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In Memory of Ann Belau

Once upon a time there was an online weaving guild and some weavers formed groups to follow along with the guild. There were big groups and small groups, formal guilds, and informal get-togethers. Some groups took on weaving projects or challenges together. Sometimes, they put on shows to share the beautiful things they created.

Ann Belau belonged to two of these groups. One was a small local group in Three Rivers, CA; the other was the venerable, valley-wide guild Handweavers of the Valley. It’s clear Ann was a key member of her weaving groups—a teacher, an organizer, an event planner—and that she was driven by her own innate desire to learn as much as she could of spinning, dyeing, and weaving.

Left to right: Ellen Henderson, Ann, Linda Hayden, Mary Lou Hanson, Sophie Britten.

I really connected with Ann and her weaving group when, last October, she designed the foyer for the 39th show and sale of her local guild—displaying her study groups samples of all the episodes of the online guild. It was, by all accounts, a stunning display of colour and weaving. As guests arrived, Ann sat at her loom and gave teaching demonstrations of preparing the loom for weaving. At the time, I was thrilled and inspired and a little awed to think that I had had a part in such a truly remarkable achievement.

Ann has left us now, although she will never truly leave her family, her community, and her weaving friends, by all of whom I know she was deeply loved.

But I am still thinking about Ann, about her weaving group, about the people she connected with, and about the people who connected with those people. I am reflecting on how weavers who belong to an online weaving guild—in the cloud!— still find ways to organize, to connect, and to form community and engage with one another in meaningful ways.

I always get this sense of awe watching people take up the lessons of the guild and run with them. But there was something about Ann and her group that laid it out for me in a new way. Somehow, thanks to Ann and the people connected to Ann and the people connected to the people connected to Ann–I saw something new about the creative spirit and how it tends to organize.

First, we weave and then, we find one another. We self-organize–in guilds, in small weaving groups, at the community centre, in our homes. We are bigger than the organizations we create, but we also sometimes find our home there, as Ann’s daughter says Ann did. We decide to create beauty out of our own spirit; then we find our partners, our sisters, our friends. And then we create astounding things together. We work, we create, we talk, we share, we laugh, we learn—and we produce beauty.

Maybe we are like the bees. Maybe each of us is a single bee. In solitude, we weave our own life and experiences. But then we find one another and come together, and maybe then we are like a hive. And within our hive, we reach out with our sisters for craft, for mastery, and for beauty. And then one day, when we leave the hive, maybe we are like Ann—we launch into the open air with sun on our face, the wind in our hair, the blue sky over our wings—on a mission to find the flowers, and then to dance their location for her sisters, also working and dancing under the sun.

This is what we do. It really is what we do. It is the most beautiful thing imaginable. And I am so, so privileged to be included in that. I have all of you to thank for it, but it took Ann to show it to me.

To see some of Ann’s beautiful work, please read this blog post written by her daughter, who has given us permission to share the link here.

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Handweaving in India

Handweaving Around the World: India - on the Jane Stafford Textiles Blog

A few weeks back I received a request for information about the beautiful textiles on the back wall of the studio in the videos. Laurel asked if I could share some information about them…. how they were woven, where I found them, interesting facts about them and about my travels.

Handweaving in India: some of the beautiful handwoven samples on display in the JST Textiles studio

What a great idea… those textiles are hanging on the wall because they provide me with more inspiration than I could use in a lifetime and they are all woven in India.

In 2011 I was invited by Charlotte Kwon of Maiwa Handprints in Vancouver to go to India and assist as a weaving facilitator at a Masterclass she was hosting in a village some hours north of Calcutta. That trip changed my life in more ways than I can say. I have been back to India several times since and have also worked in Ethiopia. I’m actually going back to Ethiopia in March to continue working with some of the very fine weavers at Sabahar and I’ll certainly post about that little adventure.

Going to India confirmed what I have always believed…..that we can weave the most beautiful fabrics on the simplest of looms. If our technique is top notch and we train our hands and eyes we can accomplish great things. If we question our beliefs about right and wrong (or it must be done this way) we come to understand that there are a million ways to approach things and everyone needs to embrace what works for them and that is dependent on the resources we have on hand.

There are 8 million handweavers working in India every single day. Their use of pattern is like a language, it has great cultural meaning and is miles deep. The fabrics created are extremely different between villages, regions and states. This means you could spend a lifetime learning about cloth in India.

I could go on and on but I think I’ll start with the warping process in the first village I was in. I’ll add a new post every other post.

Remember, in rural India weaving is a village affair, imagine walking into a village where 1000’s of weavers are busy at work. I was in heaven.

A simple 2 shaft pit loom. Notice that the beams are all made from giant bamboo. The weavers sit on the ground with their feet in a dugout where the treadles are.

Handweaving Around the World: India

This is a reeled silk warp being prepared. In this village they start by making a gigantic sectionally wound warp and the warping reel will hold warp for many looms. Once it is all on, the weavers bring their thread beams in and wind off enough for their sari or whatever they are weaving.

Handweaving Around the World: India - on the Jane Stafford Textiles Blog

Handweaving Around the World: India - on the Jane Stafford Textiles Blog

Handweaving Around the World: India - on the Jane Stafford Textiles Blog

The thread beams and harnesses are taken outside when there is bright sunlight to thread them.

Handweaving Around the World: India - on the Jane Stafford Textiles Blog

Then the beam and harnesses go back onto the loom where they are sleyed and weaving begins.

What a blast!

Handweaving Around the World: India - on the Jane Stafford Textiles Blog

Hope you’ll come back for more.

