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Looming large

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

BUCKHANNON -- A woodland brook bubbles behind Diane Daugherty's back while she weaves. But her loom reflects a landscape of different color.

Red.

"It excites you; that's what color does for me," said Daugherty, whose rugs, pillows and sundry personal items are inspired by designs from the desert-dwelling Navajo tribe.

A native of French-speaking Quebec, Daugherty became fascinated with American Indians after moving to West Virginia more than 30 years ago to marry Robert Daugherty, owner of Mountain State Painting in Upshur County.

When she saw an Arizona magazine that featured Navajo rugs, her interest became focused on Southwestern weaving.

"I went out West (in 1992) and I bought myself the cheapest rug I could find," Daugherty said of beginning her weaving self education. "I took it home and almost took it apart to find out how to do it."

It didn't take her long, as weaving is just the latest of Daugherty's textilian adventures.

"I've always been interested in fiber arts," said the former quilter, who has studied fashion design in both Canada and the U.S. "I started sewing when I was five ... I was making shirts and skirts by the time I was seven."

Within a few months, she had purchased looms, learned to string them with the up to 40 yards of cotton warp a larger rug requires, and was well on her way to setting up Hemlock Farms, her small weaving business.

One of her biggest initial challenges was learning how to replicate the tight geometric patterns favored by generations of Navajo weavers.

"It took me two years to learn how to do angles," said Daugherty, who is now so skilled that much of her work sells to Southwesterners. "One morning, at 4:30, I woke up and went 'whoop.' Then I wove three rugs with angles so I wouldn't forget."

She also had to locate a source of 100-percent wool yarn, needed to create weaving that is far different from the softer, plusher styles of other cultures. In Navajo-style weaving, the wool is so tightly woven the end product is smooth, relatively hard and completely reversible.

Along the way, Daugherty also learned why Navajo weavers traditionally include a "spirit thread" to prevent their soul from getting entangled in the warp.

When you do work that sometimes progresses at one inch per hour, it gets personal.

"The first time I tried to sell two rugs I put them in a store and I took them back. They're my babies," said Daugherty, who is now designing her own rug patterns. "I did that three times. My husband thought I was crazy. He said, 'What are you going to do, store them in boxes?'"

After seeing one of her rugs hanging happily in a buyer's home, however, Daugherty now enjoys selling her work through Tamarack and summer festivals, many of them in the Washington, D.C./Baltimore metroplex. Urbanites who gladly drop $1,200 for a rug are also fond of her eyeglass cases, which they use for their cell phones, she said.

In West Virginia -- where she also sells at Augusta and the Stonewall Jackson Jubilee -- her top items are guitar straps, which are available regionally at Showtime Music in the Meadowbrook Mall.

Daugherty also does direct sales of her weaving and wool yarn from her studio. She is reachable at 472-2879.

Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1403.

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