AN INTERVIEW WITH ELENA ZUYOK OF MIRRIX LOOMS

ELENA ZUYOK

Interview by Sarah Neubert

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Elena Zuyok has worked for Mirrix Tapestry & Bead Looms since 2010. She loves weaving, horses and snowboarding. She has a B.A. in Communication from the University of New Hampshire and an M.A. in Communication in Digital Media from the University of Washington. She usually lives in Seattle, but is currently in London for an extended stay.

Talk a little bit about how Mirrix Looms got started, and how you got involved.

Mirrix Looms was started by my mother, Claudia Chase, when I was eleven. She was a professional tapestry weaver and a stay-at-home mom who was looking for a small loom that she could take to my gymnastics meets and my brother’s soccer games. While there were portable tapestry looms available at the time, she imagined something better and began designing her dream loom. Her goal was to make a loom with perfect tension, continuous warp, a shedding device and the option for variable setts. Eventually, the loom was built and tested and she deemed it worthy. Not long after, my dad (a businessman through and through) encouraged my mom to make more looms to sell. Reluctantly, she obliged, and sent 16 looms to a weaving conference. The week of the conference we moved from Wisconsin to New Hampshire. It was long enough ago that cell phones weren’t common, and when we arrived at our new home and plugged in the phone, it began to ring. My mom answered. “I am at the conference and I’d like to order a loom.” The person on the other end of the line said. “Why don’t you buy one there?” My mom asked. “They’re sold out.” She replied.  And so Mirrix began.

While I was immensely proud of my mom and her burgeoning company, I never had much of an interest in weaving as a child or even as a young adult. I went about my life: middle school, high school, college, a foray working at a book publisher in Greece, running a State Senate campaign, spending a winter in Ukraine and eventually finding myself at an unsatisfying job in sales back in the States. One day I was talking to a fellow salesperson about my mom. He listened as I gushed on and on about her company and how close we were  and then he asked a question that would forever change my life: “Why don’t you work with her?”

And so began my journey at Mirrix. I started part-time; went to full-time; finally fell in love with weaving; went to graduate school; and now, we are partners, running the business-side of Mirrix together. We live 3,000 miles from each other, and are both hours away from our Wisconsin manufacturing facility, but we make it work like any modern small business does.

I couldn’t have predicted 20-something years ago that the loom my mom wanted so she could work while being closer to her kids would end up becoming a company that would bring us closer still.

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What changes in the weaving scene have you noticed in the years since you started working full time for Mirrix?

In the 1970s a sort of free-form weft-faced weaving became very popular among crafters. This weaving could broadly be defined as tapestry, but classically trained tapestry weavers didn’t want their art form losing it’s identity and so they doubled down on the idea that tapestry has rules and for something to be considered a tapestry it must follow these rules. When I got involved with Mirrix, I saw the result of this mindset. Tapestry was a well-defined art within the weaving community, but the tapestry world as a whole felt a bit intimidating, even to someone like me who had grown up around it.

Recently, the same more relaxed weft-faced weaving that made an appearance nearly 50 years ago has come back in vogue. I believe it has made tapestry concepts feel more attainable and is welcoming to beginners and those who want to experiment. As the weft-faced weaving and tapestry community grows, I hope both traditional artists and new weavers can learn from each other to keep rich weaving traditions alive but also to make sure weaving is fun and attractive to everyone from casual crafters to professional artists.

What makes Mirrix an amazing company? What’s your absolute favorite part of your job?

My mom and I are fortunate to be able to make business choices we feel good about every day. From where we source our materials to where our products are made to how we treat our customers, we never compromise on our values in the name of profit. That was something my mom believed in from the very beginning and for years I’ve watched her make decisions with old-fashioned integrity that is so often absent in the business world.

I can’t talk about our company's values without discussing where our looms are made. Mirrix’s manufacturing facility is located at a place called Sunshine House. Sunshine House offers supported employment for adults with mental and physical disabilities. Mirrix Looms is the only full-time company housed there, with our managers overseeing and training employees in specialized tasks from packing boxes to milling parts. It is a fantastic place and we are exceedingly proud to have our looms made there. I remember the first time I visited manufacturing. Mom got chided for running around heavy machinery and I got to watch looms being put together so carefully and with such pride that my heart swelled.

I wrote a blog post once called, “We Admit It… (A Little Bit About Where Mirrix Looms Are Made).” It started off like this:

We admit it; our looms could be made a little faster. We could even make them a little cheaper.

If we wanted to, we could outsource our manufacturing overseas. We could use inferior materials. We could hire a call center for customer service.

But we don’t. Because we know that two things matter to our customers.

First, a quality product. A Mirrix Loom really will last a lifetime.

And second, a quality company. Mirrix Looms are not only made in America, they are made at an incredible facility called Sunshine House that employs people with mental and physical disabilities in a supported work  environment.