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Handweaving in India - on the Jane Stafford Textiles Blog

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Weaving Philosophy: Find What Works For You

My philosophy on weaving is really very simple: we should all just be having a blast and enjoying the ride. Weaving is an amazing craft because it provides a creative vehicle for so many different personality types, from the precise analytical mind, to the free-spirited, let’s-fly-into-the-wind types, to all the rest of us in between.

We all see the world differently, and we process information differently. Weaving allows all of us to advance in our own way and arrive at our destination feeling creative and fulfilled.

That said, no matter which way you approach weaving, there are a few things that are a given. We have to learn how to manage our threads and get our looms dressed as easily as possible. And we have to learn a lot of techniques to get the job done. Good technique is central to our success.

Beginners have a lot to take in—a whole new vocabulary, hand and finger dexterity, brushing up on arithmetic :). But also, learning how to stay focussed and hopeful with so many possibilities laid out in front of us on a gazillion websites, blog posts, magazines, books, Pinterest, Instagram…you name it, you could spend all your time just looking and never doing, and you could get really confused.

When I started to weave it was much easier. There were far fewer resources. And there’s a sense in which that changes everything. There weren’t the kits and all the patterns like there are now—and because of that I learned so many valuable things right from the start. Because in those days (you know—around the time of the dinosaur) we were pretty much designing everything from the very first project. If you wanted to make a placemat, well, you took the yarn you had, figured out the ends per inch by wrapping it around a ruler, decided how wide and how long and how many you wanted to make…you did the arithmetic. You decided where the colour was going to go. And then you got going.

 

Fewer options meant fewer contradictions, too. I was blessed early on to have many wonderful teachers. But I also learned early that each one of them felt quite strongly that their way was best. At the art school I went to, we had a constant string of top notch weavers and artists rotating through the school. One teacher would say, “You should do it this way” and then the next teacher would say, “You should do it that way.” What I figured out was—there are a heck of a lot of ways to do the same darned thing. Eventually I stopped listening to all of them and figured out my own way, based on tidbits from all of them.

Hence, the first year of the online guild focuses on FOUNDATION. I present different ways to do things but the most important thing I try to get across to you, the weavers, is that you have to try different things and find the way that works best for you. Always be open. Do comparative studies. Try one way and then another—but find out what works for you. Remember, it isn’t right, it isn’t wrong…it is just different.

What’s your weaving philosophy? Share it in the comments, or connect with us on Facebook, Instagram or Ravelry. We’d love to hear from you!

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How the JST Online Guild Came to Be

When I started weaving, 40 years ago, I did not belong to a guild. In fact, I’d been weaving for nearly eight years before I even knew there was such a thing as a weaving guild.

It was when I moved to beautiful Salt Spring Island after art school that I discovered the joy of the weaving guild. I was swooped up by my local guild: a wonderful group of warm and caring women. These women supported me as I navigated so many things that were new to me at the time–especially being a new mother and the loneliness of not having family close by.  I started my teaching career at that guild and I remember that period as a lovely time of sharing, weaving, a lot of love, and a lot of laughter.


For many years, as my teaching schedule became more and more demanding, I travelled all over both Canada and the US teaching what were almost always weekend workshops. I loved those weekends–but I always felt like we were all just getting started when it was suddenly time to leave. Sometimes, I felt sad and maybe even a bit cheated that we could only scratch the surface over a weekend.

After years of this I saw I wanted to do it differently.  I committed to making my home studio a fully functional workshop space, so that I could offer retreats that could extend a full five days. I saw so clearly how much further we’d be able to journey in those five days, especially if everyone had access to floor looms.

Those first workshops, I had no idea if anyone would sign up. I had that voice in my head—you know the one. (“All the way to Salt Spring Island? For a weaving retreat?”). I just had to hope it was true what they say (“If you build it they will come”) and I had to trust that, somehow, weavers would show up.

Show up they did. We sold out every offering within hours of posting, and our weavers came from all over the continent.  I was completely blown away.

For the past 10 years, that’s been my mode of teaching. A workshop every three weeks, like clockwork, for all those years.  It’s been great.

How the JST Online Weaving Guild Came to be

Fast-forward to the fall of 2016. The workshop wait lists had been getting longer and longer. I started to see that I was never ever going to be able to accommodate all the weavers who wanted to attend my workshops. So I started to consider the possibilities.

I had made a few videos for Louet many years before and I had heard from hundreds of Louet’s customers over the years how much they had enjoyed them and how much they had learned from them. So, then—what’s the next step? Videos for workshops? My retreat students and I tossed around lots of thoughts and ideas and slowly I found the courage to attempt it. I still had that voice in my head—you know the one. (“An online weaving guild? Really??”) But as always, I would never know unless I gave it a try.

I really didn’t know where to start but one of my students, Ellen, is an experienced marketer. Ellen helped me collect all my thoughts and ideas on a storyboard–and suddenly, it all just fell into place and I saw what I would do. I would start at the beginning—the same way I do in my live workshops–so that all weavers could come along on the journey. Then–the same way I do in my live workshops–I’d take my online students through the possibilities of various weave structures.

On the set with Jane Stafford
I hired a local film crew who make videos in the community and we booked our first five-day session, just to see what we could do together. It was a blast! In our first week we captured enough footage to make three episodes. We learned a ton together and have now made over 30 videos together.

And here we are. It’s now official: JST’s Online Guild is a going concern with members on every continent. (Well, except Antarctica. What’s with those penguins anyway? Or could it be a shortage of string?)  And so, I would like to thank you for your support in this exciting adventure, and invite you to come join the party.