Linda Ligon is the founding CEO and creative director of Interweave, a thriving craft publishing company that publishes books and magazines related to fiber, thread, needlework, and beading. Since 1975, Interweave has been a multi- platform company that delivers content through its 16 magazines, book publishing program and special events. Their publications focus on natural materials and techniques and is a resource for the targeted readers who appreciate craft and the beauty of the handmade. Linda's ideas, creativity and success have driven this business into new directions. Linda is a weaver, spinner, knitter, crocheter, writer, and acclaimed lecturer on topics such as business leadership, publishing, and crafts. Her passion for textiles takes her to distant regions throughout the world and inspires many who cross her path.
HAND/EYE: What is your personal connection to textile/ fiber arts?
Linda Ligon: My hands forever, or at least from age 3. Hand sewing, knitting, crochet, cross stitch, all the things my mother taught me. Sewing my own clothes in high school, knitting socks for boyfriends, baby things when I started having babies. It was just what I did, not particularly thinking about it.
H/E: Can you recall your first weaving experience?
LL: I didn’t start weaving until I was in my late 20s, when I was a classroom teacher seriously needing diversion from the stresses of my work. I think I learned that people still made cloth on looms sometime in the 1950s, and was truly intrigued. It seemed so fundamentally creative, and so historically resonant. It just stuck in my mind, and when a local woman offered classes, I jumped at it. By far the most engaging craft I had experienced. Spinning was not far behind.
H/E: When did you first get involved in publishing?
LL: I quit my teaching job when my third child was born and needed something to do. I was not meant to be solely a stay-at-home mom. So I took what I knew of journalism and print production (learned from teaching journalism and publications to high school kids), along with my interest in textile crafts and just started publishing a little magazine and putting it out there. (Note that I say crafts, not art. This is deliberate. I’m appalled that “craft” has such negative connotations among so many. Making functional things by hand is generally as creative and expressive as making “art” objects. Plus, I like Anglo-Saxon root words. I’m sort of cranky that way.)
H/E: What aspect of your career do you enjoy the most?
LL: Oh, easy – it’s the people I’m privileged to work with, both inside the company and outside. Inside, co-workers who are curious, passionate, creative, dedicated to standards of excellence, whether they are doing content creation or marketing or customer service or whatever. Outside the company, this incredible network of people I’ve met over the past 36 years – craftsmen, authors, other publishers, I could go on and on. People making stuff – whether it’s a fine knitted or woven or beaded creation, or a book manuscript, or a design template. People expressing their creative urges.
H/E: How has your vision at Interweave shifted over the years?
LL: Well, I started out with a very tiny vision: publishing some little stuff for fun, to keep from being a Bored Housewife. I didn’t start out imagining a 35+-year career, or a company of 200 employees and more magazines and books and videos and whatnot than I can even count. So I guess my own vision has taken the same organic growth path that the company has. New opportunities arise, you take those next steps, one thing leads to another. It’s a very exciting way to live and work, always full of surprises.
H/E: You often refer to weaving and spinning as a metaphor for life. Please explain.
LL: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used weaving as a metaphor for life. Everybody does it, and it’s easy to see why. You’ve got the fixed warp - the imperatives in your life, the things that don’t much change. Your genes, your place of birth, etc. You’ve got the weft, the stuff that you choose as you weave along, the changing colors and textures mimicking the things life throws you way, either because you choose them or because they choose you. It’s an old, old metaphor, and it has stood the tests of time. But when asked to reflect back on my 40-some years as a weaver and a publisher, I really started looking at that. And what I saw was not a bunch of threads all neatly spaced, held in fixed relationships, crossed at neat right angles with other threads. It just hasn’t been like that. I look at the many threads of my life and it looks more like a gang of hyperactive spiders run amok - throwing out their threads, running here and there, crossing, overlapping, tangling, going off on all kinds of tangents.
H/E: How can you relate any of this to a nice tidy warp and weft?
