A WEAVER’S TOUCH
Kitchener-Waterloo guild keeps age-old craft alive,
KITCHENER— A group of women work deftly and with sharp focus as they feed long strands of teal, blue and green yarn into a large loom to prepare it for weaving.
These artisans use age-old techniques to practise an ancient textile tradition that still thrives today. Although commercial weaving has declined over the years, hand weaving continues to be popular among fibre enthusiasts.
“It’s a fun hobby for mathematically-inclined people as well as artistically-inclined people,” said Susan Neff, a member of the Kitchener-Waterloo Weavers’ and Spinners’ Guild.
The process of weaving creates cloth by interlacing threads together using a wooden loom.
Even before the loom was invented sometime in the 17th century, weavers made cloth with sticks and yarn.
Spinning and weaving are among the oldest textile traditions and at one time were essential skills for women to have to create fabric for clothing.
As a modern hobby, artisans continue to use the same skills, terminology and patterns that have been used for centuries.
Most modern artisans don’t practise this ancient craft to turn a profit. They want to preserve it. The Kitchener-Waterloo guild’s goal today is the same as it was when it was formed 70 years ago.
“This is a great way to connect with history. We’re trying to keep these skills alive,” Neff said.
The guild was founded by a group of local women who wanted to share their knowledge of this traditional art form.
The founding group would get together at members’ homes to weave, share looms and learn from each other. Neff said the last surviving founding member died just a few weeks ago.
Now the group runs a studio in Kitchener inside a former elementary school turned synagogue. The main studio space is full of looms and has an extensive lending library with vintage pattern books that can be quite difficult to find.
Looms range in size from large floor looms that require multiple people to operate to smaller individual looms and tabletop looms.
Linda Cain sits at a small floor loom weaving a scarf, her foot pumping the treadle rhythmically as she sweeps a shuttle — a hand-held wooden tool that holds thread — across the loom to create the interlacing effect of woven fabric. The repetitive motions are soothing for Cain.
“I really love doing it. It’s a full-body thing,” she said. “I get lost in it.”
The relaxing, meditative qualities of both spinning and weaving are a big draw.
“This is a hobby for a lot of different types of people,” Neff said.
Members in the local guild range from bookkeepers to visual artists.
She watches her peers meticulously thread 12 yard-long strands of yarn through a loom to prepare it to weave a dozen tea towels. Setting up the loom is a cumbersome process that can take hours.
“We don’t do this to make money,” said Judy Ginsler, a member of the guild. She stands on one side of the loom and carefully wraps the yarn over a wooden roller. The yarn is wrapped between sheets of paper so it doesn’t get tangled during the weaving process.
For more information about the guild, go to kwws.org.