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Kingsland resident LaVonna Briant weaves salvaged selvage into popular throw rugs

Weaver LaVonna Briant with loom and shuttle

LaVonna Briant at her favorite loom, a Leclerc Myra, which was built in 1961. In her right hand is the shuttle with selvage. Her left is on the batten, or beater, which is pulled forward to ‘beat’ the selvage into place and tighten up the rug. Briant is running the shuttle through the shed created by the spools of yarn or thread. When she pushes on the treadles (with her feet), the top row of thread will move to the bottom and the bottom to the top. That’s weaving. Staff photos by Suzanne Freeman

LaVonna Briant’s grandkids follow a trail of threads and pieces of blue painter’s tape when trying to find her, although they know she is probably in the attic weaving rugs. The retired teacher and librarian has two large looms squeezed into a finished attic in her Kingsland home. 

Between the Christmas decorations, doll and stamp collections, and bags and bags of selvage, she works her looms in a rhythmic “thwack, zip, thwack, zip, thwack,” pushing on the treadles in bare feet and moving the shuttle back and forth by hand between the shed of threads.

“It’s like a church organ; it’s meditative,” Briant said of the physical movements of weaving. “You get a rhythm going with your beater, your treadles, your shuttle. It’s calming. Unless you start thinking about what’s for supper.” 

In the past three years, Briant has learned the art of rug weaving and cultivated inner inventor instincts that have led to unique solutions to common weaving problems. While she learned some of her techniques and workarounds from other weavers and YouTube videos, she could now teach her own tricks of the trade. 

Take the fishing weights she hangs on the selvage warp to keep the tension tight. Selvage is the edge cut off of fabric before it is sold or used. It comes in different lengths that Briant winds into balls and later onto a shuttle for weaving.

“I learned that you need to put a weight on the selvage on the loom, but I didn’t know what to use,” she said. “I was out in the barn one day and saw the fishing weights and thought they might work, and they do.” 

She has plenty of access to and knowledge of fishing equipment. LaVonna and her husband, J.R. Briant, who works as a fishing guide, used to compete in tournaments as a couple. 

“A lot of my stuff is homemade,” she said, indicating a board with eye hooks used to keep the multiple spools of yarn from tangling as they feed into the loom. Each spool contains 55 yards. It takes two days for her to set up the 240 warp threads needed for a 24-inch-wide rug. 

She used Tinker Toys and a shoebox to build a tray to keep the yarn flowing smoothly as she loops the thread onto a shuttle for the hems on each end of a rug. 

She also developed a measurement system using metal hoops and colored beads. Each color represents a certain length. She hooks the appropriate color onto the rug’s right edge as she weaves. When the full length is reached, she knows immediately and can switch from selvage to thread on her shuttle to begin weaving the hems. The metal rings slip right off the rug without leaving marks or pulling threads. It’s fast and easy.

“My husband made a sectional beam for one of the looms I sold,” she said. 

He also built the hook system for the threads. 

“He’s pretty handy,” she continued. “Loom parts are not all that easy to find.” 

Weaver LaVonna Briant with her popular rugs
Customer favorites are the jelly roll (left) and the piano (right) rugs that LaVonna Briant weaves on her two Leclerc looms. The multi-colored rug in the middle is made from selvage from Pendleton Woolen Mills in Portland, Oregon, the only Pendleton mill in the country.

She treats her looms like family, even calling one “Grandma” and the other “Great-Grandma.” Grandma, her favorite loom, is a Leclerc Myra. The older loom, which sits to the Myra’s left, is a Leclerc M. Leclerc Looms is a French-Canadian loom manufacturer in Quebec. 

Briant bought each of her looms used from different weavers. When she found the Myra for sale in Edmond, Oklahoma, she and J.R. gassed up the RV and headed north. The M was shipped from Florida.

The selvage comes from upholstery manufacturers and Pendleton Woolen Mills in Portland, Oregon. Arriving in huge plastic bags, she has to sort and ball the selvage like knitting yarn. The different colors make for intriguing patterns, the heft of the material perfect for throw rugs. 

Briant makes her rugs 24 inches wide and 36-48 inches long, although they can be made to order lengthwise. And, yes, she sells her rugs, something that seems to surprise her. 

“I didn’t think about selling them until my son said, ‘Mom, what are you going to do with all these?” she said. He was referring to the rugs and material piled on and around the family’s dining room table, where she sorts the completed product and balls the selvage. 

L.B. Rugs made its first appearance as a business at the Pedernales Farmers Market in Spicewood. She also set up a table at the Kingsland AquaBoom. If you don’t catch her at a market, you can call her at 512-560-6524.

“I sold out at the farmers market, and I sold all but two at AquaBoom,” she said. “I couldn’t keep up. I know you can go to Walmart and buy less expensive ones, but there’s something about the feel and substance and knowing who made it. People who want one really want one.” 

Two signature rugs that have earned names from customers sell the best. 

The piano rug is black and white. The predominant white selvage is interwoven with strips of black, creating a look that resembles piano keys. 

The other favorite is the jelly roll. Any color of selvage will do. At intervals, she weaves in strips of brightly colored batik fabric from a quilter’s jelly roll to give each rug a custom look. The secret is in the warp and the weft. 

“The weft is what gives it color and design,” she said. “The warp holds the color and design in place.” 

Just like the rhythm of weaving, Briant’s days have a cadence. She spends one week weaving and one week off. In between, she finishes the edges, prepares the selvage and yarn for the next batch, and sorts and sells. She also quilts and plays with grandchildren.

“I never dreamed I’d find another passion,” she said. “I never thought I would like anything as much as I like quilting. And it is a passion. I do still do some quilting. You should see that room!” 

suzanne@thepicayune.com

Beater, batten, weft and warp: terms of the trade

BEATER — also batten, the swinging frame used to beat the weft into place by pulling it forward and then pushing it back.

JELLY ROLL (above) — about 40 2½-inch, pre-cut strips of fabric rolled together. They are threaded through the yarn at intervals and pushed into place with the batten.

SELVAGE (above) — the woven edge of a fabric that is cut off before the fabric is used. It comes in big plastic bags all jumbled together and has to be sorted and rolled into balls.

SHED (above) — the temporary separation or opening between the upper and lower yarns (the warp) on a loom. The weft is wound onto a shuttle and passed through the shed, providing the actual fill material of a rug or piece of cloth.

SHUTTLE — a smooth, flat stick that holds the weft for weaving between the threads.

TREADLES — foot peddles that exchange positions of the shafts of thread that form the shed. The shuttle passes through in one direction, and then the weaver presses the treadle to move the warp on the bottom to the top and the warp on the top to the bottom. The shuttle then passes through from the other side, and the treadle switches the thread positions again. The weaver pulls down the beater to fix the material in place.

WARP— runs the length of the loom and is in place and stationary before the weft, or fill, is added with a shuttle during the weaving process.

WEFT— the material wound on a shuttle that is passed through the shed of the warp and then back again to fill in the rug or cloth. It runs perpendicular, or crossways, to the warp.