The art of the loom: Local artist keeps ancient craft alive one thread at a time

Weaving has been called one of the oldest surviving crafts in the world, tracing back to Neolithic times, and one Marblehead artist is working hard to keep that thread of history alive.

When she began working at craft fairs, Kari Breed discovered not a lot of people realized weaving is a craft that is still very much in vogue. So, she developed a slide show that she runs during shows to give people a feel for what has been her passion for decades.  

Breed deftly moves a shuttle through the tunnel of yarn as her feet work the pedals of the 24-inch Schacht Baby Wolf loom that takes center stage in her home studio. 

Weaver Kari Breed makes the ancient art look effortless on her loom in her home studio in Marblehead.

The studio is filled with light and scarves in blues, purples, greens and reds. A box of bright, woven bookmarks sits atop a shelf of even brighter-colored yarn.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years now,” she said.

The loom was a gift from her mentor, master artist Edjohnetta Miller, a widely exhibited quilt/fiber artist. Her work can be found in numerous national and international museums and private collections. 

“I’ve always had a knack for the arts, specifically with yarn and textiles and fibers,” Breed said. 

In elementary school, she made and sold friendship bracelets. Later, she learned to crochet from her grandmother, who created intricate doilies and bed sheets.

In 2002, she was accepted into an arts apprenticeship program, Neighborhood Studio, through Connecticut’s Greater Hartford Arts Council where Breed said she was able to choose which craft she wanted to study. 

“I went through the textile studio … in the studio I did sewing, I did quilting, but I really took to a love of weaving,” she said. 

These are some of the yarns, bamboo, Tencel and cotton that Marblehead weaver Kari Breed works with.

Breed said she worked the program for three years and when it came time for her to head to college, she asked Miller where she could buy a loom. After recognizing her passion for the craft, Miller surprised Breed by offering her a loom from her collection. 

 “I was very, very honored that I was able to select one and the one that I chose, she said to me, ‘that was my first loom,’ so it was really very special to see all that come full circle,” Breed said.

It is the loom Breed still uses today, and it’s given Breed the drive to continue to grow in the craft.

“I can’t let her down,” she said with a laugh.

Why weaving?

Setting up the loom, threading the heddles and reeds, and tying the warp can be a time-consuming and painstaking process, particularly for Breed, a self-proclaimed perfectionist. But once the hard work is done, it’s bliss, Breed said. 

“When I’m weaving, honestly, it can go quick,” she said. “I kind of get in the zone, I put some music on; it’s very relaxing, very therapeutic. If I’m just using one shuttle for the piece it goes really quick because I’m just back and forth and back and forth controlling the pedals with my feet, the pedals control the pattern.”  

“Quick” is a relative term. A table runner that covers the length of Breed’s dining room table has 480 threads threaded through it. 

“That was very time consuming, a nice lesson in patience,” Breed said with a laugh.

It took her upwards of eight hours to complete the runner. A scarf, depending on the pattern, could take three to five hours, but the bookmarks, created on a small tabletop loom, take only 15 minutes or so to make. 

Weaving her magic 

Coming out of the studio program, Breed said she learned the basics of weaving and continued with them during college. 

“I was kind of sticking with a lot of plain weave, log cabin weave, twill, just very kind of simplified techniques, just so I could kind of keep it up and keep my skill going,” she said. 

After graduation, she launched a career in fashion merchandising and her own business, KJ’s Woven Scarves. Breed also began doing church fairs and holiday shows, namely in Connecticut, where she grew up. When she migrated to Massachusetts for work, she decided to step it up and dropped KJ’s to launch Weave the People, “a fun take on ‘we the people.’”

But it wasn’t until she hit the crossroads of COVID and yarn troubles that that Breed really made a change. Breed said COVID coincided with the discontinuation of the yarn she’d used for years, forcing her to explore other options. Bamboo was one of those options.

Kari Breed’s tabletop loom (right) sits next to an even smaller loom where her five-year-old daughter is turning out her own pink and orange creations.

Worried that it might feel heavy or appear stiff, Breed said she picked a lacy pattern as a test and was smitten.

“I love that bamboo pattern because it is reversible, and you can make it dressy but you can also make it a more casual scarf, that’s been a fun one to work with,” she said. “Bamboo has a very silky, lightweight hand to it.” 

Another fiber she recently discovered is Tencel, which is made from the wood pulp of Eucalyptus trees and is also very silky and lightweight, resulting in what Breed calls her four-season scarf. Though she doesn’t currently work in wool, Breed does weave soft chenille scarves as well, which are all about winter warmth and the cozy factor, she said. 

The bookmarks and placemats are all created with 100-percent cotton, because life is messy. 

“You can throw them in the wash and they stand the test of time wash after wash after wash after wash,” she said. 

What’s next?

Breed said she’s not sure if she’ll add more categories to her inventory, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be new items.

“Certainly within scarves, within placemats and table runners, there’s a lot of different yarns and fibers and patterns to explore,” she said. 

And there are shows to do. Breed said she loves talking to people face-to-face about the craft and hearing their feedback and enthusiasm, but eventually she’d also like to establish a website and maybe explore selling on consignment in local shops.

“I’m really using this year as a way to get feedback from customers, see what they’re gravitating toward, not only in the style of product but the price point as well,” Breed said. 

Currently, Breed operates through Instagram at Woven by K, where shoppers can browse her inventory. They must however reach out through the site or email her at to purchase.  People can also meet up with her in person during Marblehead’s Christmas Walk, Dec. 3 and 4, where she will be stationed in Abbot Hall. 

“I love the product, I love being able to work with my hands,” she said. “Honestly if I had all the time in the world, I could spend all the time in the world on my loom.”

Chris Stevens
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