LL: Straight edges, even tension, logical patterns? It’s more like when your giant skein of yarn becomes a totally tangled mess, yarns crossing every which way, gnarly knots that won’t come out, whole sections that resolve themselves neatly only to be interrupted by another backward loop that you have to follow for a while. As you untangle it, each intersection can takes you in a direction that you didn’t exactly anticipate. But with luck, it will finally become a neat center-pull ball. Eventually. Many of us have been involved with weaving, spinning, textiles in one form or another. For some of us, it’s been a central focus, more important than anything but our family or dearest friends. For some it’s been a diversion, a mental exercise, maybe a source of income. Maybe a passing fancy. But whatever it means to you, it will surely have created connections -with people, ideas, opportunities, new pathways. There’s a lot of wisdom embedded in that tired old pun, “You can’t weave well enough alone.”
H/E: Tell me a bit about your work in Peru?
LL: I first went there in 1997, mainly to interview a shaman in the jungle for an alternative health magazine I was publishing at the time. But I made a side trip to Cuzco,and was just blown away by the textiles. I got to know Nilda Callanaupa of the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cuzco, and was so impressed with how she was combining economic development with cultural preservation, taking every step with the care and consideration that could only come from someone deeply embedded in that culture. I’ve been back many times, working with her on her first book, and currently on a book on the textiles of her home community of Chinchero, and soon on a highly illustrated book documenting the lives of the elders of the weaving villages. This has been a collaboration with Nilda and with Joe Coca, a photographer I’ve worked with for many years.
H/E: What can you say about the progress of textiles?
LL: I think the more striking thing is that fine textiles not only endure, but prevail (to paraphrase Faulkner). If anything, the common textiles of our everyday lives have regressed – decoupled from their sources of materials or identities of their makers. I’m not a Luddite, and I’m not going to weave and sew my own jeans, but I know the warm pleasure I get from making and using even the most humble textiles – napkins, dishtowels, neck scarves, blankets. They offer a very different and very deeply human dimension to everyday life. I love that.
H/E: How do you field this field of textile/fiber arts has evolved over time?
LL: What our shrinking world has done is bring indigenous textile workers and avocational textile workers of developed countries closer together. There seems to be an increasing appreciation for the quality and intricacy and cultural depth of indigenous textiles, and of the people who create them for their livelihood. You could see this in the 1960s and 1970s, then American and European textile artists and craftsmen turned more toward high-tech looms and materials and their work became increasingly experimental and conceptual. Now there’s a resurgence of interest in natural dyes, in fine hand spun yarn, in hand-manipulated techniques and structures, in useful cloth that is inherently beautiful.
H/E: What’s next?
LL: For Interweave, onward and upward. The company has more than tripled in size since I sold it, but it has stuck the mission of craft publishing. For me, I continue to work at Interweave as Creative Director for the Specialty Fiber group, which includes weaving, spinning, and needlework products. These are among our smaller markets, but the most robust in some ways. So I feel like, professionally, I’ve gone back to my roots since selling the company and it makes me very happy.
But at the same time, I’m involved in a whole other venture. My aforementioned Executive Team – four terrific women –and I used some of the proceeds of the sale of Interweave to set up a company called “Thrums” (those left-over threads when you cut a piece of whole cloth from a loom). Under the umbrella of Thrums, we’ve created ClothRoads (www.clothroads.com), an online ecommerce enterprise that sells fine handmade textiles from all over the world. This venture is just in the brand-new launch phase, and it’s been so much fun and excitement, mostly for the four other women in the group (since I’m still working my “day job” at Interweave). For me, I’m publishing books under the Thrums Books imprint– books that don’t have enough commercial potential for Interweave to consider them, but seriously interesting and important in my mind. So far, I’ve published Weaving in the Peruvian Highlands: Dreaming Patterns, Weaving Memories with Nilda Callanaupa and the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cuzco. Also just off press is A Textile Guide to the Highlands of Chiapas with Chip Morris, a revised version of a book that was published in Chiapas in 2010 that hasn’t been accessible in this country. And Guatemala’s Woven Wealth, a joint project with Friendship Bridge. More are in the works. I do love making books, and if it involves interesting travel and interesting people and fabulous indigenous textiles –can’t beat that.
For more information, please visit www.interweave.com and www.clothroads.com