Saturday, March 27, 2010

Richard is in the details

A few years ago I developed a deep interest in learning how to spin yarn. Given my good hand-eye-foot coordination from years of piano study, I thought it would be easy to transfer this ability to a spinning wheel. The thought of playing with fibers in a new way, and of spinning my own yarn was really enticing. I made inquiries about classes, instructors, and so forth, and all roads led to Richard Muto. 

Richard, suffice it to say, is the Rhode Island Laureate of Fiber. To describe him as a spinner, a weaver, a knitter, a musician, and a designer is insufficient. He's one of the most creative and joyful people I've ever met. He's a sweetheart.  He's a honey bear. He's a doll. He's a fabulous teacher. He's funny and elegant, perceptive, intuitive, gentle, kind, good, playful...well, you get the picture. To know Richard is to love him. He is awesome.

Richard taught me to clean and prepare raw fleece, card it, form it into rolags, spin and ply it. He helped me gain an awareness of fiber I could never have developed through independent reading or self-instruction. As it turned out, I didn't take to spinning at all because, oddly enough, I couldn't find the rhythm of it (despite my musical training), and after a few months of lessons, I decided to stop. But the good news was that I'd met Richard, learned so much from him that enhanced my understanding of yarn, knitting, and textiles, and had made a friend for life.  Soon  he intro'd me to David Lima, his spouse, with whom he runs a hand-crafted textile business, Roving Spinners (, 401-944-4809). Together they operate a weaving studio, give lessons, judge sheep-to-shawl, weaving, and spinning competitions, and constitute a force majeure in the New England handcrafted textile scene.

Recently Richard stopped by to show me some of his latest designs.  In the photo, he's holding two teddies, made of his hand-woven fabrics, jointed with large colorful buttons so that arms and legs move. These adorable toys illustrate both Richard's whimsy and inventive use of color and texture, as the bears are highly patterned in a subtly fascinating way. (Click on the photo to enlarge so you can see the detail.)

Two other fabulous items Richard brought were an off-white woven-and-knitted sweater of his own design, and a stunning silk-and-linen woven scarf from silk he had spun and plied with a fine black linen thread. (The photo, alas, doesn't capture the shimmer and gossamer quality of the fabric.) "Each piece you make," Richard says "should bring you to a specific place.  The silk scarf is to some degree Moroccan—the hand-tied tassels (which took forever), have that Moroccan feel to them."

From Morocco we went to the sea. The off-white sweater began as a woven shawl, but chose  its own course. Richard, always sensitive to the inner life of materials, found the fabric had an oceanic presence and it wanted to take a wave-like form. "I started with the image of the collar, everything curves, flows, melds—I got a very nautical feeling from the curve of the collar, like a wave; the sweater also evoked the 1960s—with the Chanel-like flared cuffs, and the pocket. Very Jackie Kennedy. But the pocket is slightly askew, because I wanted to follow the curvature of the neckband and followed that flow.  The pocket evolved out of an angle."

You'll notice several amazing details in this photo.  First, the textural quality of the materials.  There's the hand knitted neck, the hand-woven tufty bouclé of the body, the silky lining peeking out at the neck (the sweater is fully lined, and it took Richard an entire week to cut and fit the lining), the grain of the sea-pebble button.  Second, the lines are absolutely poetic-- the beautiful welt of the cuff (right-hand side of photo), the deliberate seaming that's part of the design, the asymmetrical, wave-like swoop of the collar ("I love the idea of being asymmetrical," Richard says), the ovoid button.  

Check out Richard Muto's Facebook page for more images of his sweaters that combine knitting and weaving. They're further evidence of his versatility and poetry.  They're testaments to his goal of "combining as many different aspects as possible of my artistic abilities.  No matter what I make it will have some sections that are knit.  The weaving adds specific texture; knitting adds another texture that can be worked off of the woven piece.  Like clay, fabric is pliable."  

Richard's designs flow from his precepts, and demonstrate how the creative process is influenced by starting from the ground up, as it were, in the spinning of yarns.  "Let the fabric bring itself to you," he says.  "I like to process my fiber right from the beginning, because each step gives me more information about what that fiber will or will not do.  Somtimes no matter what I do, it’s not going to become that project; it will dictate what it will eventually become.  The big thing is, if it wants to lead, I have to follow it." 

I'll be following Richard periodically throughout this blog, to update everyone on his creative journey.   And speaking of creative journeys, you should know that Deborah Newton, knitwear designer par excellence (see my blog post of November 17, 2009), will be teaching a day-long workshop in--what else?--knitwear design at Marji's Yarncrafts, 381 Salmon Brook Street in Granby, Connecticut, as part of their "Ewephoric Knitter's Weekend," May 1st and 2nd.  There's a downloadable brochure on the store's website:  www.


  1. What an inspiration to see a fiber artist like Richard and learn about the care and thoughtfulness with which he works. Bravo Richard! Thank you, Selma, for introducing him to us, your readers.

    Hope to see some budding as well as experienced designers in Granby!

  2. I too know Richard...and had I the gift with words that you have I would have written a similar article. He is all the wonderful things you you have said about him.
    I am a very new new that I finally learned how to dress the loom and only have two inches of weaving on my first project...but I think this journey will be an exciting one and to be able to call Richard and talk about it gives me inspiration.

  3. Thanks for your comments, both of which speak to RIchard's natural gift for stimulating and encouraging creativity. And thanks, Anonymous, for the lovely compliment on my writing.

  4. I really enjoyed reading about Richard and David. They are wonderful to know. And those teddy bears are beautiful. I'll have to place an order now for xmas! Thank you for your writing. Lori

  5. I had the opportunity to meet both David and Richard at the Greenhouse in the North Burial Ground. What wonderful gentlemen. Richard showed me some of the pieces he had created. I fell in love with this very rich looking black and red herringbone scarf. I bought it on the spot!!

  6. We need to start a fan club for these guys!

  7. I have been going to spinning classes at the Octagon House for a few weeks and Richard is my teacher. He is a very talented person and a inspirational teacher.