginning courses.

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