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 (email@example.com, 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.http://www.marjisyarncrafts.com/