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Member Spotlight Series: Jeff Smith

One of Jeff's early weaving projects, made on a Mirrix tapestry loom using primarily Faroese yarn.

Jeff likes to create and doesn't like to sleep. By day, he leads artificial intelligence research and development teams that define the state-of-the-art for the field. As part of that work, he's launched new products, founded and grown companies, and written technical papers and books. He was a key leader behind the PyTorch open source deep learning framework that now powers most of the technologies we now call AI. On nights and weekends, he has created a lot of work for the stage including several produced and published plays as well as various contemporaneous classical music pieces and albums with the Ferrous Ensemble and at Juilliard.

Lately, his interests in textiles have led him to study weaving at the Textile Arts Center and fashion design at FIT. He has also been shepherding as a volunteer sheep steward on Governors Island, which involves caring for the sheep while educating visitors about biodiversity and ecological gardening. As he describes it, "Recently, I really got pulled into the world of textiles and fiber art in a couple of different ways and I found it just immensely satisfying and have really focused in and tried to spend as much time as I can, both learning about the space and just getting to make a bunch of stuff which has been really rewarding."

Jeff designed this rug to fit under his floor loom treadles for noise prevention. Linen warp; the weft is wool mill ends that he dyed to make this colorway.

Jeff's learning curve for weaving included reading library books, "a few decades" of Handwoven magazines, and attending guild meetings to ask questions. The first hour of our guild meetings is for social time but especially for offering help and advice. Our members range from people who have never woven but are interested in textiles to those who worked in the NYC garment industry for decades.

Every project is an opportunity to learn new skills and try different fibers. As an exploration of Theo Moorman inlay techniques, Jeff read Moorman's book as well as books by her students, and eventually decided to make a hemp and silk noile "mock stole" based on liturgical weavings. This too shall pass...

One of the best things about weaving is sharing, and Jeff enjoys making things for his wife. During a vacation to South America together, they had a lot of fun meeting llamas, alpacas, and vicunas. When she asked if he could design something to keep her warm during naps, Jeff decided to recall the wonderful memories of that trip by using alpaca yarn for the project. Interestingly, none of the wool has been dyed; these are all natural alpaca colors:

Woven using alpaca knitting yarns (undyed), 12 EPI/PPI point twill made on 4 shafts of an 8-shaft loom

His lucky wife has also received a stylish tote bag. Last year, the Guild had a summer sustainabiity challenge in which members were encouraged to swap "free yarn" - yarn that they did not ever plan to make use of. The idea was to prevent waste and to give people the freedom to work with supplies they wouldn't normally buy or try. Jeff took home some handspun ramie yarn. For the straps, he paired it with a handspun Himalayan nettles yarn for extra strength (and ramie is in the nettles family of plants) and the body of the bag is made from the ramie along with cotton and hemp yarns.

Jeff believes that being a guild member is a critical thing for him. "I think that the creative practices I’ve enjoyed always involve a community of people, people are there for the right reasons who are interested in the same things, connecting with other people. Creation in a room with no one around is not the same thing, we create as part of a social process. So I really greatly value having that community to engage with, but then there’s also the learning part. I’m just really interested in going deeper and learning more. And the depth of experience, the level of expertise, coming in and seeing motivating, beautiful, impressive stuff in some different technique I haven’t tried at all and in some material I haven’t tried before - that just gives me energy."

Enjoy the interview on our YouTube channel, NY Guild of Handweavers:


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