Lakeside artisan Brad Mowers fills his days doing what he loves – spinning, weaving and dyeing. As someone who’s self-taught when it comes to weaving, and with 38 years of experience in all techniques working with fiber, he will soon be sharing his knowledge through a series of classes in Chapala.
Mowers was thoroughly immersed in the alchemy of natural dyeing techniques and knowledge when he met his long-time partner, Francisco Nava, in Los Angeles, California.
Says Nava, “As long as I’ve known Brad, he has passionately pursued anything related to weaving and dyeing. When something sparks his curiosity, he has the ability to research the topic, so much so that he usually becomes adept or proficient in the subject or technique. So it is with weaving.”
Having moved from Detroit to Los Angeles in 1976, Mowers was working as a carpenter when he found himself building a miniature model of a working loom.
“While in high school,” he says, “I remember visiting a house full of looms, which intrigued me.”
Mowers was still working as a carpenter when he took up weaving in 1983 – the same year he bought his first loom.
Once he got weaving down, he was ready to learn how to spin.
“I learned all about spinning wool from a 92-year-old teacher in Los Angeles,” he says.
After seeing how he could create his own vibrant colors, he immersed himself in the art of dyeing.
“Natural dyes give the yarn their brilliant coloration. The red color comes from cochineal, which are ground-up insects that live on cacti. The blue comes from indigo, the yellow from marigold, and the purple from logwood.”
Mowers arrived at Lakeside seven years ago from Los Angeles with Nava, who was ready to return to his native country.
“Since living at Lakeside I’ve taught two different classes at a studio that has since closed,” Mowers says. “While still in Los Angeles, I taught spinning, dyeing and weaving after joining the L.A. Eco Village – a Los Angeles urban cohousing community, which I helped form.”
With a renewed desire to teach, Mower has scheduled a series of weaving classes for six students later this month.
“The idea behind the five-class series is to teach students the basics in fiber arts in a simple, introductory manner, using simple tools. The looms are upright tapestry looms, which students will find easy to use.”
On the first day of class, students will work with a Mayan paddle spinner and spin wool fiber into yarn. On the second day they will fire up the traditional Mexican natural dyes in primary colors. Finally, on the last three days, they will weave their yarn into their own composition, which they can take home.
During his early years as a weaver, and while learning all he could about the craft, Mowers traveled to Scotland in 1995 on a mission to discover his family’s Scottish roots and locate his clan’s distinctive tartan.
He says, “I browsed through libraries until I found my clan’s tartan (Clan Allardice). I then brought home a swatch of the fabric so that I could recreate it into my own designs.”
He adds, “The original tartans were 15 feet long, 6 feet wide pieces of fabric, and were used as clothing, to wrap around oneself.”
Weaving his Scottish heritage into an art form, Mowers created tartan scarves for his mother and his aunt, using original dyes. He went on to make a blanket for himself out of the same material.
In order to understand Mexico’s weaving patterns, Mowers set out to visit a Zapotec weaver’s village in Oaxaca, where he was invited into weavers’ homes and studios.
“The village’s weavers showed me their dyes, including the plants in their yards that they used to create the dyes. Watching them weave on their old Spanish looms was mesmerizing.”
Mowers buys his silk from India, and his cashmere, cotton and wool from the United States but is now starting to use his own, home-grown cotton.
“Francisco and I discovered a 10-foot-high cotton tree in Chapala, growing in the street, where we picked all the cotton. The tree blooms most months of the year and produces a beautiful cotton that is strong and lustrous. Although that tree is now dormant, it will start blooming again soon.”
Now that Mowers has figured out how to grow naturally-colored green and blue cotton at his Chapala home, he’s in his glory.
“I buy my seeds from the U.S. and am able to grow, pick, spin and weave my own cotton,” he says. “Let’s say, I’ve found my new obsession.”