(You can read the whole post here: http://blog.mirrixlooms.com/blog/we-admit-it-a-little-bit-about-where-mirrix-looms-are-made/)

That pretty much sums it up!

My favorite part of my job is twofold. First, I love being wholly immersed in a creative field. While my day is spent mostly in front of a computer, sometimes I can spend an afternoon weaving and call it work. That’s pretty neat.

Second, it’s building relationships with our customers. I’ve watched so many people learn and grow and go from, “I don’t think I can warp!” to “I just got this piece accepted into a gallery showcase!” I thrive on that kind of excitement from our customers.

We truly do have an amazing Mirrix community. We rarely have to step in and moderate forums because nearly everyone is supportive, positive and helpful. We have customers who donate all their work to non-profits, mentor other weavers for free and are always there to help out when someone has a question. Once I got a package in the mail from a customer. Inside was a tapestry she made of my dog, Sam. Later, the same customer wove another tapestry of me holding Sam and gave it to my mom. These are the kind of generous, thoughtful people I get to interact with every day.

List a few of your favorite Mirrix weavers.

Kathe Todd-Hooker is one of my favorite tapestry weavers. She does small-scale tapestry, weaving with what’s basically sewing thread. Her work is truly amazing. [https://betweenandetc.com]

I love Rebecca Mezoff’s tapestries. Her pieces are so crisp and clean and perfect, it really makes you appreciate how technical tapestry weaving is. [http://www.rebeccamezoff.com]

Janette Meetze was the first person to introduce me to tapestry diaries, where you weave a little bit every day. Her diaries are fantastic, and I really love her use of color.  [http://jmeetzestudiocommonthreads.blogspot.co.uk]

In my mind Natalie Novak bridges the gap between traditional tapestry weaving and more contemporary weaving. Her work is fun and bright and original, and her workmanship is wonderful. [http://combedthunder.com]

We’ve talked a bit about bridging the gap between the older generation of weavers and the newer generation; what are some ways that young weavers can connect with more experienced artists? Why is this important?

If I could choose a weaving-related cause to advocate for, connecting weavers from these two groups would be it. I would encourage new weft-faced weavers to do some research into traditional tapestry weaving, as I hope more traditional weavers will embrace the experimentation and enthusiasm that weavers not as bound by classical rules are practicing.

I think anyone interested in weft-faced weaving should join tapestry organizations in their respective countries. The American Tapestry Alliance in the States, the British Tapestry Group in the U.K., the Australian Tapestry Workshop in Australia and the Canadian Tapestry Network in Canada are all great places to start learning about the rich history of tapestry weaving.

My mom always says, “Know the rules first. Then you can break them.” I think that’s great advice. There are so many amazing weavers out there who are willing to share their skills and knowledge with new weavers, and working together is a great way for everyone to benefit!

Tapestry woven on a Mirrix loom by Deb Santolla.

Tapestry woven on a Mirrix loom by Deb Santolla.

Since Mirrix looms were primarily developed for traditional tapestry and beading, talk a little bit about how versatile they can be and how using a Mirrix is amazing for textural fiber art. 

Mirrix looms were first developed as tapestry looms, but it wasn’t long before customers started using them for different types of weaving. They make fantastic bead looms, mixed-media looms and textural weft-faced weaving looms for many of the same reasons they make great tapestry looms: perfect (and even) tension, a shedding device and many available accessories.

One of our most popular accessories is our electric treadle. It attaches to any size Mirrix Loom and allows you to control the shedding device with your foot. This can turn a portable Mirrix loom into what’s basically a floor loom (especially when used with a Mirrix stand) and can speed up your weaving by 50% or more.

What’s the most interesting, unusual thing you’ve seen a Mirrix used for?

Three things come to mind:

First, there is an artist in New York named Anthony Locane who weaves paper on a wire warp on a Mirrix. I own one of his pieces and it’s absolutely incredible. [http://www.anthonyjlocane.com]

Second, when Kevlar (the stuff bulletproof vests are made from) was first being tested and developed, they actually used a Mirrix Loom to test its strength.

Third, the Ladd Brothers who use a large Mirrix to make huge beaded pieces as part of art installations. [http://www.stevenandwilliam.com]

What’s exciting to you about being part of the Weaving Kind Makerie?

I’m really excited to connect with and learn from a new group of weavers. There is so much energy and enthusiasm for weaving right now and it’s incredibly invigorating!

True or false: If everyone was a weaver, there would be no wars.

About a year and a half ago my grandmother died. That night I made myself a martini (her favorite drink), played show tunes (her favorite music) and started weaving a tiny tapestry. I didn’t have a plan for what I was making, I just needed to weave. It was the best therapy. If everyone had that outlet, I think the world would be a much happier place.