The Journal for Weavers Spinners and Dyers

What a Challenge!

Gill Eldridge and Jane Mason, Peter Tavy Guild

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘Challenge’? Maybe it has negative connotations for you, or maybe it offers something to be conquered. One weave group discovered that challenges can be both fun and a great way to learn new things. Along the way they can be both entertaining and hard work. This article describes the challenge the Peter Tavy Weaving Group set themselves for 2018.

Our group started two years ago as a sub-group of the Peter Tavy Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. At present there are 23 members who meet once a month on a different day from the main group. The group was established because it was increasingly difficult to combine the weavers, spinners and dyers in one room at the same time, looms being more cumbersome than wheels and tending to be noisier

We certainly didn’t want to seem elitist, but wanted to help those interested to understand weaving terminology and develop their weaving. Meeting as a separate entity means that there can be a focus on the weaving. We can all have room to set up our looms and warping mills/boards without cramping anyone else’s style.

The aim of the group fits well with the Association of Guilds of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers’ aim of ‘the preservation and improvement of craftsmanship in handweaving’. We are lucky enough to have a wide range of experience within the group, including teachers of weaving, those with some experience within the group, including teachers of weaving, those with some experience and ‘new to weaving’ weavers. A key strength of the group is the supportive atmosphere, with everyone able to participate. Whether a new or more established weaver, everyone can contribute and learn from each other.

We start each meeting with a morning spent discussing a weaving topic. This has ranged from demystifying jargon weaving words, to discussion of a particular weave structure, to design influences/sources and colour theory and new books or websites found. The morning session ends with a ‘show and tell’ providing an opportunity to seek advice and display what went well or what didn’t work out. We have found that what doesn’t work is as important as those items which go to plan.

In the afternoon everyone works on their own projects. Of course we all love looking at what others are doing, to admire and maybe even take away a new idea or approach. There is always a helping hand for that difficult warp to beam or an answer to a cry of ‘what do I do now?’. In addition to our own looms, the two Guild looms are used to warp different weave structures so that everyone has an opportunity to try new things. You may fall in love with doubleweave or overshot or vow never to try that again, and it certainly offers a quick way to try a small sample without winding your own warp.

As we started our second year, we felt that a group challenge would help us all to move forward so, after much discussion, we decided that our first challenge would be to weave and make something to wear at the December meeting. There were no other criteria so each individual was free to pick something that they wanted to produce.

This gave everyone the chance to stick with a weave structure and item they felt comfortable with or to push their own boundaries. As discussions continued it quickly became clear that, in expanding horizons and trying something beyond our usual comfort zone, there would be some areas where extra help was needed. Just as quickly there were offers of support from members who were more familiar with, for instance, using commercial patterns or understanding how to achieve an ikat warp.

It is surprising how quickly a year passes. Not everyone was able to complete the challenge as life gets in the way sometimes, but we were thrilled to discover at the Christmas meeting there were 11 completed items with two not quite finished but promised for the January meeting

A range of items was produced. These included a scarf displaying the beauty of ikat dyeing, the warp having been dyed at our summer picnic meeting. Another was a beautifully fitted skirt whose maker had also learnt how to insert a concealed zip, and to create a kick pleat. Another member made a coat in many wonderful colours. There were also two hats of simple construction but eye-striking splendour, a necklace using paper yarn, three jackets – one in wool and one a mix of cotton and linen yarn, plus one still under construction. Other items included a lovely and colourful wrap/throw, a wonderfully constructed pair of oven gloves (well, the challenge didn’t say the item had to be worn all the time), a length for a tunic (which couldn’t be finished for the deadline because the material spoke to the owner and demanded a border be added) and a fitted light wool tunic which was complemented by a fine silk scarf. No-one noticed that the fabric had shrunk more than expected during finishing (yes, a sample had been made but five metres seemed to work differently!) so the design was adapted but still looked gorgeous.

It was generally agreed that everyone had gained a sense of satisfaction from being challenged and we were all pleased with the end results. Members had gained confidence, learnt new skills and decided what they wanted to repeat or develop in the future. We also discovered that it was impossible for any one of us to display our masterpiece without pointing out all the (invisible to others) blemishes and mistakes! Perhaps there is a lesson there that we should all be more confident and proud about what we create.

The design process was enjoyed by most of us, but the dressmaking was a new experience for many. Suffice to say the Great British Sewing Bee is being watched with great interest! Fear of the fabric fraying when cut was an issue and we have all learnt that fulling/finishing our woven fabric needs great attention. The choice of garment patterns was rich and varied from a Vintage Vogue to modern commercial patterns; some brave souls even made their own. The greatest difficulty was adapting the pattern pieces to fit the limited width of fabric we were able to produce. For all these issues we found there was knowledge within the group that led to solutions. Informal mentoring abounded. Plans of course went awry, but none derailed us.

Hidden joys were experienced; for example, when weaving yardage the selvedges were less important, so of course they turned out better than ever. Most of us loved the weaving but found producing something to wear really stretched us.

What started as a challenge became achievable with a deadline to meet and the support of the group. We could all see how far we had travelled as a group of weavers and how much belonging to such a group had benefitted us all. Sometimes it is good to push yourself out of your comfort zone, especially knowing that help and support is readily available. Now we find ourselves faced with another challenge – what next?

We meet at the Mary Tavy Coronation Hall, Mary Tavy, Tavistock, Devon, PL19 9PB, on the first Saturday of the month. The weave sub-group meets on the second Friday of each month.



This article appears in edition #272 of the Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers.

The Journal is published on behalf of the Association of Guilds of Spinners Weavers and Dyers. It covers a wide range of textile subjects, including articles on historic textile techniques and cutting edge modern design.

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