By Mary Parsons
There is an old African Proverb .... It takes a village to
raise a child
Well Fellow Toastmasters and guests, I think: It takes
a village to Mentor a new Weaver! Let me explain.
Several years ago, I was looking for a new hobby to
stay active during the long, cold, Pennsylvania winter
days. I was talking to my sister in law Karen and she
suggested weaving! I was intrigued by her description–
creative use of color and texture and pattern. Hands
on, active, required planning and a little bit of math
both a good fit for an engineer like me. Your weaving
could be used in a lot of ways: rugs, scarves, handbags,
towels – in fact anyplace fabric is used. Karen was my
villager One. She suggested I read a this book called
“Learning to Weave” and and to look for weaving
workshops in my area.
I jumped into the book immediately – Warping....
sleying.... reeds and shafts, drafts and draw-downs,
heddles, lease sticks, treadles, sett rising sheds.....
sinking sheds..... This book made my head spin. What
about work shops???? As it turns out – the most
prestigious, famous weaving studio on the entire East
Coast was just 30 miles down the road in Gettysburg.
Sadly it had just closed the month before. Talk about
I continued investigating, but I was kinda stuck. I
wasn't sure if I would like the actual physical activity
of weaving without trying it. An investment in a loom
and accessories was pretty steep and it seemed too big
a risk to move forward... To the rescue – Karen. Her
weaving group was having a two day beginners work shop
in Pittsburgh. Did I want to come, I could stay at her
place. You bet ya! There were about twenty students
in the workshop and we went through the entire weaving
process step by step from planning, winding the warp,
dressing the loom, weaving and finishing. And here it is
my very first piece: a mug rug. This may look small, but
this workshop gave me the confidence for the next
step, - purchasing a loom.
Again Karen to the rescue; One of her weaving buddies
was a night owl and liked to trawl online for deals.
She'd check out used looms on Craigslist and Etsy for
me. Soon enough I received a list of potentials looms
and one caught my eye. Near Washington DC. – a 40
inch wide, four harness cherry loom with bench. Wide
enough for me to grow into as I increased in skill. It
had Four harnesses – which means plenty of of
pattern flexibility without being too complicated for a
beginner; not too big or too far to pick up in our truck
if it looked good.
Meet Villager number two - Sally. Sally was a delightful
eighty year old, who had spent her life in the fiber arts
– spinning, weaving and knitting. She was a master
craftsman and had been a colonial arts demonstrator at
the Smithsonian for years. Sally was grieved to sell her
beautiful cherry Norwood loom given to her by her step
mother, but she and her husband were downsizing. She
wanted to be sure it landed in good hands and I
convinced her, those were my hands. As soon as I had
the loom set up in my living room with a small project
using thread spun by Sally, I took pictures and sent to
Sally so she could see her loom had made it safely to its
new home and was in use. As I worked on various
projects, I always remembered to send pictures to
Sally, so she could see how I was progressing and to
know her loom was being used with love. At one point,
Sally contacted me and said she had a bunch of weaving
books she wanted to give me. Too expensive to ship. –
We both grabbed a friend and met halfway between
Harrisburg and DC at a Cracker Barrel and had a
wonderful lunch catching up.
After lunch Sally presented me with an amazing stack
of weaving books. Seriously, it was a complete weaving
reference library with many classics no longer in print.
I consult these books frequently and always when
starting a new project. A truly generous gift from a
My final example is an entire village of mentors – The
Central Pennsylvania Guild of Handweavers. The guild
has members of all ages and experiences from new
weavers to master weavers with decades of experience.
We have monthly weaving programs, workshops and fun
group activities like weave doctor, sample exchange and
show and share. The guild also sponsors a weaving
apprenticeship program called the Guild Advancement
Program. Gap as it is called is a five year program which
takes a weaver through a series of projects to master
techniques, design, weave structure and finishing
methods. Each level is self directed, under the
guidance of a master weaver mentor. The mentor
provides guidance and feedback on the quality of the
weaving and provides suggestions for resources and
improvement. At the end of each year a notebook
containing the work and project documentation is
turned in and reviewed by two expert evaluators and
feedback is provided to the student. Pieces which do
not meet expectations must be re-done before the
student can progress to the next level. My weaving has
improved greatly from the experience and guidance of
Karel and Barb my gap mentors.
As a fairly new weaver, I have been blown away by the
generosity and kindness of all the men and women I
have met through my weaving. Always happy to share
knowledge and time. They provide boundless inspiration
both by their work and example. The weaving village is
a true model of mentor ship and I have been privileged
to be a protege of these amazing crafts people.