WHEN SOUTHEAST Seattle Senior Center came to Seattle Weavers Guild and asked for help with 25 looms collecting dust in a back room like the legacy of a project started decades ago, Linda Stryker has helped resuscitate them in an educational tool. “It has been a wonderful thing,” she told me at a recent “show and tell” guild gathering, noting that the project has drawn everyone from Scout troops to the elderly to the looking for a new hobby.
This is one of the many ways the guild is bringing this ancient craft into the modern era and introducing it to new generations. Cultures around the world have developed weaving techniques for thousands of years. Now, much more recently, it was the perfect pandemic activity.
Members of the Weavers Guild can often work in solitude, but they also enjoy the company of others. And they were very happy to meet in a park one recent morning to show off some of their creations and to get up to speed.
“It’s kind of a lonely profession, but it’s really great to get together and see what everyone is doing,” says Guild President Cathy Smither.
In the park, the tables were overflowing with colorful fabrics glittering in the hot sun. People have checked the color combinations, materials and patterns that others have tried.
People of all ages chatted and munched – many simultaneously occupying their fingers with manual labor. “We’re the kind of people who just can’t sit around and do nothing,” says Smither.
I walked into the meeting without knowing anything. I had envisioned looms as giant objects used to make large rugs, but it turns out that some of them are only the size of a deck of cards – tiny, delicate objects that you can use to make a belt.
One of Eileen O’Connor’s specialties is making hats to give to those in need. “It’s just wonderful to see the fabric come out from under your fingers,” she says.
Weaving is a sustainable craft in more ways than one. Most weavers use natural fabrics such as wool and bamboo, and some of them recycle old pieces into new ones – scarves from old cashmere sweaters, for example.
They plan to bring their annual sale, which they had to jump last year, in October. With two years of work instead of one, and considering the extra time for weaving last year, it’s shaping up to be a blockbuster.
They made rugs, towels, shawls, sweaters, etc. “A lot of us do a lot of things, which is why we have a sale,” says Smither.
They call themselves weavers, but this covers a wide range of textile arts. Some of them make their own looms. Some of them also spin their own wool. Many do related manual labor, such as knitting.
Under a nearby tree, Stryker and Miryha Runnerstrom were spinning wool into yarn. “What I love about weaving is that it doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world,” Stryker said, gesturing to a multi-patterned towel that Runnerstrom was showing to interested passers-by.
The group has workshops and meetings, including speakers on aspects of structure or technique, or history. No one feels bad if someone is working on a song while listening to it. “I participate in everything much better when I do something with my hands,” says Runnerstrom.